Nintendo is well known for being more family-friendly than its rivals. As noted by outlets like Nintendo Life, the company has made its family-friendly offerings and image a huge part of its brand identity. As such, the Japanese company’s consoles are dominated by games that feature colorful worlds, wholesome mascots, and a lack of gratuitous violence. So it should come as no surprise that Mario, arguably Nintendo’s most important character, has largely lived a rather sheltered life, free of any major controversies or moments that anyone would find offensive.
But while there’s nothing overtly adult about the "Super Mario" series or its characters, that doesn’t mean that the developers behind these games have made them entirely innocent affairs. If you look closely enough at the titles featuring Mario and pals, there are some rather glaring references that will fly straight over the heads of any children playing. With a little digging, the world of "Super Mario" is not always as charming and pure as it may initially seem.
That could be a deliberate decision on the part of those who make the games, allowing parents to chuckle as they play along with their kids or make connections that younger gamers wouldn’t. Here are some of the things that only adults notice about the heroic plumber.
Mario goes to jail
The "Paper Mario" series has always been known for its ability to make players laugh. Out of all the games that feature the Italian-American plumber, it’s these games that contain the most jokes and are likely to make players chuckle (as pointed out by The Escapist). This also makes them ripe for references or gags that might be missed by younger fans. A prime example of this comes in "Paper Mario: Color Splash," a 2016 game that was released for the Wii U.
Below Mustard Café in the game, Mario will be captured by Snifits and placed in a makeshift jail in a location known as the Snifit Undersand Hideout. One of the Snifits will threaten Mario, only to realize that they are limited in what they can do because of the game’s ESRB rating of "E for Everyone." The Snifit remarks, "Well, I’ve already locked you in jail. There isn’t actually much worse I can do without raising this game’s age rating." This would seem to suggest that the Snifit wants to be a lot more violent to the hero than he is allowed to be, which raises all kinds of scary implications about what these guys do off-screen.
Koopa Koot’s mysterious tape
In another example that comes from the "Paper Mario" sub-series, there’s a reference to a mysterious tape that Koopa Koot once owned and lent to a friend of his. In the game, which was released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, players can encounter Koot in the Koopa Village. He’s an important figure, acting as the mayor of the village, and is also the oldest Koopa players can talk to. Koot will provide various quests by asking Mario for favors — and it is one of these very missions that might have caught the attention of any adults playing the game.
Koot asks the player to go and visit Goompa in Goomba Village and ask about an item only referred to as "The Tape." The exact contents of the tape and why it is so secretive is never revealed to the player, but Koot is desperate for it to be returned. He also begs the player not to discuss it with anyone else.
It is left completely up to the imagination of fans to decide what could be on such a tape, although the implications are that it contains nefarious or otherwise adult-only content that Koot is ashamed of, which is why he doesn’t want other people to know about it.
Lots and lots of drug references
One of the more obvious adult references in any game featuring Mario is the rather overt reference to illicit drugs. Almost every single "Super Mario" game involves collecting mushrooms that can imbue a variety of effects on the user. One type will give player’s an extra life, some will change your size and shape, and others can poison Mario and his allies. The only thing that is constant is that these mushrooms essentially alter the way that the characters interact with the environment in some way.
This has led to comparisons between the fictional mushrooms and real-life magic mushrooms, with Den of Geek noting that Shigeru Miyamoto has made links between the mushrooms in "Super Mario" and "Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland" — a book that has its own links to recreational drugs (via BBC). While Miyamoto has walked back on those comments, many people still see the Super Mushroom and its variations as a reference to psychedelics.
It isn’t just the mushrooms that seem inspired by drugs, either. In "Super Mario Bros. 2," players can throw potions that open gateways to another world. Meanwhile, the level "Touch Fuzzy, Get Dizzy" in "Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island" features spore-like creatures known as Fuzzies. When touched, they effectively make the player act as if they are drunk or high as the map is twisted, colors blend together, and moving around becomes much harder. Then, of course, there’s an entire puzzle game about sorting pills in the form of "Dr. Mario."
Princess Toadstool’s private item
The item known only as "Toadstool’s ???" appears briefly in "Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars." Like "The Tape" from "Paper Mario," this is a mysterious object that the player never actually gets to check out closely. However, gamers can make some informed guesses from the context and sparse clues that are offered by the in-game text or the actions of the characters.
When searching Princess Toadstool’s room, it is possible to come across a hidden object between the fireplace and a blue chair (via Turtle Hermit WaspInatoR). Examining it will cause either the Princess or her Grandma to get onto Mario, saying, "Mario! Stop peeking into other people’s rooms!" The Grandma may even try to bribe the player with a mushroom to refrain from exploring further. This suggests that the item in question is personal to the Princess and deeply private, as this is the only explanation that would cause such anger from her. Considering that Toadstool’s ??? is found hidden in her bedroom, some fans have inferred some rather raunchy possibilities.
Mario is Peach’s…friend
Mario and Princess Peach certainly have a strange relationship, to say the least. Since the release of "Super Mario Bros." in 1985, the plumber has consistently set off to rescue her from the clutches of Bowser (or any other villain) for seemingly no reward or reason. While heroes love to save the day, the fact that Mario is very much a constant presence alongside Peach and attends lots of personal events with her would lead players to believe that they are actually a couple, even if it’s a complicated topic. It’s a situation that Nintendo has never officially explained, leading to speculation about whether they are a couple or enjoy a more platonic relationship.
However, there is one reference that might indicate how Peach really feels. In "Paper Mario: Color Splash," the Princess introduces Mario to the player and the magic paint can by saying: "And this is my…friend Mario. He jumps on things and hits them with a hammer when necessary." The way that she pauses before deciding to call Mario simply her "friend" is clearly a reference to the all-too-common trope about two people being "just friends" when they actually share romantic feelings for each other. There’s really no other explanation for the subtext of the dialogue.
Humans seemingly rule over the toadstools and other creatures
Much of the action in the "Mario" series takes place in the Mushroom Kingdom, a fictional land that features a variety of different species and races. The most common of these are the Toads, which are often seen in the games as allies of Mario and Peach, along with other creatures such as Goombas, Yoshis, and Koopas. One thing that is immediately clear is that the vast majority of individuals in this fictional country are decidedly non-human. And yet, the Mushroom Kingdom is ruled by Princess Peach, with the likes of Mario and Luigi often taking up positions of power. This has led to plenty of fan discussions asking exactly why that is the case.
An old post by College Humor pointed out that the human leadership over the Mushroom Kingdom has some troubling imperialist connotations. Exactly how did Peach and other humans end up ruling a place that seems completely devoid of humans? Pretty much the only other people we ever see in any of the "Mario" games are Daisy, Wario, Waluigi, and more recently Rosalina.
With that in mind, Peach and her family almost seem like they set themselves as monarchs, subjugating the other species under them. As her enforcer, Mario is just as complicit in this scheme, ruling over every non-human. No wonder Bowser keeps kidnapping her and fighting against the established regime! As noted by Twinfinite, he could easily be seen as a liberator attempting to win back the freedom of his people.
Mario is actually pretty cruel
Mario is one of the world’s most famous video game mascots, instantly recognizable around the world. Few other fictional characters have the kind of fame that this plumber enjoys, and much of that is built on the fact that he is the consummate hero. And yet, if you look closely at some of the things that Mario has done over the years, he might not be the perfect guy that he makes out. Firstly, you can look at the way he treats his brother Luigi, constantly berating and mistreating him (via The Gamer).
Mario has also demonstrated a habit for being unkind to the animals that he encounters. In the 1981 arcade game "Donkey Kong," players control Mario as he tries to rescue his girlfriend Pauline from Donkey Kong. Nintendo Link reported that the original manual for "Donkey Kong" — plus a subsequent game called "Donkey Kong Circus" — pointed out that the ape only kidnapped Pauline as revenge against Mario for being treated so poorly when he was Mario’s pet.
Even worse, adult gamers might have noticed in "Super Mario World" that it appears as if Mario is punching Yoshi in the back of the head when he wants him to stick out his tongue to eat an enemy or item. While there has been some debate about what is actually happening during this action, Shigefumi Hino actually confirmed to the official Nintendo site (translation via Kotaku) that the original design had Mario hitting his dinosaur pal.
Madame Flurrie has a lot of stage presence
This particular example is another one that uses ellipses in dialogue balloons to subtly add extra meaning to something that has been said. In "Paper Mario: Color Splash," it was used to suggest Mario might be more than a friend to Princess Peach, while here it is a reference to the design of the character Madame Flurrie. Acting as the third individual who can join Mario’s party in "Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door," she is a wind spirit that has the power to blow away opponents with powerful gusts.
When first introduced to the player, the game explains some of her abilities to the player and goes on to state that "she can also do a Body Slam in battle, squashing enemies with her…stage presence." This is almost certainly a gag that is referring to her busty design, as well as the fact that she was formerly an actress. Few other characters in "Mario" games have as shapely a figure as Flurrie, but only adults will fully understand the subtext of her in-game description when combined with how she looks.
Mario must be really rich
While there’s no traditional currency in the "Mario" games like there is in real life, there is certainly an abundance of gold coins scattered throughout the world. In fact, Mario can collect thousands, of these coins throughout his adventures across the Mushroom Kingdom and beyond. It’s not like these gold coins are worthless either, as they can be used to buy things from stores in titles such as "Paper Mario," "Mario Party," and "Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars."
With so many "Mario" games available on the Nintendo Switch and older consoles, Mario could easily have amassed quite a fortune over the last four decades — a fact that kids who are playing the games will likely have missed completely. The only issue comes with assigning a value to the coins.
According to Movoto (via The Boar), the coins have a value of $508,000, with that figure being calculated based on the dimensions of the item and how much gold that would equal. Net Credit used a different method, formulating the value of each coin at $80,000. In either case, that makes Mario one of the richest video game characters of all time, with a conservative net worth of $800 billion, although Forbes suggests a much lower (but still wealthy) $1 billion.
Dead creatures are seemingly trapped after death
In early "Super Mario" games, most of the enemies were living creatures who were variations of Goombas, Koopas, or the fish-like Cheep Cheeps. Things started to change with the release of "Super Mario Bros. 3," which saw the introduction of Boos and Dry Bones. There are two undead enemies that can attack Mario, with Boos being ghostly creatures and Dry Bones the withered skeletons of Koopas. From that point on, the franchise has included many different types of dead enemies that are seemingly re-animated or trapped in some way in the land of the living.
This essentially means that Mario is constantly surrounded by death. Some may argue that Boos are just a species of ethereal beings, but the fact that there are specific Boos that match up with living creatures suggests otherwise. For example, there are Boo Guys that come from Shy Guys and Fishin’ Boos from deceased Lakitus. Other undead creatures Mario can encounter include Polterpup and Bonneters, as well as bosses such as Kingfin, Doopliss, and Dry Bowser (who raises a ton of questions on his own).
To make matters worse, a character named Goombario in "Paper Mario" states that a particular Boo called Igor was "probably was a merchant before he became a Boo." This confirms that Boos are actually dead Mushroom Kingdom inhabitants. With that in mind, it’s safe to assume that other undead characters were once living too, but are now forever destined to roam the sewers and castles of the kingdom.