Super Mario 3D All-Stars, launching tomorrow for the Nintendo Switch, gave me the opportunity to revisit a trio of classic video games. It also brought me face to face with what is perhaps the most terrifying opening of any Mario game, wherein Bowser literally carpet bombs the Mushroom Kingdom.
As with most games in the series, Super Mario Galaxy is a whimsical adventure, filled with enough cute, endearing moments to make even the most Call of Duty-hardened gamer soften a bit. I mean, Mario goes to space! How cool is that! Unfortunately, the inciting incident to Mario’s galactic sojourn sees the Mushroom Kingdom’s Star Festival interrupted by Bowser’s armada.
The entire sequence is shocking. Warships crest the horizon and begin firing indiscriminately on the celebrating Toads. Buildings are set ablaze and sent crashing into the streets. Smoke and explosions fill the air. We’re given a ground-level view of the carnage, a perspective that feels like it was pulled out of Saving Private Ryan or Black Hawk Down rather than the intro to a first-party Nintendo game.
Mario ducks and weaves through Princess Peach’s castle gardens as we witness screaming Toads — some equipped with shields and spears but most unarmed — blown up by Bowser’s weapons of war. Some lie eerily motionless on the cobblestones. The lucky ones are encased in crystals, frozen in place until Mario comes back to free them later in the game. Multiple fires cast a ghastly yellow glow on their surroundings. What should have been a time of celebration is now a picture of hell.
Forget Bowser’s usual shenanigans; this isn’t just kidnapping a princess, stealing royal wands, or ruining Mario’s vacation. King Koopa commits an honest-to-god war crime to open Super Mario Galaxy. And he seemed like such a nice dad in Super Mario Sunshine, too.