Saturday, December 21, 2013

The Happiest Arabian Family in Video Game-dom

Meet Imajin and his family.

You’re going to see a lot of them in this post.

I recently did something I’d only done once before in my life: sent away for a Japanese video game. Last time was years ago, and I did it to play a sequel to a beloved game that never made it outside Japan. This time, however, I bought a video game cartridge that I’ll probably never play.

It’s Doki Doki Panic, the game that became Super Mario Bros. 2, meaning that it’s for the Japanese version of the NES and that I therefore have no system to plug it into. I’m actually not sure why I even bought it, other than to possess a thing that always seemed out-of-reach. I can say this much, though: Flipping through the instruction manual makes for a very “red universe-blue universe” moment, because it means seeing familiar elements in a context that feels inherently wrong. It’s like someone mucked with the timeline and re-wrote history.

Here, you can play along too.

The official box art, for example, features the heroes, a jolly Arabian family, fighting the big bad and his monsters. It should look familiar even if you’d never heard of Doki Doki Panic, first because the big bad, Mamu, became Wart for the game’s transformation into Super Mario Bros. 2 and second because the box art for the Super Mario version of the game re-creates this scene, almost pose for pose.(Note, though, the latter is the artwork for Super Mario USA, the version of the American take on the game that Nintendo eventually released in Japan. The American box art for Super Mario Bros. 2 looks different, of course.)

Unsure what’s going on here, exactly, but I’ll say this much: My childhood could have benefitted from more anthropomorphic video game cartridges giving me instructions.

Something else I could have benefitted from in my childhood? Video games that devoted four pages of the instruction manual to storylines. It’s pretty clear that Mamu is trying to get a taste of those delicious winged moppets that Arabian culture is so famous for. I know what’s going on, more or less, and I know that the storybook motif explains why the final world is missing a level — I’ll bet it’s the ripped page in the bottom corner of page 8 — but if anyone can provide a word-for-word translation, I’d be eternally grateful.

I like how they show you the Bad Dream Machine right there in the manual, on the bottom of page 6, so as to prevent the “What the hell is that supposed be?” reaction I had when I got to the last room of the game back in the day.

I’ve mentioned before here that the pet monkey is not playable in the game, and I will point out a second time how that seems like a terrible oversight on Nintendo’s part. That said, they have dressed the monkey well.

Hit the jump for more.

Here, the “Mario” of the game, Imajin, admonishes you for something. I know not what.

Walkin’ toward each other, like you do. Again, I know not why.

Here, you learn about the various characters’ special abilities. Only you don’t need to, because they’re the same abilities as the Mario 2 cast. It’s interesting how these characters are now all but forgotten, yet they’re the reason certain Mario elements exist today. For example, Lina and Mama run more slowly than Imajin and Papa, but they compensate with superior jumping abilities. Those same jumping abilities are still around today, so it’s actually Lina and Mama who are responsible for Peach hovering in middair and Luigi jumping especially high in Super Mario 3D World.

It’s also worth pointing out that the Super Mario Bros. 2 instruction manual re-created these images too, but I suppose it’s just the most sensible way to convey this info graphically.

I can’t seem to find a good, large version of the vegetable-plucking line-up, but it was there in the manual too, and it even got re-created in the in-game intro to Super Mario Advance.

 (Yes, it does in fact look like twerking, now that you see it in GIF form.)

Such a happy family, even despite the abduction of their children! I actually had a conversation on Twitter about Doki Doki Panic being rare in that it lets you play as all the members of a family: the mom, the dad and the kids. It was suggested that I write up something on such video games, but I actually got stuck after thinking of only one other: Legacy of the Wizard. I wonder if there are any more.

Again, more of Imajin where we’re used to seeing Mario. Everything else is basically unchanged, save for those weird masks on the bottom of page 20, which became mushroom blocks in Super Mario Bros. 2. (And if you’re curious about the abundance of masks in Mario 2, see this post.)

An overview of items. Again, it’s more or less the same, with a few obvious substitutions like the inexplicable racist blackface head getting switched out for a Koopa Troopa shell. Curious how Doki Doki Panic still has a star to grant you invincibility, Super Mario-style, when it wasn’t intended as a Mario game. 

Yep, the extra life-granting slot machine got its start in Doki Doki Panic too, so I guess you could say that’s where the Super Mario 3D World version comes from. (The music is a dead give-away.)

A little weirdness here: Apparently Doki Doki Panic treats the gray Shy Guys as a separate enemy, while the American version doesn’t. I’m wracking my brain to remember if the gray ones acted any differently. Anyone? (Also, a little trivia: They only put one red Snifit in either version of game, even though he appears on both box arts.)

Only one “red world” moment, and it’s the less demonic-looking Phanto mask. (I prefer mine as frightening as possible.) But there are two other oddities here that might be explained by the images coming from a beta version of the game: the background behind that Beezo and whatever platform the Bob-Omb is walking on, which doesn’t appear in Super Mario Bros. 2

Only one bit here: While they kept the original artwork for every other enemy, Nintendo re-drew Pokey the Amblin’ Cactus for the Super Mario Bros. 2 manual to look cuter but less like how he looks in-game. (See?) I just imagine some art director declaring, “It’s all good but this shitty-looking cactus has got to go.”

Both the American and Japanese versions of the game make the weird decision to show art of big bad but not a screenshot of how he actually looks in the game, even though he looks basically exactly like the art depicts. It would have been more surprising if you got to the last stage and the big bad had, like, blonde pigtails and a pink sundress. And yeah — no Clawgrip (or even Clawglip) here, as he’s unique to Mario 2.

Also, might any of you Japanese-savvy readers be able to translate page 37? I know it has something to do with this phone card featuring Imajin and Lina next to Mario and Peach.

Another odd tie between this game and the Mario games before Nintendo turned it into a Mario game. “Greetings, Arabian kids from an unrelated game. We are going to blink you out of existence shortly!”

More life lessons from an anthropomorphic video game cartridge. The life lesson you’re getting here is not to be a dick, I guess. The “don’t touch the magnetic strip” part seems especially invasive.

And that’s it. 

Is it weird to feel nostalgic for something you didn’t actually experience? That’s the feeling I got flipping through this manual. Short of going back in time and playing it as a kid, I think I’ve gotten about as much as I can from this footnote in video game history. I don’t know if anyone else has gotten as much from it as I have. I think it was learning about the existence of Doki Doki Panic and how it had been retroactively absorbed into the Mario series that sparked an interest in “continuity immigrants,” as the aptly named Jor-Ellis Island refers to them. I’m also pretty sure that Doki Doki Panic is responsible for my love of overlooked, underappreciated and otherwise forgotten video games from this time period.

Maybe more than anything else, however, what really pings my “back in the day”-dar is the artwork. I don’t know who did the illustrations for Doki Doki Panic, but they nailed that “classic Nintendo” look. Should Nintendo ever release a collection of all this hand-drawn instruction booklet artwork one day, I know of at least one nerd who’d be happy to own it.

This? This is my childhood right here, even if this was a game I never played:

And another:

doki doki panic official art super mario bros. 2

And another:

And finally, befitting his sad fate of getting wiped out of existence by an Italian plumber, we’ll close on Imajin getting electrocuted. 

Video games, previously:


  1. Anonymous11:29 AM

    I dunno 'bout YK:DDP not inteded to be a Mario game. I get the impression that Nintendo was REALLY trepiditious towards what direction, exactly, they wanted to take their first mega hit game; and they hedged their bets by making two and having one funded by commision from Fuji TV (I wonder how THEY felt when the project they backed was reworked to rob them of further royalties and ownership). Seems like the wiley sort of thing Nintendo would do.

    As for the booklet's artist -- I'd bet dollars to do it's Yoichi Kotabe ( He more than anyone was responsible for the Mario franchise's aesthetic. YK:DDP was his first project at nintendo.

    That dra

    1. Anonymous11:30 AM

      *dollars to donuts

    2. Agreed. Weren't the Fuji TV characters created just for a festival they were holding at the time? Might be why they were never heard from again.

      That said, I've long theorized DDP was always meant to be a Mario game. Really, how often does Nintendo do licensed work like this?

    3. You bring up good points. And yeah, I've also heard that Doki Doki Panic was Nintendo's way of venturing out without risking the Super Mario Bros. name on something that was too different, hence the "real" sequel being a rather uninspired retread of the original game. I guess I'm confused why they'd insert some iconically Super Mario Bros. elements into Doki Doki Panic, like the star or even the noise that characters make when the jump. Then again, maybe I'm just underestimating how much of an influence SMB had over the genre, and maybe other games besides DDP, maybe even non-Nintendo games, stuck as closely to the original formula.

      Is there any reason that Nintendo coudln't have just said, "Here, look, it's a different adventure undertaken by one of Mario's friends?" I could see that being explained away by Nintendo's reluctance to enmesh their characters in the same universe as some Fuji-owned characters, but then how was it okay to export the minor enemy characters into later Super Mario games? Did Fuji only own Imajin and his family?

    4. And anonymous, can you believe I'd never heard of Yochi Kotabe until now? I should study up.

    5. Anonymous3:38 PM

      "Did Fuji only own Imajin and his family?"

      I'm nearly, almost absolutely certain that this is the case. The only non-game material I could find (found on this website: doesn't show any other elements from the game. The page mentions masks, but I get the impression that they're public domain elements; like I'm sure I've seen that two-tone mask in other places, e.g., Marvelous Entertainment's Contact ( and Kirby Superstar.

      And maybe it wasn't so much trepiditiousness but serendipity that YK:DDP happened. Like Fuji asked them to make the game post haste, and the result was Mario 2: All-Night Nippon version, but in reverse.

      And I look forward to your look into Heidi: The Anime!

  2. I don't have time to translate everything now, so let me just make some quick remarks.

    1. I never thought of it before but Imajin's name is pun of "Imagine" + "Genie" (jin) + -jin (the Japanese suffix meaning X-ese, person from country X).

    2. Disk-kun is explaining how to change the sticker on your disk to the title of the game you have saved on it. You unpeel the existing sticker, put it in a book for safe keeping, and then stick on the new game you just downloaded at the store.

    3. The phone card thing on page 37 says that 2,000 people will win a phone card if you peel a sticker off and send it in to a certain address in Tokyo.

    More to come after the holidays. If I don't do a follow up post, just email me to remind me to do it.

    1. Hey man. Thanks much for any translation you're able to do.

      1. That's quite clever, really. I always thought the name was oddly similar to Imogene, just remade for a boy, but I like your take much better.

      2. And I am so much happier that the NES had a different save feature.

      3. Thanks!

  3. You know, everybody talks about Doki Doki Panic but nobody ever does anything about it. Really enjoying these articles.

    1. Thanks, man! I'm enjoying putting as much as I can find out there.

  4. Here's my translation of the instruction manual. I localized it a bit, but the content should all be the same. Hopefully nothing sounds too awkward.

    The Dream Factory Is an Incredibly Mysterious Tale

    - An Incident that Happened in Muu World, the World of Dreams

    This is a tale about a faraway unknown land. The Muu World is located there, where a very happy group of people known as the Muu lives. It is a very mysterious country, and its daily weather is determined by everyone's dreams. If people have fun, wonderful dreams, that day's weather will be pleasant. If they have
    nothing but bad dreams, then the weather will be stormy. But with dreams you won't know
    how they'll turn out until you dream them. Therefore the Muu developed a Dream Machine and
    made it produce a lot of good dreams.

    However one day the mischief-making monster Mamu tampered with the machine, and bad things
    started happening! Instead of dreams, monsters started appearing from the machine and caused
    a huge stir. Mamu was delighted by all of the trouble he was creating for everyone. All the Muu thought that they needed to punish that scoundrel Mamu, so they brought his least favorite thing to the Dream Machine. That thing just happened to be vegetables. Mamu was
    crushed by a lot of vegetables and surrendered. Hooray!

    - A Large Hand that Suddenly Appeared Captured Piki and Poki!!

    The above tale was a tale found in an old picture book brought from somewhere by the monkey Rusa. Twins Piki and Poki were engrossed by it. However, while they were reading the picture book they got into a fight over it, and they ripped out the last page in which Mamu surrendered. The moment they did that, a large hand appeared with a flash and dragged them both into the book. Imajin and his family heard screams and rushed to their source, where they saw the back of Mamu running through the book while clutching Piki and Poki. Imajin, with his hand outstretched, was sucked into the book, as were Papa and the rest of the family, who were looking at the scene with surprise.

    The goal is the Dream Factory, where Mamu is located. Everyone, gather your strength and go save Piki
    and Poki!

    1. I wonder if the Muu World is named after the Buddhist concept of nonexistence.

    2. The kanji that is used for "Muu" directly translates to "dream space," which is why I believe that they called the creatures and their world "Subcon." Another interesting thing is that Wart's Japanese name, "Mamuu," pretty much means "Demon Muu."

    3. Godaigmer: This is all awesome! Thanks for the translation, and I'm loving the stab at etymology on Mamu.

  5. The page in which Imajin and Mamu are approaching each other tells you that you can't save Piki and Poki unless you beat the game with all four characters, either by playing through the whole game with each character or by all of the characters progressing through the chapters at an equal pace. I guess Doki Doki has a save function to make this easier and allows you to switch characters at the start of each chapter.

    Also, the manual says that the grey Shy Guys are slow, but will target and follow the player. I don't recall if this happened in the US version.

    1. I'm almost positive the gray ones didn't move more slowly than the other ones. Isn't it odd that they'd include the gray Shy Guys and exclude unique enemies from the game? Like the Flurries, those fast-moving little guys from the ice stages?

  6. "...the American box art re-creates this scene, almost pose for pose."

    Not the American box art, no American box art I've ever seen, anyway. I think that was for the Japanese release, "Super Mario USA."

    1. You are correct, sir. I shall amend the post.

  7. I would like to point out that Lina is not Imajin's sister, but his girlfriend, hence why Peach got the role in SMB2USA.