Mario may be one of the most instantly recognized and universally beloved game characters of all time, but even by the standards of game characters, his whole mythos is pretty simplistic. Bowser kidnaps Peach, his soldiers get in the way, Mario stomps everything and rescues her, and that’s more or less all there is to it – unless you count all the times Mario, Peach and Bowser have gone kart racing. Or played tennis, or partied, or teamed up to fight gastric distress, or did any of the numerous things that have, in the past 10 years, become much more frequent and visible than their fights. Once you factor in that inconsistency, it all starts to get weird.
With that in mind, it’s hardly surprising that so many fans have felt compelled to fill in the blanks with their own works of fiction – and that some of those works have gone to some pretty dark places. Most of you have probably already seen Handre de Jager’s unspeakably manly Mario fanart, or the countless one-off parodies across the web that paint Mario in a nasty light, or his enemies in a sympathetic one. For the purposes of this article, however, we wanted to find fan projects that dove to the heart of the Mario universe and remade it around the dark, slimy things they found there – or, failing that, that at least put a uniquely sadistic slant on the whole thing.
It’s possible you’ve already seen Alexander “Alxlen” Leon’s epic, five-part take on Mario, simply titled Mario Brothers. After all, it’s been on free-form Flash portal Newgrounds since mid-2003. If you haven’t, though, you’re missing out on a surprisingly well-directed (and almost relentlessly grim) version of Super Mario Bros., told entirely with sprites from the first and second games. A little slow in places, it’s nonetheless captivating, giving us a tragic version of Mario, fearless Toads, swarming Koopas and a murderous version of Bowser.
It’s probably best to start at the beginning of Alxlen’s sad tale. However, few things in the series are quite as memorable or as stirring as the explosive siege that makes up its entire second episode, which uses the (somewhat clichéd) Requiem for a Dream theme music to grand effect:
A world-weary webcomic focused mainly on Luigi, Another Castle stars versions of the brothers (and their princesses) who’ve escaped into the real world and left the Mushroom Kingdom behind. However, while Luigi and Daisy have clearly adapted to everyday life, Mario and Peach weren’t so fortunate, and now spend their days hiding from debt collectors and being delusional.
“The melancholic mood is just sorta where my head was at,” said its author, MC Griffin, who’s since created a color version and a second chapter, and is planning a third with Yoshi. “It's inspired by all those unspoken things that go on between people. You know, you ever get that vibe when you walk into a room full of folks and feel like you're missing some inside joke, but nobody's saying a word? Always seemed like it was that way in Mario.”
“What if Luigi saves the princess?” he added. “Why does he always get paired up with Daisy despite never saving her in any game? Seems like Mario kind of lends itself to strange stories when you start reading between the lines and asking questions of things.”
As you may be starting to realize after that last entry, bringing Mario into the real world seems to be the surest way to bring him down (but in a funny way). Try to think of realistic equivalents for Mario and what he does, and you’ll end up with an infantile drug addict who deals with problems by getting huge and beating the shit out of them. That seems to have been the guiding idea behind Mario: Game Over (by Brooklyn comedy troupe POYKPAC), which shows Mario in a brief, disastrous downward spiral after saving the Mushroom Kingdom and coming home.
Prolific web cartoonist Kevin Bolk’s It Sucks to be Weegie! isn’t merciless in the “drugs and death lol” sense. In fact, at first blush it actually looks quite lighthearted. Keep reading, however, and you’ll see that there’s a subtle cruelty to it. Luigi was never the bravest or most beloved character in the Mario mythos, but here he suffers under a Charlie Brown-like burden of loserdom, continually failing at absolutely everything and earning nothing but spite for his efforts.
Citing the Super Mario Adventures comics (by Charlie Nozawa) that appeared in early ‘90s Nintendo Power as a huge influence, Bolk says that his real aim isn’t to dump on Luigi, but “to build sympathy for my favorite under-appreciated second fiddle of the video game world.”
“It's all a very carefully crafted public relations campaign,” Bolk said.
The Mario-as-delusional-addict school of thought reaches its apex in Joe Nicolosi’s Mario, a comically dark psychodrama about drugs, rejection, obsession, kart-racing and hipsters. Shot as an indie-flavored bumper (a short that plays before films) for the SXSW 2011 Film Festival, its version of Mario is a blue-collar stalker who wants to beat down Peach’s new boyfriend and win her back.
It’s a shame we’ll probably never see a full-length version. This is already loads better than the 1993 movie.
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