Monday, October 28, 2013

Three-Dimensional Death in a Two-Dimensional World

Back in Donkey Kong, Mario died by spinning in a circle and landing flat on his back, with a little halo floating above his head.


However, he died differently by the time he got his second starring role — Mario Bros., which isn’t Super Mario Bros. but is instead the game that dumped him in the sewers, introduced Luigi and for the first time pitted them both against a host of creeping turtles. When one of those turtles got too close, Mario leapt to his death, more or less. It’s weird when you think about what you’re actually seeing: In a game where Mario spent the whole time either facing left or right and scurrying along a two-dimensional plane, he died by facing the screen and jumping off the platform, toward the screen.


This style of video game death wasn’t invented in Mario Bros. A year before, Nintendo released the direct sequel to Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr., where the main ape died in a similarly theatrical manner: making bug-eyes at the screen, flailing his hands and then plummeting down with a cartoony slide whistle noise. But Mario did it in Mario Bros., and Nintendo used it again in Super Mario Bros., and that’s the game that hit big. Perhaps as a result of the popularity of Super Mario Bros., it ended up everywhere in video games from that era — mostly Mario-style platformers, of which there were many, but some other genres too. Your character died, and he or she looked at directly at the screen — at you, effectively — before they spasmed and leapt into oblivion. It’s like they were saying, “Hey. Fuck you. You killed me.” And then the leap. It seems strange, given that it ads a z-axis into a world that often only had an x and a y previously. But that’s how it happened.

I don’t know how many games featured characters dying in some kind of variation on this Mario-style death, but I think it’s interesting how prevalent it once was in video games. And so I did a little look-through of NES sprites to see what I could pull find. What resulted is the eight-bit Halloween celebration you see below.

Enjoy it. This time, it’s not your failure.


A few notes:

Video games, previously:

14 comments:

  1. I guess they thought having your character fall off the screen was less disturbing than showing a corpse, even a cartoony one like in Donkey Kong. Speaking of which, the NES Dragon Warrior games made the dead people into ghostly outlines rather than coffins, as they were in the Japanese originals and are once again in newer ports.

    By the way, I like Darkwing Duck's eyes in that dying pose.

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    1. The young me would have enjoyed the idea of dragging your dead comrades' coffins behind you.

      And I do too. They have a lot of personality packed into that sprite.

      Delete
  2. Anonymous5:37 PM

    STANLEY THE BUGMAN IN DA HOUSE!!!!!!

    (sorry)

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    1. No, it's cool. Stanley deserves a cheering section.

      Delete
  3. Wario is the villain in Wario's Woods, so it isn't really a "death" per se.

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    1. No, this is valid. I picked that sprite because he seemed to be mimicking the "death post," despite not being a hero in that game.

      Delete
  4. The Sega CD game "Sonic CD" took this to a more morbid place. If you leave Sonic still for a few minutes, he says "I'm outta here" and jumps off the screen. This basically means that he commits suicide out of boredom.

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    1. Speaking of which, I'm fairly certain the face-forward dive off of the screen is how Sonic the Hedgehog dies in all of his titles, right from the first eponymous game.

      (I had a Sega Genesis as a kid.)

      Delete
    2. Wow. What a dick.

      Delete
  5. So if you made up "Magic Forest Champion", did you draw that second-to-last sprite yourself or is it actually from a game?

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    1. I did actually draw that sprite myself. Sorry for the ruse. You're the only one who noticed and said something about it.

      Delete
  6. Anonymous7:55 PM

    Hate to pick nits in an otherwise great collage, but in the Lolo games and Bomberman (and maybe others, I don't recognize all of these) the characters can move in all four directions, meaning that they could be killed facing the player and not break the 4th wall.

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  7. Anonymous3:32 PM

    they must have simply gotten scared and jumped out of the game, thats why they fall out to the bottom. like they will fall out of the game

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  8. Old, but every boss in Super Mario Land 2 also did this after being defeated. As did a few from the first Wario Land game. Amusing, they also flipped upside down just before the fall.

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