Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Let’s Not Call Him "Blackie," Okay?

I’ve decided to answer at in full post form a question left by a commenter sometime back regarding an old Mario game. For better or worse, I seem to be good at answering these types of things, so as long as people are willing to ask about them, I’m willing to write.

The comment-question — or commestion, if you will — reads as follows:
Hi. I found your blog looking for this, and I figure you might know. I can remember playing this game at my cousin's house when I was a kid. It wasn't a Super Mario game, but I think Mario was in it. I don't think Mario was even in the name. I can't remember what it was called. I looked at lists of old Nintendos and didn't see it. It wasn't anything like regular Super Mario. And I think Wario was in it and would keep you from blowing stuff up. Can you tell me what this game is?
The answer: The inquisitive commenter was remembering Wrecking Crew, a game that most people should have trouble remembering on grounds that it’s actually not all that fun. Just hard. (In fact, ScrewAttack rated it the eighth worst Mario game ever.) I’d imagine the fact that it doesn’t have Mario’s name in the title hard to pick out, as nowadays most game’s featuring the company’s mustachioed mascot also feature his name in some manner. (Mario plays tennis? Mario Tennis. Mario plays golf? Mario Golf. Should Mario ever take up lacrosse, I’d wager the game will be called Mario Lacrosse.)

The title isn’t the only thing that might make Wrecking Crew hard to remember. The game itself plays little like what people today associate with Mario — you must break things with a hammer and cannot even jump to further this goal. Mario bounced his way through Donkey Kong and Super Mario Bros., always with cheerful boingy sound effects. Not so here. Unless Mario is climbing a ladder, he’s basically nailed to the floor.


image from virtualfools.com

Even worse: Mario can’t even use the hammer he carries to fight off the various enemies he encounters: anthromorphosized wrenches, anthromorphosized eggplants, finally, the subject of this post. The last of these happens to be the subject of this post. It’s not Wario, but an early, pixelated 8-bit version guy who happens to look a lot like Wario: yellow costume, pointy evil facial hair, and a general Mario-like appearance coupled with a total disregard for whatever goal Mario is trying to accomplish.

not the wario

This is where I overthink things.

Among the types who have reason or interest to track such mostly meaningless matters, it’s suspected that this non-Wario — named “Foreman Spike” in North America and, unfortunately, “Blackie” in Japan — served as a sort of proto-Wario, or at least the series’ first-ever human antagonist and kinda-sorta anti-Mario before the real thing arrived years later. Though Nintendo saw fit to limit Spike’s subsequent appearances, he did show up again in a remake of Wrecking Crew: the title Wrecking Crew ’98, which came out in Japan only, for the Satellaview, a modem add-on for the Japanese version of the Super Nintendo. (It allowed people to download games via a satellite radio station, daily, between 4 and 7 p.m. So, basically, it was the Flinstones car version of what we have now.) Anyway, by 1998, Wario had become popular and Nintendo seemed to restyle Spike in Wario’s image. Oh, and also in the image of a gay leather daddy. Oh that Nintendo!

spike: gayest nintendo character until captain rainbow

Spike appeared just once more — again in a game that never made it to the U.S. For whatever reason, he drove the vehicle that picks up balls in Mobile Golf. And for this last appearance, Nintendo reverted Spike back to his old image — less like Wario, less gay, and without the big red nose. And, also, he drove the ball picker-upper for no apparent reason.


Weirdly, Nintendo brings up Spike again in strange ways. In Mario Kart DS, for example, that same stupid ball picker-upper appeared as one of the vehicles used by Wario’s cohort, Waluigi.


People like me can only assume such callbacks are intentional and a means to pull strange old bits of Nintendo nostalgia to the forefront again. I appreciate it, anyway.

While I’m on the subject of Spike and his three different looks over the years, I think I’ll mention a certain design trend that Nintendo likes to perpetuate with Wario and Wario-related characters: drunkard’s noses, or at least what a U.S.-raised guy like me has come to recognize as the cartoony indicator of someone who enjoys the sauce a little too much. Wario has one. Always has. Waluigi, who was clearly designed in Wario’s image, has one too. And the Wrecking Crew ’98 version of Spike got one too. Later in Wario’s video game career, he’d have the WarioWare series, which introduced more people with red, inflamed-looking honkers.

left to right: jimmy, dr. crygor, and master mantis

Possibly red noses mean something different in Japan to what they mean here, but nonetheless I enjoy the thought of Nintendo putting forth a game populated by alcoholics. And it would appear that the trend applies only to male characters. The closest a search for WarioWare characters with nose issues that I could find was the woman I like to call “Miss Sniffles” — the distraught, sweater-clad, city-dwelling blonde from the oft-used microgame involving snipping her snot string.

dual-screen action joined into one mucousy mess

End note: I, at least, enjoyed this. Perhaps I shall write more about obscure Mario characters. Perhaps I shall suffer horrible indignation as a result of putting my name on this. Time will tell.

EDIT: A commenter offered a theory on Spike’s Japanese name. Given the game’s demolition theme, it seems plausible, at least that the Romanji representing his Japanese name could have actually meant Breaky rather than Blackie. I’ll support it, especially since the character is depicted more often than not as not wearing black. Thank you, anonymous commenter.

8 comments:

  1. Prettyfighter5:41 PM

    Did you ever play super mario RPG? It has a character Booster who looks a lot like Wario and aslo has the big red nose.

    youtube.com/watch?v=CbAh3QIZP7o

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  2. Anonymous2:49 PM

    I had a thought about this since I read it a few days ago. In Japanese, the name Blackie or Blackey could be written in Romanji as Burakki. Could you also translate that Romanji as “breaky”? Like, because the game is about demolition and the character destroys things? Seems like possible pun, especially since he doesn’t look particularly black in the original game.

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  3. Prettyfighter: Actually, now that you mention it, Booster and Spike have similar named in Japanese. Spike is Buraki and Booster is Buuki. It may be more than coincidence.

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  4. Anonymous8:13 AM

    Spike the Foreman is the best nintendo charakter ever. He will come back. Soon.

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  5. This comment is a bit late in the game, but I often wondered if the foreman family in the game "Tingle's Rosy Rupeeland" were inspired by Spike. You can find pictures of them here:

    http://www.gamehiker.com/wiki/index.php?title=Characters_in_Tingle%27s_Rosy_Rupeeland

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  6. Godaigamer: I definitely see the similarity and wouldn't put it past Nintendo to try and sneak him in. Could be a coincidence, sure, but the fact that the Tingle character actually is a foreman makes me think it's not.

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  7. I loved Wrecking Crew personally. (Screw what ScrewAttack says, I say. In fact, I feel most of the Mario games they listed on their "worst Mario games" list were pretty decent, or even good games.) I didn't think it was "to hard," (or at least the earlier levels) and I liked the puzzle-solving aspect of the gameplay, and how if you mess up a level, you can start over again.
    Also the ability to make your own levels is pretty impressive for an 8-bit game at the time, and that was alot of fun to do to.

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    Replies
    1. Well, for the most part, a bad Mario game will still often be better than a bad non-Mario game. I feel like Wrecking Crew would be thought of more fondly if it was just thought of as a strange early NES game and not one that featured Mario but very few Super Mario Bros.-like elements.

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