Saturday, July 24, 2010

What’s With All the Masks in Super Mario Bros. 2?

Not too long ago, someone found my blog while Googling to find out about the weird preponderance of masks in Super Mario Bros. 2. My blog, I guess, has become a stopping point for most people looking for random bits of Mario 2 info, and I couldn’t be happier about that. Anyway, I didn’t know why so many masks appear in the game, but they do. Check out these masked nogoodniks, for example.


Add to them the end-of-the-stage hawk’s mouth you have to jump through to proceed to the next stage. It looks enough like a mask as it is, but in the original Japanese version of the game, Doki Doki Panic, exiting a stage involved stepping through a more humanoid mask:

(images via spritealteration.org)

And the blocks that are shaped like mushrooms in Mario 2 are also cosmetic changes. They replaced yet more masks.

(images via spritealteration.org)

Mask-tastic — appropriately so in that Doki Doki Panic itself was given a figurative mask in the form of a graphical makeover to dress it up like a Mario game. But I never saw how the masks connected with Doki Doki Panic’s Arabian-themed setting. The original game starred a happy little Arabian family that was replaced my Mario and company when the game was translated for American audiences, yet elements of the original theme remain. The American incarnation still features magic carpets and snakes hiding in vases and distinctively Middle Eastern-sounding music in the underground scenes.

But I recently found a video that might explain the masks. Doki Doki Panic — full title: Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, “Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic” — was designed by Nintendo to promote Fuji Television’s 1987 “Dream Factory” showcase, with the cartoon Arabian family being both the stars of the game and the mascots for the event. They show up in the video below — which is advertising the convention, not the game — but so do a whole lot of freaky masks.


I can only guess that the masks were also part of the convention’s overall motif. And since the game was developed specifically for the convention, those design elements were incorporated. And it also makes sense that the setting of Mario 2 and Doki Doki Panic is some kind of dream world, given that the name of the convention was Dream Factory. (Weirdly, only Mario 2 has the main character waking up at the end and realizing that the game’s events were just a dream and didn’t really happen.) But it seems like a weird aesthetic combo for a technology convention — Arabian stuff, masks and dreams — and I wonder if it refers to a specific story or other cultural element that I just don’t know about.

And even an explanation for that wouldn’t fully account for one of the strangest bits: The turtle shells you can throw at enemies in Mario 2 were bizarre blackface heads in Doki Doki Panic. I know Japanese culture doesn’t approach issues of race the way we do in the U.S., but, as this gamer-artist points out, what you see below looks a lot like either a depiction of blackface or the head of a pickaninny

(images via spritealteration.org)

It’s all very strange, but that’s why I like it — and continue to think about these things years after I stopped playing this game.

Super Mario Bros. 2, previously:

4 comments:

  1. Whoaa!!! I never knew this nor have I ever realized the crazy number of masks in the game.

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  2. Anonymous11:35 PM

    I still don't understand why there were all the masks, even after watching the video.

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    Replies
    1. Well, the video doesn't give a reason for the masks being a theme for the 1987 Fuji festival, exactly, but it does explain why the masks were in Doki Doki Panic (and consequently Super Mario Bros. 2): The event used them as a major symbol.

      And if you really want to get into it, masks are a great visual metaphor for the experience of playing a video games -- especially one like this one, where you take on the role of multiple characters.

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  3. The game was in development before they decided to apply the festival's themes to it, so it wasn't quite made "specifically" for the convention, but a lot of its imagery was. ;)

    Also, I don't think that because Mario awoke from a dream means it didn't happen-- you're told from the outset that it's a dream world, so it still makes sense in a way.

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