The summer of 1992 was the height of the 16-bit home video game era. Swift competition between the SEGA Genesis and the Super Nintendo Entertainment System developed as hedgehog supporters, blue in the face with rage, clashed with monkeywrench wielding plumber boys in a multi-player quest for supremacy. Arguments over gold coins and golden rings, or speed versus utility made national news. I myself was a talking head in the basement of my parent’s home. Everything was up for grabs. Fame. Acclaim. The Special Cup.
But the story that developed behind the scenes — a story of how an iconic game was born — has been unknown to the world.
ON CREATING THE GAME.
Princess Peach: None of us knew what to expect. For me, I just knew I wanted to take it as a chance to represent women. I was so sick of playing the ‘poor me, I’ve been trapped again by this raging lizard man, won’t a chubby plumber come save me’ shtick.
Mario: Well, it’s-a-me, and I remember being pretty sure it would flop. Nintendo had me on contract so I had to it. But I didn’t get it. You know, who was I saving? I’m on the same racetrack with these other 8-bit players and we’re all equal? And now I can’t jump on them? Huh? Wasn’t my cup of tea.
Koopa Troopa: I hadn’t come out yet, but I was close. The cast knew. But I was excited to show that being queer was more than shaving your head and listening to KD Lang — but it was the 90s. So I also did those things.
Bowser: I almost didn’t do it. I had been offered a residency at Cambridge in the summer of ’89, which was just before we were going to begin production. I’d grown tired. I wanted more from life. I was hardly ever in these games anyway, and yet I was despised by America. But then Hideki [Konno] came to me and asked if I would do it as a personal favor to him, and he is such a good friend. I had no choice. (I also have a very expensive port habit that I like to fund.)
Hideki Konno, Video Game Producer: I asked the designers to include all relevant characters.
Donkey Kong: Oh, I was stoked on it. Very excited. I hadn’t done much since the early 80s. Mostly just surfing and hanging around SoCal. I started a skateboard company with Stacy Peralta. When they came around with the idea for Karts, I was ready to get back in the game. I needed that challenge.
Luigi: The whole thing about the “did we do the game” stuff is way overblown, of course, we did the game, the game exists, doesn’t it, I’m in it, I’ve played it, so of course we did it, everyone is in it, I don’t remember doing it, though, I’m not sure I was there, but there I am, did you talk to Princess already, she’s cool, she’s cool, she’s cool, we’re good friends.
ON THE CULTURE OF THE SET.
Princess: Luigi came in high on stars almost every day. You’d find him over at the craft services table, flashing like a firefly at a rave, looking for sprinkled donuts. It was sad. The fame had gotten to him. Did you know Luigi started the plumbing business? I think he specialized in clogs? Yeah, Mario isn’t even certified. It’s a whole Liam Gallagher thing. Mario saw the success that Luigi was having unclogging things and just took on the persona as a means to a story. He doesn’t even talk like that. That whole “it’s-a-me!” nonsense. Not real — just fame.
Mario: I kept trying to talk the designers into giving me a wrench. I’d always said I should hold a wrench in a game. I’m very handy. Otherwise, it-a went-a well, if you catch my drift. I think everyone loved it.
Toad: I hated every minute of it. Luigi was my best friend. To see what happened to him was awful.
Koopa Troopa: I was used to putting my head down and doing my work. Yoshi and I got along well. We spent a lot of time in his trailer with the fish and gophers from Donut Falls. We made a ton of paella. Dude is a paella God.
Bowser: It was rough, to be honest. But there were pockets of good. My fondest memories are with Donkey discussing life and business. Donkey is a fascinating individual. We set up a study in my castle, just inside the alcoves adjacent to the speed arrow. It was wonderful. We drank wine and listened to Schubert. I believe that’s where we formed our bond.
Donkey Kong: Bowser and I were both mad about the fat-shaming that happened on set. We caused a stir. I threatened to go to the lawyers and we were both ready to walk. The thing is, we were promised it wouldn’t translate to the game. Yeah, right. We ended up the biggest and slowest characters out there. And I’m like, a pretty fit guy, you know? It’s shameful. And Bowser, yeah he’s big, but that guy is a world-class athlete. He can seriously move. I think you finally see that years later in something like Mario Tennis, where — just the way he moves, you know? He’s like a swan who swallowed an elephant.
Luigi: Racing go-carts, we raced a lot of go-carts, I may have enjoyed the stars a little too much but we raced the hell out of those go-carts, hell of a place to work, you know, hell of a place, no more clogs to unclog that’s for sure.
ON THE THWOMPS.
Koopa Troopa: The Thwomps caused trouble all the time. You couldn’t go anywhere without a hoard of them hanging around and banging themselves on the ground. Like, this isn’t a frat house guys.
Toad: The Thwomps! Oh, they were nuts! They were basically extras. Always around. That’s actually where Ricky Gervais got his idea for the show Extras — the Thwomps. One of those assholes asked the Princess if he could take her back to her trailer. God, we lost the whole production day. They shut down everything. And they all look the same! So he was able to get back in the air with his buddies, and none of them would come down. They just floated up there all day drinking beers and yelling “I’m Spartacus!” It was awful.
Mario: Those Thwomp guys were pretty cool.
Princess: Part of the gig. I don’t know if there are enough fingers and toes in this world to count how many MeToo moments I’ve been a part of. Bowser. Donkey Kong. The list goes on. I’ve never put up with it, but in those days it was a little more difficult. I believe that ATAG [Association of Thwomps and Goombas] has a more stringent bargaining agreement now.
Toad: One of them puked on me.
Donkey Kong: Yeah, the whole Thwomp thing. I was surprised to see those guys are as sexual as they are. They’re floating squares with faces, you know? Like, what? What reproductive organs do you even have?
THE CHOSEN ONES.
Goombas (in perfect unison): We desired to be drivers. Traps were set against us. No persons would permit us to drive. We withheld labor in response.
Bowser: The poor Goombas. I felt sorry for them. Especially because KT was able to secure a lead role in the game. But they came back from their little strike eventually. They mostly worked as grips and aids to Hideki. Some did makeup as well. They turned out to be marvelous little workers, always a joy to be around.
Lakitu: I was just happy to hold the sign.
Mario: Well, sure, a lot of little creatures wanted a kart — goombas, hammer brothers, the scattering bloober, angry sun, Rockey Wrench — why does this guy get a wrench, by the way — tons of little turds wanted to be in it, but the game is called “Mario Kart.” Mario.
Toad: A lot of people don’t know this, but Sonic wanted to be in it too. At one point I think he tried to get out of his contract with SEGA. They had even designed a cart for him. It got that close.
Sonic T. Hedgehog: I was partying with Axl Rose and David Lee Roth. I was living in Jagger’s pool house when they shot that game. I can run faster than any of those dillweeds can drive. I’ll let you decide how true the rumors of my interest are.
Bowser: Despite our past disagreements, it breaks my hearts to see what has happened to their brotherhood. They’re both broken, but Mario holds the sledgehammer.
Princess: Each of them is a dear friend to me, but I’ve had to remove myself from it all. Even the whole concept of the “Mario Brothers.” Their last name is Hansen, for God’s sake. What, does he think his name is Mario Mario?
Toad: You should have seen Luigi before all of this. He holds it together on camera, and he did it famously during this game. But he’s a shell of himself. He was a master craftsman before this. Don’t get me wrong, Mario is a talent. Can’t take that away. But only one of those boys won the award for best gray water and clog control in the tri-state area — and his name ain’t Mario.
Koopa Troopa: There was a day when a drain valve for Battle Course 2 clogged and water was everywhere. Luigi didn’t hesitate. To this day, the branch drain that he rigged up — with nothing more than some banana peels, a couple of feathers and some bubble gum — is the most masterful piece of craftsmanship I’ve ever seen.
Donkey Kong: I mean you just want to sit the guy down and give him a hug… Luigi, obviously.
Koopa Troopa: I came out officially on the finish line of Rainbow Road on the last day of shooting. All of the Goombas had prepared a cake for me.
Mario: Nothing changed for me. I’ve been on the same ride since ’81, and this game was no different. Only here for the fans. I wish I had been a little more visible. Hashtag give Mario a wrench.
Donkey Kong: Nevermind was released in the middle of shooting and, man, I wore that album out. To this day, when I’m playing Choco Island I can’t help but hear the drums on “In Bloom.”
Bowser: It was truly the first time I became a protagonist, and I cannot thank Hideki and all of the staff for their efforts in my employ.
Toad: Probably the last few days of shooting. Luigi had been told that he’d take the lead on a game called “Mario is Missing.” We sat in our carts on the edge of Ghost Valley just looking out into the vast open blackness. He was happy.
Princess: How can you measure a single moment? The Queen called to encourage me at one point — she’s a famously magnificent driver — and being a royal myself, I was humbled by the thoughtfulness of Her Majesty. I also had a hell of a time throwing mushrooms at all those boys.
Luigi: There was a moment [long pause] sometime before we started production. I was in Brooklyn laying on the roof of my building and the power went out in the city. Suddenly, you could see the stars. They were completely lost in the light of the city before, but then, poof… there they were. I remember thinking about how comforting it was to know the stars are always there. Even when you can’t see them.