Sunday, April 10, 2011

Super Mario Planets

For lifelong Nintendo-ites like myself, it’s often rewarding to look back at the games I played when we played as kids to see how major series concepts might have sprouted from seeds planted years back. Take, for example, the tiny planets of the Super Mario Galaxy games.

And compare them to the Japanese box art for Super Mario World.

The game didn’t have little round planets, and the illustration is just showing that the title isn’t a misnomer: Super Mario World is a lot bigger in scope than the previous Mario games. It’s not Super Mario County or even Super Mario Continent, it’s a whole freaking world. And see? Here’s a little world to illustrate that point. Literal? Yes. But effective.

And then, from a few years further along, there’s the tiny, two-dimensional planet from the Raphael the Raven fight in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. It’s basically an in-game realization of that original illustration. You can move around the edge of the planet, avoiding the boss. Yoshi always stays at the top of the screen, and the horizon rotates behind him to give the illusion of running around the surface of the planet.

From there, it’s not too far to a three-dimensional sphere that Mario moves around in every direction. I like to think about whether these ideas were brewing for years, with the Nintendo creative crew planning from the get-go to have Mario hopping across entire planets. And even more, I’d like to imagine that the planet idea didn’t come from the game designers but from the post-production illustrators, who decided on a rather straightforward way to showcase the “world” concept, with the guys in charge of gameplay concepts looking at the Super Mario World box art and thinking, “Yeah, there’s something to this. What can we do?”

I’m about to out-geek myself and quote a bit of little-remembered video game dialogue. Trust me, though, it’s appropriate. In Yoshi’s Island, before getting whisked up into space for the Raphael the Raven fight, Kamek, the cackling big bad responsible for all the game’s boss fights, says this: “I banish you to forever twinkle in the heavens.” Scarier threats have been made, sure, but given that the direction the Mario games eventually went — up, out and into deep space — the words now seem prophetic.

Super Mario studies, previously:

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