The hidden horror of Super Mario

I am a big fan of Star Wars and despite all of the killing and talk of the ‘dark side’ I still find the original trilogy a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun that can be taken as seriously, or not seriously as you like.  I am a few years too young to remember the original films in the cinemas, but hearing that amazing John Williams score while watching a short cliff notes summary of ‘the story so far’ scroll up the screen takes me instantly back to being a flannelette wearing  kid who was allowed to stay up late to watch the films on television whenever they were on.  Of course since then this view of the Star Wars universe as seen through a child’s eyes has transformed into an understanding of the broader background and implications of the Rebels’ fight against the empire, due in no small part to a wealth of gap-filling through countless pieces of media to consume from the Star Wars extended universe.  Because of this I’ll never see the Star Wars universe the same way again – for better or worse.

Thinking about Super Mario games for most people conjures similar happy memories of their childhood.  And with the whimsical graphics, upbeat musical score and let’s face it, plain adorable character design its pretty easy to see why.  Again as a youngster I took anything with the Mario name on it at face value, Super Mario Bros was equal to Super Mario Land was equal to Super Mario World.  Don’t worry I know better now so don’t jump down to the comments section to hurl abuse at me, but when I was younger I was nowhere near as critical (or cynical) of the media I consumed as I am now.  All I cared about were that Mario was jumping on mushrooms and collecting coins.  Or more to the point he would do this on the way to saving a princess.  Daisy, Peach, whatever.  It made no difference to me, the Mushroom kingdom and annexed territories were a great place to spend some time.  Of course as I would come to learn, not all was well in the Mario extended universe.  And I’m not just talking about Boos.

I’m talking about the Pionpi –  those undying, spring-healed enemies that populate the third world of that kinda-Mario Game Boy Classic, Super Mario Land.  This unlikely Mario foe is derived from hopping chinese ghost/vampire/all-round bad supernatural beings  known as Jiang shi who prey on the souls of the living, and in the game they are represented accordingly.  Invincible, fast and deadly, the Pionpi for me are the one thing that, even as a kid, made me look twice to make sure I’d put the right cartridge into my brand-spanking new Game Boy.  I couldn’t even comprehend a world where Goombas, Koopa Troopas and Pionpi co-existed as friends or enemies.  The Pionpi just felt out of place, in a haunting kind of way – if only for the fact that myth mentions nothing about ‘jumping on one’s head’ as a counter for this horrifying beast.

I guess we should just be glad that Nintendo decided not to include a specific death animation capturing the moment where the Pionpi feasts on our hero’s soul…