One of gaming’s better urban legends is that each koopaling in Super Mario Bros. 3 was named after a celebrity. One of the seven koopalings is Lemmy, allegedly inspired by Lemmy Kilmister, founder of the influential rock band Motörhead. Kilmister unexpectedly died of cancer this week. To learn if the rumours were true, I asked the person who named the koopalings.
Before Dayvv Brooks was a product analyst at Nintendo, involved in the early days of localising Nintendo’s biggest games, he was nothing but a fanboy.
Stuck in a difficult NES game, he called the company’s famous tipline, staffed by “game play counselors” that could help guide players on the right track.
“[I] combed through the instruction book to find the number for the game play counselors in the back of the manual,” he told me. “I called and they helped me figure out what I needed to do. After hanging up, I remember thinking that must be the coolest job on the planet.”
Who wouldn’t want the “coolest job on the planet”? Weeks later, Brooks stumbled upon a newspaper ad promising people could “play video games” to “make money”. It was a chance to become a Nintendo game play counsellor.
Fortunately for Brooks, the interview was super simple.
“This was in the early days where there wasn’t much training,” he said. “I think you had to say that you beat Zelda and Metroid or something like that.”
Brooks enjoyed the job so much — and he was so good at it — that he dropped out of college, moved into management of game play counsellors, and eventually got roped into a few marketing projects. When Nintendo had some openings in its R&D department, he applied to become a product analyst within the company.
Besides an interview, Brooks had to review Sim City for the Mac to “see if I could clearly write about games and provide constructive ideas as to how the game could be made better.” He pulled it off, and moved deeper into Nintendo.
One of his early tasks was taking poorly translated Japanese text and making it sound better. (At the time, there weren’t really “localisation” departments.)
That’s where Super Mario Bros. 3 — and Lemmy — comes in. I’ll let Brooks explain:
“Music has always been a big part of my life. I’ve been a DJ for years and have been a music collector for even longer. When I first saw the group of seven Koopalings, music was on my mind.
The hairstyle on one of them reminded me of Ludwig von Beethoven for some reason and Ludwig von Koopa was born. Next was the one with the glasses — that has to be Roy Koopa in homage to Roy Orbison, who almost always wore glasses. Then Wendy O. Koopa (Wendy O. Williams) [and] Iggy Koopa (Iggy Pop). One looked like a loudmouth, so he was Morton Koopa Jr. from [the] loud-mouthed talk show host Morton Downey Jr. And then there was Larry. There’s no real-world equivalent — he’s not Larry Mullen Jr. from U2 or Larry King — he just looked like a Larry.
That brings us to Lemmy. In addition to being a great name, it’s perfect for a video game character. This Koopaling struck me as being the kind of character who would do his own thing, no matter what anyone else thought. I think it was those crazy eyes. Lemmy Koopa was in the crew.”
While Nintendo had to approve Brooks’ translation ideas, all of these stuck. So, yes, Lemmy Koopalina is actually based on Lemmy Kilmister from Motörhead.
Before Nintendo, Brooks had worked at Nintendo, and while not a Motörhead fanatic, he “certainly appreciated Motörhead’s significance”.
Brooks eventually left Nintendo in 1992. These days, he works in Internet marketing for Bass Pro Shops but regularly participates in pinball tournaments.
This isn’t the only time Lemmy would show up in a video game, either. He actually voiced a character — Kill Master — in Double Fine’s Brutal Legend.