Mario’s New Short King Design May Be An Old-School Throwback

Mario’s New Short King Design May Be An Old-School Throwback

Nintendo just dropped trailers for its next big Super Mario games, and while they look cool, you’ve probably noticed the plumber himself looks a little different. The hallmarks of iconic Mario’s design are still there, like his blue overalls and red cap, but his actual silhouette is now way more compact. The effect is something like a chibified Mario, chubby and stout in a way that evokes a primal urge to squeeze. What’s going on?

In the case of the Super Mario RPG remake, the design is clearly a callback to the cult-classic game and its cute graphics. As many old-school fans know, the SNES original was the first in the series to feature an isometric view, which let the developers experiment with a more fleshed out 3D effect. This effect was further emphasized through the animation, which had a chunky quality that made the entire thing look like it took place in a storybook. That whimsy was also captured through the design of the characters, which are stocky in a doll-like way. It’s as if you’re a kid playing with your toys.

And the new Mario depicted in the remake is a pretty close approximation to what the old-school graphics would be if rendered with more modern technology. It’s true to the original feel, which is probably why the trailer introduces the game by converting an old cinematic into a new one.

Super Mario RPG (Remake) Trailer | Nintendo Direct 2023

Curiously, though, Nintendo appears to be doubling down on that general Mario aesthetic. Super Mario Bros. Wonder, the next 2D game in the platforming series, also has a lovably cherubic Mario who definitely asked for no pickles, please. Now, all major Mario games give us a smaller version of the plumber that’s meant to tell us when we’re one hit away from death. What’s different here is the larger vibe of the game, which errs on the maximalist side. You don’t just stomp on Goombas, oh no. The game trails messages behind your jumps with affirmations like Excellent and Incredible, each congratulation coming together to form a small, dissolving rainbow. Expression is the name of the game, which may be why it will suddenly grant warp pipes eyes after you collect the right power-up.

Mario’s animation follows suit. He runs and jumps as always, but Mario can also be seen scrunching his face in concentration and smiling when he collects items. Mario’s never been this expressive, and as observant Twitter commenters have noticed, it might not be a new design choice at all. If you’ve been playing Mario games for long enough, then you probably remember the artwork for some of those classic games, which often depicted a Mario that was slightly different than the one who we got to control. In the art, Mario looks happy and generally more human than what the sprites or later 3D models were actually capable of rendering at the time.

The Mario we have nowadays has slimmed down in the games, shedding pounds like (the formerly fat) Pikachu before him. There’s still a hint of rotundness, but it’s elusive and tends to be proportional to the rest of Mario’s body. For Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Nintendo seems to be going back to Mario’s plumper roots. Actually, I’d argue that Nintendo might be in the middle of reframing what Mario looks like in the public eye, because the recent movie depicted a more squashed and spherical take on his design. Nintendo likely recognizes that Mario many of us grew up with, the one who exists in sprites or in a more primordial form of 3D, was inherently more suggestive than he was realistic. He’s basically a cartoon, a caricature in our memory of something that never quite was.

Much like in Super Mario RPG, this Mario design has a child-like quality that seems to say: Let’s go back to when you felt a sense of wonder for this all.

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