Some real talk on Super Mario: He’s important. He’s omnipotent. He’s omnipresent. There’s no argument that Super Mario is the cornerstone of modern game development--his influence on both 2D and 3D games, old and new testaments, big and small, indie and AAA is unquestionable, unless you’re a PC-only person. Even then, anything you’ve been glowing about in the last decade oozes Mario, especially as our generation comes into the field of game development.
For the entirety of 2012 I had this chip on my shoulder, where I couldn’t understand why everyone was making their own Mario games (see: Indie Game: the Movie). This wasn’t innovation, I thought, but rather nostalgia hocking, exploiting an audience’s insatiable lust for all things retro. Even down to pixelated aesthetics and bit processed chip tunes, it seemed like everything present was the past.
While that may be true, I’ve also come to realize that Super Mario is the language upon which there is some semblance of universality. It's a tune we all know and love and can understand--the dawn of our awareness that all games, of all varieties, have been thrust into existance by the divine hand of the creative act. Today, there are a rising number of homebrew hacker games that are just slight modifications of the actual code in Super Mario Bros.
Homebrew Super Mario Bros. ROMs like Silhouette Mario Bros. and Mario Bros. Rect by Leon Arnott are other great Mario hacks
In T. Takemoto’s Asshole Mario series, he takes Super Mario World, smashes it with a hammer, and reassembles it into a sick, twisted, nearly-impossible nightmare of itself. Takemoto’s ability to see the ones and zeroes behind Super Mario World’s enemy patterns, Mario’s movement and abilities, the game’s properties and player tendencies have developed much over the last six years, a span that's produced three games in the series, with 2012’s Asshole Mario 3 being a remarkable testament to his competence as a game designer. After watching through many playthroughs of Asshole Mario 3, I envision Takemoto as a strange hybrid between Apollo Creed in Rocky III, Cesar Romero’s Joker, Marcel Duchamp, and the puppet from Saw.
If you can read this image, you can understand why it deserves a gilded frame
In that spirit, here are just a few of Takemoto’s best tricks. If I were a more competent player, they'd inevitably trigger the onset of trichotillomania, forcing me to hurl my controller off the precipice of oblivion.
Takemoto’s levels are nothing without the humble Muncher. Affectionately used as a frame for his works, the Muncher is a tile that will immediately kill you when touched, it’s a venus flytrap of death that can only be safely passed when under foot on the back of Yoshi or by avoiding completely. An overwhelming percentage of deaths in Asshole Mario games will come via the Muncher.
The player dies if she goes through the end goal of the level unless certain conditions are made. A death that occurs while Mario has passed the goal line will result in the level not being complete, and the player must resume from her last checkpoint or at the beginning of the level. Players typically have to avoid the trap by using a P-Switch to create a safe pathway. This technique comes from Asshole Mario 2, and is only alluded to in Asshole Mario 3, but it is a hallmark of sorts of Takemoto’s, inspiring other ROM hackers to create their own Kaizo Traps. Takemoto will put a few Kaizo Traps at the end of several stages, but are timed so that you won’t actually die from them, the most kind-hearted joke I’ve seen in his work.
Chargin’ Chuck Chicken
You will come across schools of Chargin’ Chucks. Armed with baseballs, footballs, and shovels, they will attempt to kill you. You will have to narrowly pass them by getting them to jump and then dash under their legs. They will come at you in football helmets. Some will fall from the sky inexplicably. In Super Mario World, they were funny characters in football costumes. In Asshole Mario, they are suicide bombers. The player must watch their patterns, understand their movements, and get past these brutal obstacles over and over again.
Not to be flexed with
Invisible Coin Block
A signature move and Kaizo classic. The invisible coin block never gets old: The player prepares to make a jump, runs, leaps, and falls instantly to his death, by the hand of the invisible coin block spiking Mario downward to his demise. It’s brilliantly simple, but Takemoto’s ability to determine players most plausible flight paths makes this one of his most effective techniques.
Anytime players encounter Yoshi, rest assured he will be falling from the sky or about to die, as your use for the saddled dinosaur is as an ejector seat. Players must mount and dismount Yoshi quickly, to gain an extra boost and survive for just long enough to reach the next obstacle, while Yoshi falls to his death.
Have a moment of rest after getting through a difficult obstacle? Look up. There’s a giant mole or a Chargin’ Chuck coming at you like an ACME piano.
Super Mario World’s spin jump has to be mastered quickly. Get ready to balance your jumps on top of buzz saws, bubbling lava and wrecking balls through a bullet-Hell of other obstacles.
I think what sets Asshole Mario 3 apart from its predecessors are the elaborate and complicated concepts that make up many of the levels. Perhaps a descendant of the infamous Kaizo Trap, Takemoto’s latest opus features several structural themes that will mesmerize and destroy your sanity, like a dolphin cannery and a level where you actually can't let Yoshi die. He made the excellent Stage 6, where you must clear obstructions for a beanstalk through a verticle death maze. But his masterwork is Stage 9? The blue-shell Rube Goldberg machine.
Skip to 22:19 to see a perfect playthrough of the blue-shell machine
One day, you will see Takemoto's work in action. You will begin to see through the cartoon colors to reveal the seams underneath, like you're some kind of David Lynch character on holiday at Disney World, where you're standing backstage at a Country Bears concert watching the mechanisms propelling the anthropomorphic animatrons through his Kids Bop rendition of “Semi-Charmed Kind of Life.”
You will watch, and you'll be forever changed. Your tiny, infantile brain will expand--enlightened, perhaps, with the poetic deposition of what it means to play Theseus to Takemoto’s Daedalus. From that day forward you will know and appreciate life and the platforms we all jump onto and subsequently jump off of. Your eyes will open a little wider on that day.
But with Takemoto’s particular brand of fantastic level design, Kaizo design has become a genre in and of itself, inspiring many a ROM hacker and occasionally full-fledged game designers to create some truly punishing platformers. While Super Meat Boy and VVVVVV might come to mind, these games just aren’t as cruel as Takemoto’s. Even Nintendo wanted to get in on some Kaizo and has released “Impossible Mario”, a downloadable content add-on for the 3DS’s New Super Mario Bros. 2.
As our German friend says, "this is the craziest shit I've ever seen in a Mario game"
Word on the message boards is that Takemoto has warned Nintendo that he will sue if he is not credited for these designs, which to me seems a bit unfair. Like Jonathan Coulton just learned, having your audience do your dirty work would be the best way to stick it to the man, but I am not convinced Nintendo is in the wrong here. Aftera ll, this is a legal gray area--Takemoto is literally hacking their software into something new. Yet is still their software, even if it is old enough to buy a drink in the US.
I see it like this: If Super Mario Bros. is the Caves of Lascaux, then Asshole Mario is the bloody Sistine Chapel. Takemoto is an artist, a poet of the language that is Super Mario. And as such, Nintendo’s potentially imitative “Impossible Mario” looks like a kindergartener scribbling his name in crayon. It's a game that to me bares no likeness to Asshole Mario, but a surprisingly dull approach to Kaizo ideals.
If there is any truth to Takemoto’s claim, I do not see it. If I could, the artistry of Takemoto in its entire splendor would not be so great in my recently-widened eyes.
T. Takemoto is a Japanese videogame designer who made Kaizo/Asshole Mario as a joke for his friend. I was unable and unwilling to locate the ROM file for Asshole Mario 3, but a mirror of the original playthrough can be seen here, the original videos are from a Japanese video service, which you can track down by searching for videos titled 自作の改造マリオ（スーパーマリオワールド）を友人にプレイさせる.
Colin Snyder is a videogame person. You can follow him @scallopdelion. Illustration by Colin Snyder.