Saturday, February 9, 2013

Stephen King Meets Super Mario

So here’s something I didn’t expect to write ever.

For you who don’t follow video games, a quick preface: 2002 saw the release of Super Mario Sunshine, the Hawaiian shirt-wearing black sheep of the series that sent Mario off to face all manner of tropical danger during an island vacation. One of the areas Mario must hop through is Sirena Beach, which exists in a state of perma-sunset and which is home to the Hotel Delfino and more than its share of ghost problems. In fact, Mario’s first mission in this area pits him against this weird, manta ray-shaped shadow that emerges from the ocean and slowly slimes over the whole resort. Mario can only kill it by repeatedly attacking it, breaking it down into smaller and smaller mantas until the smallest of them die for good.

Here’s a video of the manta monster in action:

Note that the music is appropriately creepy and David Lynch-y. I though this would be the extent of pop-cultural connections to be made, but that’s apparently not the case. The “cloudbush” thread, an ongoing NeoGAF message board discussion that’s been trying to find “mind-blowing” video game trivia since 2008, makes an interesting point about the Super Mario Sunshine manta. (It’s not the first surprising connection it’s made, and this isn’t the first one I’ve noted on this blog.) Basically, the whole scene could be a riff on The Shining. At the end of the book, when Wendy and Danny are fleeing the burning Overlook with Dick Halloran — remember, the Scatman Crothers character doesn’t get axed to death like he does in the movie — only Dick looks back, and when he does he sees something odd... even in the context of everything else that happens in The Shining.
From the window of the Presidential Suite he thought he saw a huge dark shape issue, blotting out the snowfield behind it. For a moment it assumed the shape of a huge, obscene manta, and then the wind seemed to catch it, to tear it and shred it like old dark paper. It fragmented, was caught in a whirling eddy of smoke, and a moment later it was gone as if it had never been.
These creatures aren’t the same, and the message board post incorrectly calls the Shining manta “paper-thin,” when it’s actually the Mario manta that gets called that. The Shining text does eventually compare its manta to paper, however. And both mantas fragment into nonexistence. Debatable physical qualities aside, how many giant manta shadows can you think of that are associated with pop culture hotels that have serious ghost problems? That’s a fairly specific condition, you must admit. I have no idea whether the similarity might be intentional, but on coming to your own conclusion, please consider about these two points. First, I would have never thought that a Legend of Zelda game would have been inspired by Twin Peaks, but it happened, and weirder things have inspired video games. Second, Nintendo loves obscure references. Even Super Mario Sunshine is full of them. The whole Sirena Beach map, for example, is designed to look like a Gamecube controller. See?

The controller of the system you’re using to play the very game is less out-of-nowhere than The Shining, as far as references go, but I feel like the hidden controller at least shows that Nintendo sometimes operates on a subtle level. Someone just casually playing the game probably wouldn’t notice either — the hidden controller or a debatable nod to a Stephen King novel. I’m not sure who at Nintendo could say with any certainty “Yes, it’s supposed to be The Shining” or “No, who are you and how did you get past security?” but at the very least, this must be a very specific, very strange coincidence a double ghost hotels and oversized mantas that have both fragmentary and papery qualities.

Video games weirdness, previously:

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