Tuesday, January 6, 2009

In Praise of Pixels and in Search of Super Mario Bros. 5

As I was tossing out old magazines to make way for the 2009 stack, I came across an issue of Retro Gamer, a British publication which focuses specifically on the chunky gloriousness that is old video games. An apparently regular feature is “Pixel Perfect,” in which a certain game’s sprites are showcased — not just for being good enough considering the technical restraints of the time but instead for being aesthetically pleasing in their own right. The issue I picked up happened to honor Super Mario World and its enemy sprites in particular. Yes, their every colored block component is visible, even at a distance, but Retro Gamer encourages us to see this as a positive.

The scans:

super mario world pixel

super mario world pixel

It might be odd for some people my age to see a game that debuted in 1991 be held up as iconic, even though pretty much anyone who regularly held a video game controller that year would know that Super Mario World is held in high regard. Looking at the character sprites laid out in a grid, however, with whatever Mario game they debuted in noted beneath, I can’t help but to notice how many of these characters never appeared again after Super Mario World and which, consequently, didn’t become such weirdly large parts of my childhood.

Who is it, I have to wonder, that gets to decide which ones get to become series staples and which ones fall by the side? Who decided that the Porcu-Puffer or the Dino-Torch were so inherently flawed that they didn’t need to appear in any subsequent Mario games? What made them so inferior to the rest of the minions pictured in the second scan? And who thought it necessary to bring Pokey back from the obscurity of Super Mario Bros. 2, resulting in the segmented, ambulatory cactus’s appearance in nearly every subsequent Mario game? (Damn activists and their pro-cactus agenda.)

Maybe more importantly, I note two facts in the infobox on the right side of the first scan: in order, “[Super Mario World] is known as Super Mario Bros. 4 in Japan” and “Super Mario World’s direct sequel was Super Mario’s Wacky Worlds and was supposed to be released on the CD-i.” I’ve read about Wacky Worlds a bit online and recognize that it is the Mario game that never came to be. And I realize that Super Mario World was released in Japan with the subtitle “Super Mario Bros. 4.

super mario bros. 4 super mario world japanese box art

See? And it makes sense, especially given that an earlier incarnation of Super Mario World featured Mario sporting the raccoon tail that allowed him to fly in Super Mario Bros. 3. (Like in real life!) But if this Super Nintendo launch title is Super Mario Bros. 4, then what is Super Mario Bros. 5, especially if the horrifically titled Wacky Worlds — that is, the “direct sequel” to the subject at hand — never came to be?

In 1995, Nintendo released a sequel to Super Mario World: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, which starred Mario in infantile form, clinging tenaciously onto Yoshi and screaming like a banshee when the two were separated.

It would seem logical that an actually published sequel to Super Mario World would get to take the title of Super Mario Bros. 5, but I’m not sure that this game actually should. Essentially, this game departed enough from the standard Mario hop-and-bop gameplay that it birthed Nintendo’s Yoshi games as a series in their own right, what with their egg-tossing and constant eating. (They’re like a primer for bad motherhood.)

So if it’s not Yoshi’s Island, maybe it’s Super Mario 64 — the first 3-D Mario game and the second title to continue the trend of one-title-per-system that began with Super Mario World. (If the Wii gets a follow-up to Super Mario Galaxy before a new age of Nintendo systems dons on it, it would be the first in years to break this trend.) Of course, you could also say that Super Mario 64 was the start of the al the games where Mario could run around in any one of 360 degrees from where he’s standing — yes, that is different than up, down, backward and forward — like in Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. So, essentially, this one may not be the true sequel either, if you look at it instead as the first in a new series.

Really, if any game deserves to inherit the subtitle Super Mario Bros. 5, it would be a game that most people probably didn’t play and which has never been ported to any latter-day Nintendo system: Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins. It was the game that introduced that Freudian nightmare Wario as well as the second Mario outing for the Game Boy. The game did its best to re-create the basic Super Mario World graphics and atmosphere and gameplay with the magic of creamed spinach color. But even if it was the title that deserved to be the true follow-up to Super Mario World, it should get nixed for the same reason that the previous two games should: It spun off into a radically non-Mario direction. Its sequel, Super Mario Land 3 starred not Mario but Wario, who later went on to bop-and-hop through five more games, each with a more Wario-specific style of gameplay. Beyond that, Six Golden Coins is already a sequel to another game: the Super Mario Land, which owes more to the original Super Mario Bros. than anything else.

The conclusion: None. There is no Super Mario Bros. 5, and, thus, it’s stupid to imagine what could deserve that honor.

Realization: Anything that had a chance at having the honor immediately lost it by spinning off into its own thing. Boo.

Additional realization: I think I hate Pokey.

Third realization: What the hell ever happened to the Koopa Kids, foremost among them Morton Koopa Jr. — the only video game character to be named after trash TV titan Morton Downey Jr.?

Other noteworthy Super Mario-related posts:


  1. You could probably make a similar article on title numbering based on the other Nintendo franchises like Metroid and Zelda. You also forgot to mention New Super Mario Bros. But anyways, the most recent prominent game the Koopa Kids can be found in is Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga.

  2. Good point. I'd forgotten about New Super Mario Bros., which is really more of a direct sequel to Super Mario Bros. than anything.

  3. I say Super Mario World is more of a "direct sequel" to Super Mario Bros. 3, in the way you say New Super Mario Bros. is a direct sequel to the first Super Mario Bros. And Yoshi's Story and Yoshi's Island DS would be sequel's to Yoshi's Island.

    I guess the only one that hasn't gotten its own sequel then would be Super Mario Bros. 2.

  4. That is so weird. I had no idea that Super Mario World was supposed to be Super Mario Bros. 4. Does this mean that Super Mario Galaxy is actually Super Mario Bros. 8?

  5. Actually, now that I think about it, Super Mario World --- a.k.a. Super Mario Bros. 4 --- kind of is Super Mario Bros. 5 already. By the time this game came out, Nintendo had already released four Mario games in Japan: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2 (the super hard reconfiguration of the previous game that eventually got released in the States as Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels), Super Mario Bros. 2 (the American sequel to the first game, which was released in Japan as Super Mario USA before Super Mario World had come out), and finally Super Mario Bros. 3.

    So the numbers at the end mean nothing.

    But we already knew that.

  6. It seems like most of the dinosaur-themed enemies from SMW never made it to other games, even though some of them did take place in Dinosaur Land.

    The Li'l Sparky in SMW is basically the same as the Spark in SMB2. They don't look very similar, but they both do the same thing.

  7. Nathan: I've noticed that too, with the Spark. Oddly enough, it ended up being an item in the newest Smash Bros. game, though under the name "Hothead," and with the note that the character first appeared in Super Mario World. So Nintendo at least doesn't acknowledge the difference between it and the Super Mario Bros. 2 enemy.