So, apparently Nintendo won’t be putting on a major presentation at E3 this year. I suppose there’s even more of an idea shortage over there than I thought. Maybe they need more time to think of something to do with Mario.
You know that Mario Brothers movie from the 90’s, the one with Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo? Every time I hear someone bring that up, it’s usually by saying “In a strange way, I liked that film,” or “I’m probably the only person who thought that film was quite good”. Every single time. I think we, as a culture, should probably all collectively agree that everyone kind of liked the Mario Brothers movie. And therefore the Mario Brothers movie might actually have been good.
Well, personally I think it was the best movie one could possibly have gotten out of the inherently stupid idea that is making a live-action movie out of Super Mario Brothers. At least everyone seemed to be having fun with it. Beforehand, if someone had said “Dennis Hopper playing Bowser”, you probably wouldn’t have pictured anything better than the performance he put in. Reimagining a cheerful, colorful, cartoonish universe as a dark, dystopian – if campy – science fiction story might have been a bit of a lurch, but why not? Honestly. That’s the kind of outside-the-box thinking the property could use right about now.
Every possible angle for Mario as he is officially portrayed by Nintendo has kinda been explored, and for once I think this is a situation that calls for a reboot. Not the lazy kind that’s just the same idea again with current generation graphics and the dust brushed off, but a test of the core concepts explained in an entirely different tone and visual style.
The setting of the Mario videogames is one that certainly does call for explanation, just to the extent of explaining why two Italian plumbers are the only human beings in a kingdom of cartoon monsters and physically inept toadstool people, with the rather glaring exception of the kingdom’s female monarch. Which isn’t even encroaching upon the further mystery of why said plumbers are the go-to troubleshooters for every single crisis that strikes the nation. It’s only in the film and TV adaptations that any attempts have been made to explain how this situation came about. By all of those accounts it’s because Mario and Luigi, Italian-Americans originally from Brooklyn, were serendipitously transported to a strange alien world while on a plumbing job, a world in which they now reside permanently either by choice or inability to return home. We are officially disregarding Yoshi’s Island, by the way.
I think it was Moviebob who I once heard draw a parallel between this backstory and that of Superman. You have a character who is mundane in their home environment, but is transported to an alien environment where something ubiquitous that the locals consider normal – the yellow sun in one case and mushrooms in the other – has extraordinary empowering effects upon their biology. Acquiring a sense of importance and belonging that they never had in their home worlds, the heroes accept the responsibility to defend these kindly weaker beings.
The presence of the human Princess Peach, I think, could be a situation similar to Lord British’s role in the Ultima series, which is also about someone mundane from one world being a hero in another. Lord British originated from the same world as the hero, but came along much earlier and has already gone through all the heroic business you’re tasked with. Peach must be another migrant from Earth who long ago kicked some arse John Carter of Mars style until they made her the leader.
But getting back to Mario and Luigi, the main difference between them and Superman is that Superman is every inch the standard archetype of a destined hero. He was sent from his home planet as the last hope of a dying race, and even without his superpowers he’s a prime physical specimen. Whereas Mario and Luigi are two shlubby blue collar dudes for whose absence their home world couldn’t give two shits. And that’s what I think makes this concept really interesting.
I’m very fond of anything that subverts the concept of the traditional hero. It’s something I’ve explored to varying extents in my novels (still available from Dark Horse books etc): characters defying the role in life the standard narrative would have them fill. Who’s to say that fate has to assign the role of hero to someone with traditionally heroic qualities? Someone not particularly good-looking, smart, or physically fit? At its core, it’s a subversion with a lot of potential. It could certainly be the basis of a comedic work, like the classic Bicycle Repair Man sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus, in which the technical skills of an unkempt handyman astound the community of supermen in which he lives.
But while it’d probably benefit from having its tongue in its cheek, the character arc there has some serious potential. Not only do the Mario Brothers have to overcome whatever peril has struck the strange new world, they have to overcome the fact that they’re fucking plumbers. This goes back to why I like Luigi more as a character: because when Luigi succeeds, it always feels like he’s had to overcome something to do so (usually the cowardice thing). Mario, on the other hand, just comes across as the princess’ personal terminator who sets his gaze on the task at hand and then keeps moving to the right.
But anyway, my point is, I think it’s an interesting enough concept to explore, the way the movie did. Re-imagine Mario and Luigi as actual human beings transported to a dirtied-up and larger-than-life Mushroom Kingdom to partake in maybe some kind of action RPG. Or perhaps go for full irony points, and relocate to a post-apocalyptic Road Warrior setting in which Mario and Luigi are uber-masculine bounty hunters and Yoshi is what they call their motorbikes. Since a lot of Mario fans are now in their late twenties and thirties an ironically mature take might reawaken forgotten ties.
Why should Nintendo do this, you ask? Because they might as well, basically. It’s not like the franchise is getting any fresher just doing what it always does. If the game turns out good, then hooray, a new lease on life for the Mario brothers. If it turns out bad, maybe some of the fanboys will finally kill themselves. So yeah. Win-win.
Yahtzee is a British-born, currently Australian-based writer and gamer with a sweet hat and a chip on his shoulder. When he isn’t talking very fast into a headset mic he also designs freeware adventure games. His personal site is www.fullyramblomatic.com.