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:
- Yes, this began with this post.
- For all I know, the Mario-style death could have originated in some game other than Donkey Kong Jr. Anyone?
- Yes, the collection is quite Nintendo-heavy, I know. This is perhaps not a coincidence.
- I don’t doubt that there are other games that featured this style of death. This is just what was available at the retrogaming sprite sites I could find.
- Since it’s been forever since I laid hands on some of these games, I kind of had to trust the sprite sheets. Most of the time, these aren’t labeled as “death animation.” I had to guess sometimes.
- Here’s where everything came from, left to right, top to bottom: Little Nemo, Kid Icarus, DuckTales, Wai Wai World, Adventure Island, Adventures of Lolo 3, Doki Doki Panic, Doraemon, Bomberman II, Donkey Kong Jr., Mickey Mousecapade, Balloon Fight, Super Mario Bros. 3, Clash at Demonhead, Gyromite, Doki Doki Panic, Kid Dracula, Donkey Kong 3, Balloon Kid, Adventures of Lolo 3, Pitfall, Doki Doki Panic, Darkwing Duck, Mickey Mousecapade, Magic of Scheherazade, Rainbow Islands, 53 Stations of the Tokaido, Super Mario Bros. 2, Tiny Toon Adventures, Super Mario Bros. 2, Magic Forest Champion, Wario’s Woods.
Video games, previously:
- Strains of feminism in Metroid and Kid Icarus
- Full House meets Dragon Warrior meets African wildlife
- The weirdness that is The Krion Conquest
- Nintendo’s well-documented hatred of eggplants
- The terrific typos of Super Mario Bros. 2
- Square’s awkwardly racist Tom Sawyer RPG
- “Decisive Battle (of Music Trivia)”