Mario, in all his 8-bit glory, was more or less the original family-friendly game. Jumping on Goombas couldn’t exactly be called violent in this candy-colored, bloodless world of blocks and pipes. The scariest thing it featured was chomping piranha plants, especially if you have PTSD from Little Shop of Horrors. Nintendo succeeded in making a character that was pretty much beyond reproach and a franchise that was appealing to kids without making mom mad.
And yet … there is some seriously questionable content in the world of Mario. It’s not too difficult to find some not-so-PG moments in the Mushroom Kingdom. You thought Luigi’s Mansion was spooky? Just wait until we dig into some of the hauntingly unwholesome things that have managed to make it into the otherwise pure offerings from Nintendo. The world’s favorite plumber has a dark side, and we’re about to explore the creepiest secrets that Nintendo wishes we’d forget about.
That blatant noose in Rogueport – Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
2004’s Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door is an RPG that breaks some of Nintendo’s golden rules. Goombas and Koopas, our usual foes, befriend Mario; players get to control both Bowser and Princess Peach at certain points in the game; and death is an acknowledged part of the world. The game has a PG-13 kind of tone, especially considering that players can spot a noose within the first ten minutes of gameplay.
Rogueport is the seedy harbor town that Mario first arrives at. In the town square is an unmistakable gallows, complete with noose. There’s no flavor text that really acknowledges this grisly sight, but its mere existence suggests that Rogueport supports the death penalty. What’s worse is that players can hop up onto the platform and jump behind the noose, as if they’re sentencing Mario to hang. It’s a strange image to be confronted with in a game rated E for everyone, but we suppose the bright side is that the game never makes the noose of any use. There might not be a public hanging scene in Paper Mario, but the gallows is nevertheless a creepy addition to the town.
The man-eating piano – Super Mario 64
A level called Big Boo’s Haunt ought to yield some scares, and it sure does in the most unexpected of ways. In Super Mario 64 and Super Mario 64 DS, there is an old-school jump scare waiting in Boo’s big haunted castle. All haunted castles seem to be required to contain at least one grand piano, maybe just for aesthetics or perhaps to play a haunting tune. The Mad Piano on this level doesn’t play a single note, however. Rather, it hungers for flesh.
In an otherwise empty room, there is a big grand piano, underneath which awaits a red coin. This is a trap, of course, because getting close to the piano spells certain doom for unprepared players. The Mad Piano comes to life, the lid lined with fangs as it opens and closes. This enemy is undefeatable, meaning the only strategy is to run and run fast. Forget about tickling the ivories when this creepy thing wants to eat your intestines.
Mario’s creepy drowning death – Super Mario 64
For some players, water levels are the absolute bane of their existence. Navigating the depths requires speed and accuracy as you fight against the floaty forces of water, because dilly dallying under the waves can spell disaster. Namely, you can drown upon running out of air. While Super Mario 64 is a kids’ game, even the littlest ones know that staying underwater for too long is dangerous. When Mario runs out of air, it’s game over.
Super Mario 64 makes drowning unnecessarily graphic. When Mario runs out of breath, he chokes and clutches uselessly at his throat. Finally passing out from a lack of oxygen, he does the deadman’s float, because, well, he’s a dead man. We literally watch as he passes out and passes away. Sure, in other games we watch Mario fall into chasms and get bonked by Bowser, but witnessing our hero die such a slow death is unsettling to say the least.
The dead family (including baby) – Luigi’s Mansion
Okay, we’ll be the first to say that the entire premise behind the beloved Luigi’s Mansion games is questionable at best. The presence of ghosts suggests that someone died, leaving behind a wrathful spirit with unfinished business that Luigi hoovers up with a souped-up vacuum cleaner. That doesn’t exactly sound respectful of the dead, does it?
What’s worse is that not all of them are the cartoonish, Boo-esque sort. Rather, the first few bosses of the original Luigi’s Mansion tell a tragic tale. The first ghost is Neville, a father found in his private library. Then there’s the vain mother Lydia who has to be torn away from her mirror. Finally, and most disturbingly, Luigi takes on their infant son Chauncy. Chauncy’s profile says that he was "born a ghost," but there are some images in his nursery of a human child, suggesting that he had lived a short life before becoming a boss to battle.
E. Gadd’s creepy, and failed, experiments – Luigi’s Mansion
We’ve mentioned before that Professor E. Gadd of the Luigi’s Mansion series isn’t 100% ethically sound as a scientist. He’s brilliant, inventing incredible technology that allows for Luigi to navigate the most haunted of houses, but he definitely doesn’t have qualms about defying the laws of nature. He never even asked Luigi if it would be okay to clone him and create Gooigi, a doppelganger made out of an experimental amalgam of ghost goo and knockoff Starbucks coffee.
According to E. Gadd’s own research journals, he had several horrifying failures before using Luigi’s DNA to create Gooigi. Originally, he had just made a human-shaped mold that he poured sentient Goo into, with the goal of creating a servant/assistant to collect ghosts for his research. This worked, but only momentarily. A snapshot shows that the Goo couldn’t hold its shape and melted back into a mess, its empty eyes and frowning face something straight out of The Blob. The final product, a green, gooey clone of Luigi, isn’t much to look at either thanks to his blank, unseeing eyes.
The Minus World is the stuff of nightmares and glitches – Super Mario Bros.
In Super Mario Bros., the Minus World glitch may have actually been a scary experience for those who first stumbled upon its existence. The Minus World isn’t the Upside Down a la Stranger Things. Instead, it is a glitch level that can be accessed through some strange maneuvering on World 1-2. Mario will go straight through a wall and into a room with several pipes, the first of which is a portal to this so-called Minus World, which displays as "World -1." The level is set up exactly like the World 7-2 underwater level, but the Minus World is inescapable. Getting to the end goal only restarts the level. Players are left in this previously untouched kind of purgatory, forced to either play again and again or settle for a game over. If this wasn’t a confirmed, well-documented fact, then the tale of the Mario’s Minus World would sound like a creepypasta.
The murdered Toad – Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
If you play the North American version of Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door, then you’re missing out on an outright murder mystery. Apparently the localization team at Nintendo of America didn’t think that murder in a Mario game was appropriate for the franchise’s young, impressionable audience, despite the fact that they left in a hangman’s noose at the start.
In the Japanese version of the game, we don’t see a murder. We just see the telltale signs of a murder crime scene. Rogueport is a rough town, as you might surmise from its name, and in a back alley shed behind Podley’s juice bar, players find a mess. Inside, the floor is covered with paper and overturned furniture. For Americans, that’s all there is to see. In Japan, there was a chalk outline of a Toad, complete with a pool of blood in the dead center of the shed. The international version of the game effectively covered up a murder.
Phantos’ creepy face – Super Mario Bros. 2
8-bit enemies mean that there’s not a whole lot of detail in their design. But sometimes a simple look is all the more scary. Super Mario Bros. 2 didn’t need guts, gore, or ultra-realistic creatures to make for some creepy encounters. Namely, the enemies guarding keys in the game, ghostly masks known as Phantos, are somehow terrifying despite having a, dare we say, cliche design.
One half of the mask is red, the other white, painted with a wide smile and blank, sinister eyes as the disembodied mob flies at players. The moment anyone picks up a key, these things will dog after players until their dying breath. Undefeatable, Phantos are probably the scariest things in the whole of the otherwise chill game. That’s a face you don’t want to run into in a dark room, and if you do, get ready to run. Because unless you’re willing to give up your objective, there is no escape.
Mimi snaps her own neck – Super Paper Mario
Some of the enemies in Mario games are just too cute to fight. We always feel a little bad bashing Goombas and smashing Shy Guys. It’s not their fault that their boss likes to kidnap princesses. Speaking of princesses, Mimi from Super Paper Mario is practically a princess. She’s downright adorable with her twintails and polka dot skirt. She’s an enemy, too, but fighting her doesn’t feel so bad once she reveals her true nature.
Players are tipped off that there’s something wrong with her right away, as her speech bubble is a jittery, ominous purple as she rants at the player. She then says, "True Mimi, come forth!", and suddenly players are in the middle of a Japanese horror movie. Her neck snaps to the side with an audible crunch, eyes becoming wide and black. Her head twists round and round until great spider legs sprout from her now deformed face, knocking her twintails off as her body hangs from a thread.
Where did Bowser Jr come from? – Super Mario Sunshine
Okay, here’s the million coin question: who is the mother to Bowser’s kid? Bowser would have us believe that Princess Peach is his mother and that Mario is nothing but the scoundrel who continually steals her away from her Koopa family. That’s what he told his son, Bowser Jr., in Super Mario Sunshine, and that’s why his young protege kidnapped Peach and impersonated Mario in the game. When he tells this to Peach and Mario, Peach doesn’t deny being his "mama." Peach just seems confused about the whole situation.
The mastermind behind Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, is also confused. He says that he has no idea who Bowser Jr.’s real mother is. Even at the end of Sunshine, when Bowser fesses up that Peach isn’t actually his mother, he doesn’t give any indication as to who is. We don’t know what’s worse: the fact that Bowser is so in love with Peach that he lied to his own son, or the fact that he seems to have covered up any connection to Bowser Jr.’s real mother. Or that Peach seemed almost willing to believe that she had mothered a spiky-shelled Koopaling at some point.
Bowser’s even creepier on the inside – Bowser’s Inside Story
Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is not a Dr. Mario game, so it seems wrong that the two brothers shrink themselves into the big, bad Koopa king’s guts, possibly causing permanent damage as they fight all the microorganisms working to power Bowser’s body. Bowser’s Inside Story easily has one of the strangest, and perhaps grossest, premises of any Mario game. Bowser essentially gets drugged by Fawful with a "Lucky Mushroom" and inhales all of Princess Peach’s court, Mario and Luigi included.
The brothers must navigate through Bowser’s body and even manipulate various organs to either help out or hinder their sworn enemy. From punching exposed nerves to fighting stomach worms, the story going on inside Bowser is a cartoonishly graphic, anatomically incorrect adventure. We also find out that Bowser isn’t in the best of shape, considering that he has a "Trash Pit" and a "Flab Zone" inside of him. Maybe he should get a real medical professional to check that out instead of two accidentally inhaled plumbers.
Luigi’s creepy zombie face – Luigi’s Mansion
So we know to expect some PG-rated scares from the Luigi’s Mansion games. They’re about busting ghosts, after all. Before the first game was released, however, Nintendo hadn’t yet seemed to have mastered the fine line between kooky and creepy. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the ghosts that were too scary: Luigi was.
At 2001’s E3, audiences were treated to their very first look at the otherwise mysterious Luigi’s Mansion. The trailer was dark and ominous; it almost looked as if Luigi had been dropped into a Resident Evil game. Luigi tip-toed through the mansion, shivering and shining his flashlight. This didn’t look like a game for the faint of heart, and the final flash of the trailer seemed to prove it. Luigi stood outside of the mansion, looking for all the world like a zombie himself. We’re pretty glad that Nintendo decided to scrap that and instead embraced a more slapstick tone for the game.
The eyes just want to watch you – Mario Party 8
Minigame or micro-nightmare? You decide. There are a lot of strange creatures in the world of Mario, but we’ll give the title of most unsettling to the disembodied eyeballs that seem to inhabit the darkest reaches of the world. Venturing into misty, mysterious forests will leave you with the feeling of being watched … because that’s all that Mr. I does.
In Mario Party 8, the Eyebrawl minigame has players approach the woods. Suddenly, out of the darkness, players find floating blue eyes. The goal of the game is to make them dizzy, which only summons even larger peepers. Upon defeat, the loser will be surrounded by smaller eyes which stare at them as they flail in apparent fear and pain. Silent and staring, these things are pretty unsettling. They also look a lot like the eyes of a certain mustachioed plumber …
The creepy ghost face – Super Mario 3D Land
Boos are a thing, and we’re okay with that. The round little ghosts are downright cute. When they’re attacking, tongue out and stubby arms flailing? Cute. When they’re floating away, covering their blushing faces? Cute. They might be "ghosts" in some sense, but their design strips them of any sort of creep factor.
The face that appears at the end of World 4-4 in Super Mario Land 3D is not a Boo. It’s not even a Peepa, which has a more traditional cartoon-ghost look. Rather, at the very end of the level, past the victory flagpole, is a dark space in the woods that will slowly become occupied by the vision of a specter. We’re talking a thin, almost human figure with a cadaverously white face and wide, staring black eyes. Seeing this thing requires patience and nerves of steel. It will slowly fade into view and then suddenly open its mouth wide with a flash, before disappearing back into the darkness of the background. While this sounds like an internet urban legend, you can watch this ghost manifest for yourself … if you dare.