Think about the Super Mario Bros. games. Go on, remember the blue skies and green hills, hum the jaunty theme music, imagine saving the Princess and receiving the grand reward of a cake and maybe, just maybe, a chaste peck on the cheek. Doesn't that sound magical and wonderful? Well, you're wrong. As candy-coated and sugar-frosted as it may seem at first glance, the universe of the Super Mario games holds some dark and disturbing undercurrents.
Soulless and immortal, Mario will crush all those who oppose him.
The Great Goomba UprisingThe Mushroom Kingdom is a happy place, a bountiful kingdom ruled over by a benevolent pink-clad monarch and policed by Mario and, to a lesser extent, Luigi. Everyone goes about their daily lives doing whatever it is young Toads and Toadettes like to do - having tea parties, watching the stars, generally being adorable, that kind of thing. It is a land free of want where all are content... or so it would seem, but that can't possibly be the case.
Take the poor, benighted Goomba: definitely the bottom block on the totem pole of Bowser's forces. They exist only to patrol Bowser's conquered domains by slowly moving back and forth, and once Mario arrives to save the day they are, to put it bluntly, fucked. Sure, the hero plumber might lose a life or two by getting careless and walking into a Goomba, but the Goombas really have no defence against him. They are cannon fodder, a shield of fungal flesh that does nothing more than give Bowser an extra minute or two of gloating time before Mario catches up to him. They are the squishy oil that lubricates Bowser's dark machinery, and the best they can hope for is a quick, painless death.
But they're evil monsters, right? They don't know any better. Well, no. The Super Mario Bros. instruction manual clearly states that they are "mushrooms who betrayed the Mushroom Kingdom." They weren't always bad, but at some point they switched sides and cast their lot in with Bowser. This leaves one big question: why? The Mushroom Kingdom, as previously discussed, is always depicted as a wonderous, colorful place where no-one is ever sad (unless Bowser's doing some kidnapping at that exact moment.) What, then, could be so bad that it made the Goombas turn their back on paradise and join the forces of evil, where all that awaits them is a swift and meaningless death beneath the heel of Mario's boot? What could Bowser have possibly offered them that would have made that seem like a good idea? Perhaps the reason is more sinister, and it wasn't that Bowser's offer was good but that the Mushroom Kingdom was really, really awful.
Note that this clearly says Goombas die when stomped on.
It's easy to imagine the Goombas as a slave race, toiling away for the Mushroom Kingdom's benefit while Princess Peach and her followers live the high-life of go-karting and desserts, but I think it's more likely that it was a question of free will and Goomba self-determination. I mean, just look at a Goomba - they're grumpy as hell.
Always with the downturned mouth, the solemn expression, and I imagine that in the pastel tyranny that Peach has created being grumpy is a crime above all others. "No-one's allowed to be sad in the Mushroom Kingdom!" says Peach. "Screw you," says the Goomba, and Peach has him locked away and "re-educated". All the Goombas wanted was to be able to express their natural miserablism in peace, and so they chose battle and death over betraying the very essence of their being. God bless you, noble Goombas. May shoals of Cheep-Cheeps sing you to your rest.
Bowser's Betrayal of the Proletariat
The wars are fought, many lives are claimed and in the end nothing changes. The Goombas and other races under Bowser's command have suffered great hardships and still they remain a distrusted underclass, but their pain is not over yet because as soon as the dust settles, what does Bowser do? He heads straight over to his sworn enemies and joins them in their social activities.
Golf, football, baseball, go-karting: between kidnapping attempts, the major players in the Mushroom Kingdom's eternal power struggle get together to play games and generally have a swell time together. Imagine how that feels for the poor Goombas, seeing the leader to whom they have fixed all their hopes for freedom hanging out with the regent who oppresses them and her super-soldier bodyguards! Sometimes, they even have a Mario Party. A party! Fraternising with those you have sworn to destroy, those responsible for the death of countless Goombas and Koopa Troopas - it's like Richard Nixon and Ho Chi Minh getting together for a game of squash and a few bevvies.
Of course, this just goes to show that Bowser's attempts to conquer Princess Peach's lands and abduct her for... whatever reasons he has for abducting her are nothing more than a game, a game of chess played with innocent lives between the Mushroom Kingdom's social elite. Mario has no real fear of Bowser, he knows that their battles are staged for the amusement of upper echelons of the Princess's court - why else would he keep inviting him golfing?
Look, he doesn't even enjoy it!
Another explanation is that the Mushroom Kingdom is in a 1984-esque condition of perpetual war, organised by the two "rival" sides to keep the population vulnerable, scared and malleable. It also has the effect of thinning out the number of "less desirable" inhabitants such as the Goombas, which is a necessity to keep Mario satisfied - I mean, look at the gut on him!
Mario is easily the most physically active person in the Mushroom Kingdom, his life consisting of either the marathon steeplechase that makes up his attempts to rescue the Princess or a wide variety of sporting pastimes. What vast quantities of calories must be funnelled into him in order to maintain his considerable girth after all that exercise? There is simply not enough food in the Mushroom Kingdom to support both Mario's insatiable hunger and a large population of expendable fungoids. The endless wars serve merely to keep Mario's plate full. If you want a picture of the Mushroom Kingdom, imagine a plumber's boot stamping on a mushroom - forever.
Mario's Inexorable Fate
Perhaps it is unfair to cast Mario in the role of villain - after all, what choice did he have in the matter? Even as a baby, his unusual powers were noted and attempts were made to kidnap him.
He was saved only through the actions of a race of sentient dinosaur people (whom he later repaid by using them as his personal transport, despite his superhuman running and jumping abilities) and reunited with his parents in the Mushroom Kingdom. His parents were never seen again. Here, then, is Mario the Hero - a man with powers that place him on a pedestal high above those around him, a man whose real family (Luigi excepted) are long gone, a man in a land full of weird mushroom men with incredibly annoying voices. He's like Superman, (apart from the mushroom thing,) except where Clark Kent had humankind around him to help him discover his place in the world, all Mario has are his useless brother and Princess Peach. Is there any wonder that he's constantly at Peach's command? She is the only woman of his species around most of the time. If she's kidnapped Mario has to save her, has to do whatever it takes, because the crippling loneliness of only having Luigi for human company would no doubt destroy him. Since birth he has been marked out as a protector, a hero, the one person who can battle Bowser. The fate of the entire Mushroom Kingdom rests solely on his shoulders, and has done since his youth. We should not hate Mario - we should pity him.
Where Mario's efforts to keep the peace may be questionable, Bowser's go beyond this into the depth of the foulest black magic. It is clear that in the Super Mario universe, there is a realm beyond death from which spirits may return, once again pressed into battle, doomed to repeat this endless conflict for all time.
For one thing, there are ghosts. Boos, to be precise: they are everywhere and they are almost always malevolent creatures whose mischievous, peek-a-boo nature is nothing but a sham designed to lure Mario to his doom, perhaps in the vain hope that defeating him will please Bowser enough that they will be released from their bondage and allowed to rest in peace. Maybe we are mistaken by the Boo's ghost-like nature, though. Perhaps they are not actually the spirits of the dead but a species that has happened to evolve the appearance and mannerisms that we from outside the Mushroom Kingdom would associate with ghosts. After all, this is a world where mushroom-men are common and even the distant hills have facial features, so perhaps their ghostliness is mere coincidence. The same cannot be said of the Dry Bones.
That is clearly the skeleton of a Koopa Troopa, resurrected from the grave to serve Bowser even as the very flesh falls from its bones. Death is no release in Bowser's domain, there is no peace to be found in the cold darkness of eternity - there is only the dusty rattle of your bones, forever. The original Super Mario Bros. manual describes Bowser as a "Sorcerer King," and I think it's fairly obvious that he majored in Necromancy. Nothing is sacred to him. He will use any means available in order to accomplish his fiendish goals. Don't forget that Bowser is someone who, knowing full well that he couldn't defeat Mario, sent his own children into battle in his stead, where they were crushed, beaten and kicked into pools of molten rock. If nuclear weapons had been invented in the Mushroom Kingdom, the Princess' castle would be nothing more than a smoking crater by now.
Mostly Necromancy, some dabbling in sawing ladies in half.
Mario's Wholesale Slaughter of Countless Sentient Beings
In the end, it boils down to this: Mario is a genocidal ubermensch who has the blood (or fungal equivalent) of millions of his hands. There can be no doubt that these poor creatures have died - try jumping on a mushroom and see what happens. There's no coming back from that.
He regularly kicks turtles out of their shells, which may seem less severe, but a turtle's shell is connected directly to its spine. You can imagine how that works if you're suddenly launched from your shell by the weight of a fat plumber.
"OH DEAR GOD THE PAIN!!"
Let us also remember that Bowser's minions are not mere animals, mindless beasts that should be dealt with as one would deal with a rabid dog - these are sentient, feeling creatures. They are regularly depicted as having homes, communities, families, relationship, hopes, dreams, all destroyed without a second thought during Mario's inhuman rampages. He doesn't try to avoid them, or incapacitate them, he just straight-up murders them. Those Goombas you just killed? They had families. That Koopa Troopa you kicked into a lava pit? He was a respected member of his community with a fiancé and a clutch of eggs on the way. Their lives are nothing in the petty games of the lords of the Mushroom Kingdom, and Mario will destroy them with gleeful abandon, a spring in his step and a hearty "wha-ha!" on his lips. This, then, is your hero. Pray that he never develops a lust for power.
Of course, this is all nonsense - the Super Mario games remain a blessed oasis of purity, cheerfulness and cartoon fun in a desert of war sims and cover shooters, and we should all be thankful for their continued existence. I know I am. I do still wonder about the Goomba's motivations, though...