The Supper Mario Broth tumblr page is an invaluable resource for SMB-themed ephemera. Recently we asked them to share some of their favorite little-known details from the franchise's 30+ year history:
1. Mario 64's Old School Graphics Trickery
As one of the first 3D platformers, Super Mario 64 didn't fully get the hang of its hardware and needed to cut every corner to provide a stable gaming experience without lag or the ubiquitous "fog" that plagued early 3D games. Once you see where they cut corners, you simply can't ignore it.
In 3D games, objects are loaded when they're just outside the area visible to the camera (this is called a frustum). However, Super Mario 64 made the activation radius slightly smaller than the actual screen, so objects like doors keep popping in to close black voids just at the edge of your vision, making you doubt your sanity.
This effect is much more pronounced in the Virtual Console version.
But just unloading unused objects doesn't quite cut it - after all, there's one object you can't unload: Mario himself. To reduce the strain on the console, Mario goes into a low-polygon mode whenever he is in motion and not close to the camera.
To visualize just how low-poly it is, here's a comparison of the wireframes:
Above: I'm sure models in Star Fox on the SNES had more polygons.
Oh, and remember what I said about never unloading Mario? If he's far enough away from the camera, the game just doesn't care anymore:
2. The Secrets of the Underused Power-Ups in Super Mario Bros. 3
For how popular the Kuribo's Shoe, Hammer Suit or Tanooki Suit are in Super Mario Bros. 3, there are entirely too few opportunities to obtain them and play around. Many gamers don't know about these suits' true abilities.
For example, Kuribo's Shoe can perform a double jump if you walk off any ledge, then jump in midair:
The Hammer Suit is a powerhouse, able to defeat minibosses in a single hit, knock out Thwomps, and... vanquish the undead?
But there's one thing it can't do: slide. Instead, Mario or Luigi retreat into a shell whenever they duck, unable to go downhill. However, there's one way to see the otherwise unused sliding animation for the Hammer Suit:
If Mario is already sliding when he touches the Hammer Suit, he will display Hammer Mario's sliding animation. It can only happen in this bonus room on level 6-10.
By the way, did you notice anything strange about the Hammer Suit that came out of the ? Block? Take a closer look:
It's actually a Toad Suit! The sprite is different from the Hammer Suit you can keep in your inventory, which is depicted on the right. Since the suit bounces so much, it's hard to notice unless you're really looking for it. It's a mystery why this sprite looks like that, but perhaps it's a remnant of an unused power-up that transformed Mario into Toad.
Finally, the Tanooki Suit's turn-into-statue ability has some unexpected powers. It can put out jet flames:
or even defeat these spectral Roto-Discs:
3. Take a Moment to Reflect
Making mirrors in video games is hard. Time passes, technology improves, and yet every year, multi-gazillion-budget AAA games still surprise us with failures to implement properly working reflections. Naturally, Mario is not exempt.
In Super Mario Sunshine, looking closely into a mirror will show that FLUDD's nozzle doesn't have a reflection.
But if you think something not showing up in a mirror is bad, how about someone coming out of a mirror?
In the mirror room in Super Mario 64 DS, if Yoshi uses his tongue at the mirror, Reflection-Yoshi's tongue will come out into the real world for a few frames. This is, of course, because the Yoshi in the mirror is not a reflection at all, but simply a clone that mimics the real Yoshi's actions. Whenever the real Yoshi clips into the mirror, the clone clips out.
Finally, even games on systems capable of real reflections fudge it when they think no one's looking closely. The red gemstones on rolling boulders in Super Mario Galaxy are supposed to be reflective... until you realize they're simply showing you the portion of the screen around Mario with a red filter on it:
4. The Secret of Super Mario Galaxy's Lighting
The Super Mario Galaxy games have a very characteristic lighting effect: the very edges of models are lit the brightest. This is supposed to evoke the feeling of objects floating in space, possibly inspired by photos of the Earth from space, with a bright edge due to light scattering in the atmosphere:
The way this is accomplished inside the game is by shining extremely harsh light at all models from the direction opposite the camera. As the camera moves, so does the light, making the bright side impossible to see - unless we use some emulator magic to shift the viewpoint behind the object.
Well, Mario looks pretty unusual - but what do other characters look like from that side?
?Perhaps it's for the best that we never saw this.