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Mario’s Film Folly: The True Story Behind Hollywood’s Biggest Gaming Blunder

In honor of the 20th anniversary of the Super Mario Bros. movie (released on May 28, 1993), we wanted to share with you this piece from October 10, 2011 about the troubles plaguing the film.

For all their absurdity, the Super Mario Bros. games follow a straightforward template. An Italian plumber adventures in a magical land, fights evil monsters and rescues a princess. It’s simple, but Nintendo’s vibrant fairy tale could have been fertile ground for a Hollywood fantasy epic. Instead, when Super Mario Bros. released in 1993, it portrayed a version of Mario that was worlds away from Nintendo’s vision. The Mushroom Kingdom had been turned into a neon-lit cyberpunk city where dinosaurs had evolved into humans. Bowser was a leather-suited politician fascinated by mud baths. The iconic goombas had become eight-foot tall lizard warriors with shrunken heads. Super Mario Bros. stands as one of Hollywood’s worst adaptations, but the story behind the film is infinitely more bizarre than the one the movie tells.

Fire Flower Sale
By 1990, Super Mario Bros. was one of the biggest intellectual properties on the planet. Super Mario World had just released in Japan, and the face of Nintendo’s chubby plumber had been slapped on everything from T-shirts and comic books to cereal boxes. Mario’s name alone was worth millions. It didn’t take long for the motion picture industry to come knocking on Nintendo’s door.

As always, Nintendo was cautious with its property. The publisher knew Super Mario Bros. didn’t have a deep narrative. How would a movie studio translate the simple formula into a 90-minute film? Producer Roland Joffé thought he could figure it out. Joffé’s Lightmotive production company was inexperienced, but Joffé had directed the Oscar-nominated films The Killing Fields and The Mission, which gave the studio some clout. Nintendo was intrigued by Joffé’s ideas, but it was more interested in the fact that Joffé had agreed to let Nintendo retain merchandising rights from the film. Joffé walked away with a $ 2 million contract. In a rare moment for the character, Mario’s future was now partially out of Nintendo’s control.

After securing the rights to the film, Lightmotive immediately set to work trying to sign high-level talent. The studio approached Danny DeVito to both direct the film and play Mario. Both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Michael Keaton were approached for the role of King Koopa. All three passed on the project.

According to Super Mario: How Nintendo Conquered America by Jeff Ryan, Tom Hanks briefly signed on to play Mario, but some executives thought that Hanks was asking for too much money, so they fired Hanks in favor of English thespian Bob Hoskins. Hoskins was hot off the success of films like Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Hook, and the producers felt that he would be a more bankable star. Within a matter of years, Tom Hanks would win Oscars for both Philadelphia and Forrest Gump, becoming one of Hollywood’s most respected actors. Hoskins is now best known for his television work.

While Lightmotive continued its search for actors and directors, it commissioned the first of many scripts. Barry Morrow, one of the Academy Award-winning writers of Rain Man, took first crack at the plot, but his treatment was deemed too dramatic and the project was passed over to the writing team that had worked on The Flintstones and Richie Rich.

This version of the script was more in line with Mario’s roots. Mario and Luigi traveled to a magical land reminiscent of The Wizard of Oz and Alice in Wonderland. In this world, the evil King Koopa – an actual green lizard king – had kidnapped a Princess named Hildy and made her his bride, so that he could access the magical Crown of Invincibility. The Mario brothers and their sidekick Toad set off on a quest to rescue the princess and prevent Koopa from getting his hands on the artifact.

This script was likely the closest the film would ever get to emulating the playful world imagined in Nintendo’s games. However, Lightmotive had already signed a directorial team to the project, and these visionaries would take the film down some wild rabbit holes.


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DROD: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder

[This is a guest review by SirNiko. Originally posted on TIGForums.]

DROD: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder, by Caravel Games

I finished Deadly Rooms of Death: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder and the bonus dungeon “Flood Warning”. This is a great series, but this entry is a little disappointing. I feel it’s my duty to outline it for those who haven’t played.

For those that are new to DROD, Deadly Rooms of Death is a puzzle game wherein you move the player around a grid-based world, killing monsters by carefully moving to hit them with your sword while keeping them from catching you and killing you in revenge. The result feels a little bit like chess meets the Adventures of Lolo. The game is broken into multiple levels, each of which contains roughly a dozen rooms. Slaying all the monsters in a room “clears” it, sometimes unlocking doors or allowing passage to new rooms. Clearing levels is required to advance the game. The experience is entirely cerebral.

Gunthro and the Epic Blunder is the fourth game in the main series, not counting some expansion-pack style bonus dungeons and DROD RPG, which more closely resembles Tower of the Sorcerer. The story is a prequel that takes place between DROD 1 and 2. Mechanically, the game is the easiest of the lot. This is in sharp contrast to the rapidly scaling difficulty of the previous games.

Because of the low difficulty, the game is an excellent choice if you’re a DROD beginner. Each level highlights some game mechanic (such as a particular monster or trap) and offers almost exclusively puzzles based around the various quirks of that mechanic. In addition to the mechanical themes, each level also has a unique set of graphics and a theme to the arrangement of obstacles. Bractea Town, for example, has a layout that resembles small houses with orb-controlled doors. The Swamp features wide expanses of water dotted with small structures with crumbling walls. The Whittled River is a long, straight level with puzzles that almost all feature a wide expanse of water cutting the map in half. This is a really pleasant example of how DROD explores each setting thoroughly before moving you on to something entirely new.

Unfortunately, if you are a DROD expert, Epic Blunder may disappoint. Even the most difficult of the secret rooms are unlikely to occupy you for more than a few minutes. There is an interesting ARG-like puzzle to discover a secret dungeon, but this may bring more frustration than joy if you are not particularly keen on puzzles that don’t involve spatial arrangement of obstacles.

Earlier DROD games are linear, allowing the player to pick the order of the rooms but ultimately forcing you to tackle the levels in the order they are presented. Epic Blunder is broken into three hub regions, each of which offers 4-6 levels that can be tackled in any order you choose. Sadly, the hub worlds are generally uninteresting and feature less than a dozen puzzles over them all combined. There is no fast-tracking, so the player must manually retrace their steps after they’ve completed a dungeon. The result feels amateurish, like the developers were pushing their engine to run an exploratory game it simply isn’t capable of handling.

The characters are really uninteresting, too. Unlike Beethro, whose background is detailed as a restaurant owner with a silly nephew and a strange philosophy of do first, think second, Gunthro is never really defined over the course of the game. This seems odd, since the entirety of the game is about Beethro retelling the exploits of Gunthro. The supporting cast is equally weak. Though you’ll spend half the game adventuring with the same band of a half-dozen characters, their lack of speaking lines and their total omission after you rescue them relegate them to the role of mere macguffins. They could each be replaced with keys or other inconsequential items without impacting the story at all. Perhaps this is why the final hub has you literally gathering keys instead of seeking companions again.

The worst bit, however, is the total lack of plot resolution. The game centers on a war between two kingdoms after the captain of one kills the king of the other. Unfortunately, you’re treated to heavy foreshadowing throughout the story that suggests the entire war was instigated by a third party to the point that your ultimate showdown with the king’s assassin seems pointless and cliche. After you resolve that final bit, the game rushes you off, in heavy-handed fashion, to another continent to set the stage for Beethro’s adventures. You’re never given any resolution at all to the true cause of the war, nor will you ever be. The whole thing comes across as an attempt to segue into DROD 2, but to a player who has never played DROD 2 the foreshadowing is meaningless, and to a player who has played DROD 2 it feels like a list of vague references to characters and places which have no specific tie-in to Gunthro’s adventure.

The scripted events are generally below par for the series, likely owing to the non-linear level design, which makes it difficult to account for a player who might do things out of order.

The bonus hold, Flood Warning, is an excellent piece of work that comes free if you buy Epic Blunder. While it only contains about 3 and a half levels (a typical “full” hold contains 25), each room is chock full of scripted events and dialogue to keep you amused. The hold features all puzzles based around “shallow water”, one of the new mechanics introduced in DROD 4. The level of difficulty is on par with the late game in The City Beneath, and is suitable for a DROD expert. The voice acting is also excellent.

Flood Warning also showcases two elements of puzzle design I really adore. The first is when the player is confronted by two slightly different versions of a puzzle. For example, the player might have to cross a pool of water with mirrors, but rereft of his sword. The next puzzle, with the exact same layout, gives the player the use of his sword but a few fewer mirrors. Despite their similarity, both puzzles play out much differently, and require a different path. The second element is a puzzle that can be solved more efficiently by choice. In one level, you must use mirrors to reach skipper nests to clear the room. If you use 4 mirrors, Beethro will chide himself that he could have gotten by with fewer mirrors. If you finish the room with only 2 mirrors (the minimum) a triumphant Beethro will congratulate himself on his efficiency. It’s a wonderful little bonus for a player willing to go the extra mile to perfect a puzzle.

If you’ve never played a DROD game before, you may find Epic Blunder to be a great point to start. Not only does it ease you into the mechanics, but the story is written such that you won’t feel lost for jumping into the middle. You’ll also be able to play all player-made holds made with the previous versions of the game, which means you’ll instantly have access to several year’s worth of player-made content. The lack of story is easily overlooked if you’re marveling at the versatility of the monsters and mechanics.

If you’re a long-time fan of DROD, sadly, you should give this a pass. It really adds nothing to the story, and the game is much too easy to provide much of a challenge. You’ll likely master both the main hold and Flood Warning within ten hours. The few new elements are clever, but not worth the purchase of the game if you still have Smitemaster Selections or player-made holds from 3.0 and earlier left to play.

TIGdb: Entry for DROD: Gunthro and the Epic Blunder

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