This is one for the Nintendo nuts.
Before he took on a World or a Galaxy or a City-State or a Census-Designated Place, Super Mario took on a Land back in 1989 — in the creamed spinach color, Game Boy era. I remember the game well. And I remember why it was strange: All the game’s incidental characters appear with Japanese names, inexplicably. The thing that looks like a Goomba is a Chibibo — that is, chibi, the Japanese word for little mashed with the Japanese name for the ambulatory mushroom baddie, Kuribo. The Koopa Troopa stand-in is Nokobon — the Japanese name for the turtle baddie, Nokonoko, “unconcernedly,” plus the English word bomb, which is what the creature turns into when stomped.
Super Mario Land shares a great deal with the original Super Mario Bros. In addition to floaty play control, the game shares the structural aspect of each world including four levels. But whereas Super Mario Bros. offers only numerically named worlds — World One, World Two, World Three, etc. — Super Mario Land has actual exotic-sounding names for its groups of four: Birabuto Kingdom, Muda Kingdom, Easton Kingdom, and Chai Kingdom. These four places make up Sarasaland, the game’s overall setting, which is ruled by the kidnapped Princess Daisy. (Also, the monarch in charge is a princess, so instead of kingdoms they should be queendoms? princessipalities? census designated places?) They’re fairly dissimilar, and perhaps that explains why the sarasa in Sarasaland happens to mean calico, a mix-and-match feline aesthetic if there ever was one.
As a result of a fairly wonderful rundown of the differences between the American and Japanese versions of Super Mario Land, I now understand that all four of the kingdom names now correspond to real-life, geographical locations. Two were a given: Easton Kingdom — noted for its bald, nosey stone statues — takes its name from Easter Island. And Chai Kingdom — steeped in Chinese imagery — takes its name from China. I had never really given the other two much thought I guess, but the article explains the seemingly Egyptian-themed one and the generically aquatically themed, island-dotted one. The former comes from piraputa, the Japanese word for pyramid and perhaps a transliteration of that word, hence the pointy buildings and sphinxes in the background, while the latter supposedly comes from Bermuda, since the world’s Japanese name, Myūda and the second two syllables of Bermuda are pronounced similarly.
So that’s that: One Mario game with real-world implications, at least geographically. And long before Mario Is Missing taught children nationwide to hate edutainment, no less.
Game geek? Subscribe to the video games-only feed for Back of the Cereal Box.