Super Mario Series Darker Than It Looks
Editorials / Features
When it comes to the setting of the Mario series, and the storylines of the games, there has previously been a type of misconception made about what the series is like. Maybe it's the cheery looking graphics in many games, or the nostalgia filter making people only think of the NES game, but there has been a belief by many the series is somehow some utopic, peaceful series set in a perfect world and that every other video game series (or mainly, rip off mascot series like Sonic the freaking Hedgehog) are somehow 'cooler', or 'edgier' or 'darker' than the Mario series. Even the old Coin Heaven blog got in with the act with it's ranting article saying how the Mario series and primary colour palettes and what not means it looks kiddy or innocent or happy.

Hah! I don't think these fools have even played many of the Mario games outside Mario Party and Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games! Yes, Mario Party (especially 5 and onwards) have become saccarine coated to the point of tastes like diabetes in some cases (Sweet Dream? Toy Dream?), the crossover games are generally quite relaxed (but they're based on real world sports events for the setting, there's not much you can do without losing the Olympics license) and Mario Golf isn't exactly going to be seen as dark or terrifying (but golf as a sport is a relaxing affair in general and the game lives up to that). But look at the RPGs! Look at Luigi's Mansion! Look at the story to some degree even in the main series Mario games like Super Mario Galaxy! Those aren't just sugar coated dream land settings of happiness and sweetness and light, despite what some relatively uneducated non fans may say!

First up, the RPGs. It should be no surprise first of all that the Mario RPG games, have generally tended towards being some of the most dark and outright depressing affairs in the entire series. Not that it's a bad thing in the slightest, but there's a definite trend towards plain apocalypse settings in the Paper Mario and Mario and Luigi series, and villains far beyond what most people would expect in a so called 'child friendly' series. True, the standard villains in the main series aren't exactly a joke (or at least, they're less of a joke than more that have undergone villain decay like King Dedede from the Kirby series), but characters like Bowser and Wario are not particularly... menacing in any form. The Paper Mario villains though... probably kick dogs for a living, cross the moral event horizon in four minutes and if not funny in the process, would be seen as complete monsters. Take Dimentio for example... he's funny with his sayings and metaphors, but if you take it a bit... more seriously, he's pretty much a creepy psychopath in his personality. He may have wrote the Dark Prognosticus! He may have wrote himself into the book so Count Bleck would hire him! He killed Mario and friends in broad day light in the middle of a cut scene, and basically manipulated everyone across the entire game. All that... while remaining perfectly cheery with creepy circus music in the background.

Indeed, it's somewhat creepy how calmly this guy can literally plan to kill off everyone. The other villains are much the same way. Fawful is a flat out megalomaniac narcissist, wanting to control the world and change everyone into what are basically clones of himself. The Shadow Queen could destroy the world, or at least plunge it into a few thousand years of darkness and ruin, the Shroobs want to invade and use the souls of the Mushroom people for what's basically fuel for UFOs (there's almost way too many possible comparisons with movies and depressing real life events here) and Smithy is probably the least family friendly villain in the series, at least in his speeches.

"Hurrumph! Better yet... Why don't YOU give me YOUR stars. Why, then I could easily conquer this world! Then we could get rid of wishes, and create a world filled with... WEAPONS!!"

You can almost see Fox News or some sensationalist tabloid panicking over that statement, at least if they had ever paid much attention to Super Mario RPG. One bet someone says it's corrupting the youth.

***, no mention of villains would go without Count Bleck, because he's one of the most serious, yet possibly sympathetic villains in the series. An all round nice person called Blumiere until he lost his loved one due to his father using dark magic to send her to another dimension, causing him to go insane, read the Dark Prognosticus and get corrupted into an almost pure evil Nietzsche wannabe. ***, he apparently killed his entire tribe and family in revenge after this, at least if Mario Wiki is to be believed. But more importantly, he wanted to destroy the entire multiverse and all of existance after losing his sanity. He didn't even tell his followers this, saying he'd remake the worlds after destroying them. Finally, this villain eventually knew about Timpani, but even thought the entire idea of changing his mind was useless, being completely fatalist and saying how he could only close the Void if he perished.

Not that the villains were the only depressing thing about the games of course. Mario and Luigi Partners in Time for instance was full to the brim of sad moments and needless destruction. The whole scene in Hollijolli Village was a pretty sad example of this, an entire town getting obliterated by alien invaders (including the mayor, who looked suspiciously like Santa Claus) because of... being in the middle of a War of the Worlds type situation. The music playing does not help things in the least:

The most depressing Christmas music ever? It makes the setting creepy as heck.

Toad Town too, seeing a place in perfect order in the other two RPG games (and the Paper Mario series) being in complete ruin, with alien robots and monsters having taken over and the entire populace bar the owners of a single shop having been abducted by aliens. Same kind of music and feeling here:

The ending scenes even show it being blasted to pieces by the Shroobs and the Toads running for their lives in every which direction.

Indeed, it seems this game has the least happy sounding music in the entire series, if the final boss music is to be believed:

Not however that the other Mario RPGs don't come close. Paper Mario The Thousand Year Door for instance has a setting of a town controlled by the mafia (yazuka in Japanese versions) and a street gang, with corruption and crime at massive levels. It has a sailor (Bobbery) driven temporarily to alcohol after losing his wife while at sea. It has a conspiracy in a wrestling establishment involving missing persons and conspiracies, and let's not even go into what the final boss scenes are like, with the populace worried about whether there would even be a future for them if Mario doesn't defeat the Shadow Queen.

It's also quite heart warming as well.

But let's not forget. It's not just the RPG games with their depressing stories and 'deep' characters which make the Mario series far darker than anything else, the main series has it in abundance. Luigi's Mansion is a good example here. Sure, the ghosts look cartoony, but the effects and general atmosphere doesn't (and the black out is plain creepy). It's a creepy game, I've got to give it that, and keep in mind the way many of the ghosts died and such alone is quite... different from the Mario series norm, especially considering many of them are seemingly human, or were until their untimely deaths. And Bogmire, who's plain weird:

A product of the mansion's fear and despair. He's not sure who to fear or what to despair these days.

Not even counting the glitch which makes it seem as if Luigi's shadow has been hanged.

Super Mario Bros itself isn't completely immune to being a dark, seriously series either, at least the first game. Note the bit about the Mushroom People being turned into blocks, or mushrooms, or horsehair plants. Note the latter are Fire Flowers, and it seems there's quite some moral dissonance going on, with him Mario being a possible killer (although Wario did the same in Wario Land 3).

Super Mario Bros 3 brings us the literal *** setting in Bowser's realm of darkness, what with all the flames, skulls, ghostly apparitions of Princess Peach and the general war like territory. Interesting point you never consider here of course... was it like that before Bowser took over?

Super Mario 64 has the killer piano which hardly anyone expects the first time around, the killer fish, the eel... Heck, many of the untold mysteries such as that of the 'swimming beast in the lagoon' apparently being a carnivore, or the portals going from levels to the courtyard or mysterious passages which don't lead anywhere in levels.

Super Mario Sunshine has the possibly off Hotel Delfino and Manta Storm, and Super Mario Galaxy is quite serious indeed. You've got Mario when he's electrocuted and turned into a skeleton for a brief time, you've got the war like settings of the Battlerock and Dreadnought Galaxies with their electric fences, cannons and laser weapons, and to a degree, even the Bonefin Galaxy with Kingfin as the boss is far creepier than anything in a Sonic the Hedgehog game or what not.

Finally, to wrap it all up, note something I thought was quite philosophically scary about the series. No permanent death. Things like Mushrooms mean that morality and such like to an extent becomes meaningless, and punishments become useless. Also note that unlike most other series, the villains are not repentant. Sure, Bowser is seen as harmless, but he's sure determined, and he won't change his mind. For a so called 'realistic' or 'edgy' series, you can negotiate with the main villain, or hope they'll change the mind or be persuaded through peaceful means. For a Mario series villain, this is pretty much hopeless, most of them are either insane, chose to be evil and boast about it in the process, or are forces of darkness themselves. It's either their opponent 'dies', or they 'die', no middle ground. Similarly, the whole end of the multiverse scenario in Super Paper Mario. This isn't just the end of the world and everyone dies, like the events in various other apocalypse stories. This is as if the entirety of existance didn't exist in the first place. There's no afterlife or possibility here like in many series, the good won't be rewarded by the standard infinite years of happiness and peace, because as you can tell from the Overthere and Underwhere, the afterlife consists of a dimension as well, and if Bleck's plan goes ahead, then it will too be wiped out of existance. Mario is the only hope, not just for people to be saved, but for there to be a reality in the first place. Makes religion, theology or philosophy in the Mario universe kind of pointless in that situation, what with the whole point that all that would be left of the promised afterlife you worked so hard to enter would be a blank white void, and since the world had 'never existed', there wouldn't even be a trace left of your efforts. That scenario makes any end of the world rubbish in some edgy 'adult' game look positively tame.

So yes, Mario ain't a happy go lucky utopia. Not in the slightest.

Waluigious: So yes, Mario ain't a happy go lucky utopia.  Not in the slightest.

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