1) Purple mushroom – Super Mario Bros 2 (JPN)
Super Mario Bros 2 (that is, the real Super Mario Bros 2, known as the 'Lost Levels' in the West) was designed to subvert everything you thought you knew about Mario. The moment where you spring over the castle at the end of the level and into the space beyond is such a canny acknowledgement of game design norms (even in their infant state of the 1980s), it's probably the same moment Hideo Kojima decided he was going to make a game called Metal Gear Solid 2. And be really weird in it.
But the one that takes the poison-laced biscuit is the purple 1-Up mushroom. This little fella pops out of blocks like any other power-up, which – until now – always meant either getting bigger (great) or gaining an extra life (greater). So imagine the horror, disbelief and utter dismay when collecting it results in either shrinking back to regular Mario, or instant death.
Perhaps it was this collectible alone that sealed the game's fate in the West. American and European audiences had fallen in love with Mario. Giving them this downright mean morsel of game design during their gaming honeymoon might have put them off forever. It didn't, of course – the Lost Levels was one of the biggest reasons to buy All-Stars aside from the prettier graphics a few years later. But perhaps we weren't ready for this bad boy.
Even if he does now make for an awesome T-shirt.
14 July, 2011
The gaming murders that left a bad taste in our mouth
If you're in the middle, you're in the crossfire