Sunday, August 26, 2012

Does Nintendo Hate Eggplants?

Though literally late to the game, I’m playing through Nintendo’s new Kid Icarus. As I get older, I forget sometimes how much I enjoy playing video games, so it’s nice to have one to unwind. And it’s especially fun to see Nintendo’s take on characters that I first met more than twenty years ago and largely hadn’t seen since.

This includes the Eggplant Wizard.

For those who never played the original NES Kid Icarus, the Eggplant Wizard was a recurring enemy that attacked by transforming the hero, Pit, into an eggplant with legs. Eggplants not being known for their nimbleness or courage, an eggplantified Pit had little recourse aside from jumping about and trying to dodge the sharper-clawed monsters coming at him. In Kid Icarus: Uprising, the Eggplant Wizard returns, looking a bit more polished than he did back in the day, but ultimately being every bit as annoying.

In fact, there’s even a Tempura Wizard that will transform Pit into a tempura shrimp on legs and then try to eat him, but that’s a different story, to be told in my nightmares. No, this article is about eggplants. People who never played Kid Icarus might have known the Eggplant Wizard anyway because he was a featured villain on Captain N: The Game Master, the mostly terrible Saturday morning cartoon series that featured characters from NES-era video games.

The series placed the wizard alongside actual big bads — like King Hippo from Punch-Out!! and the Mother Brain from Metroid — as if he were more than a generic annoyance, but that’s hardly the weirdest creative made by a show that tried to promote the Game Boy by introducing a sentient, stretchable Game Boy as a character. But the Eggplant Wizard’s presence on Captain N probably marks the highest-profile moment for aubergine in a video game-related medium.

But here’s the weird part: There’s kind of a history of Nintendo featuring evil eggplants. I’m not the only one to notice the weird preponderance of eggplants in video games. The website Sydlexia actually features a whole history of the eggplant on the Nintendo Entertainment System. That list begins with Ice Climber, a vertically scrolling title where your Eskimo heroes can collect various produce items for bonus points, Pac-Man-style.

It’s in Wrecking Crew, released six months after Ice Climber, that the eggplants turn evil. In this quasi-Mario Bros. spinoff, Mario has to contend with three headaches: ambulatory wrenches, a burly, Bluto-esque foreman, and the Eggplant Men.

As far as Nintendo-produced games go, Sydlexia’s list ends with Kid Icarus, which came out in 1986. A handful of third party games feature eggplants too, however, sometimes in a negative context — the very Mario-like Adventure Island games feature it as an anti-power-up that saps your strength and slows the music down — and sometimes in a positive one — the princess in Kickle Cubicle has a guard of eggplant retainers. I’ll leave it up to you how to assess the eggplants in Princess Tomato in Salad Kingdom, which are a sexy anthropomorphic barmaid and a Fidel Castro parody, respectively. But after sorting through the extensive files my brain keeps on useless video game knowledge, I can think of two more recent, but less-than-pleasant Nintendo eggplants.

In Wario Land 4, the first boss is a doll-toting toddler eggplant that gets a lot less cute once you’ve roughed her up a few times.

In one of the Mario baseball games, Waluigi — who himself is eggplant-colored, even if it’s Wario who’s eggplant-shaped — has a power-up called the Whiskered Eggplant. It’s an eggplant with a mustache, and yes, “eggplant with a moustache” could essentially be a description for Waluigi himself.

And then there’s Smash Bros. Brawl, where the story mode features an army of little foot soldiers that, to me, looked so much like the Eggplant Men from Wrecking Crew that I just assumed they were. Apparently they’re not, but you have to admit, the resemblance is really strong, associated purple clouds and all.

And truly, what could be more harrowing than facing down an army of eggplants bent on world domination?

A better question: What gives?

Well, it’s possible I just forgot all the positive depictions of eggplants I’ve ever seen in a video game, and I’m twisting Nintendo’s gallery of products to reflect my own anti-eggplant agenda. (It’s possible. I don’t actually care for eggplant.) Or I could have just not played the majority of pro-eggplant games out there. However, it’s also possible that the eggplant might be more commonplace in Japan than it is here in the U.S., and that fact’s being reflected in the games that Japan makes. But if that’s the case, maybe the eggplant carries certain connotations in Japan that are inspiring video game designers to make it evil. I looked. I found next to nothing, aside from an old wives’ tale about eggplants causing infertility in newly married woman.

Maybe it’s just that someone at Nintendo regards eggplants the same way I do — purple and gross?

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