Sunday, February 28, 2010

Don’t Shoot the Hard Hats — Helmet Enemies in Mario and Mega Man

The following post links etymology, translation, and video games — and all in the context of two underappreciated video game grunts.

If you’ve ever played a Mega Man game, you’re familiar with the little baddies that are basically living, walking hard hats. You happen upon them and they initially just look like a stray helmet, perhaps dropped by a forgetful construction worker. “What a helpful item!” you say. “Perhaps I shall take it for my travels!” Then, little eyes poke out from beneath the brim and the creature fires at you. “WHY ARE YOU HURTING ME, HELPFUL HAT FRIEND?!” you cry out. Eventually, the trauma is too great and you must take your Mega Man back to the video rental store. In tears, you ask the clerk for a selection with friendlier hats. (A dramatization... or was it?) In most instances, these pests are invulnerable, as their little helmet bodies reflect any projectiles that you fire at them. However, when their eyes pop up and they fire at you, you have a chance to attack. If you can get a shot in during these few seconds, you can take these guys out.

A visual aid:

Despite its frequent appearances in Mega Man games, the name of this particular pest is debated. To some, it’s Mettool. To others, it’s Metall, Mettall, Metaur or Mettaur. The last of these has risen in popularity in the past few years, but the Mega Man wiki groups all the appearances of these characters under the simpler name Met.

Now hold that thought and consider this: If you happened to have encountered the Mega Man hard hat baddies, then I’m willing to bet that you also tangled with their Mario series equivalent, the nasty, invulnerable baddies known in the U.S. as Buzzy Beetles. As with the Mettaur, projectiles — specifically Mario’s fireballs — don’t faze them. And stomping them only stuns them. In short, they’re hard to deal with in many of the same ways the Mettaurs are.

Another visual aid:

Just today, I learned that the Japanese name for the Mario beetles is Metto, which, like Mettaur and its variants, comes from the English helmet. Though the connection seemed plausible, I wanted to double check. Really, why should the names come from the second syllable of an English word? But indeed, the Japanese seem to have two words for helmettetsubou and herumetto, the latter of which is a direct transliteration of the English word helmet into Japanese.

So there you go: these two characters are linked in that their original names reflect their nature and, while both Japanese-sounding, ultimately come from English.

This strangeness makes me re-think my suspicion of a character in the Japanese movie Hausu. All of the girls in this particular horror movie are named to reflect their personalities. The fat one is called Mac — inexplicably so until it’s revealed that the name comes from the English stomach. (She likes to eat, get it?) If Mettaur and Metto can come from a translated and retranslated version of helmet, then maybe the explanation behind fatty Mac’s doesn’t seem so illogical. Nonetheless, interesting to see how an English word can get repurposed in two very different ways, while still spreading awareness about the benefits of hard hats.

Games ‘n’ names, previously:
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