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The Definitive Science of Super Mario

The Definitive Science of Super Mario

Prepare for some shocking news: Mario is not human. In fact, according to a Nintendo character guide from 1993, Mario belongs to the species of “homo [sic] nintendonus.” This goes a long way towards accounting for Mario’s incredible jumping abilities and brick-smashing strength, not to mention the bizarre array of creatures and landscapes that populate his world. Yes, Mario is an alien humanoid plumber from a landscape quite different from our own. Let’s find out just how different by breaking down the science of Super Mario Bros.

Mario’s Record-Setting Abilities

Mario, the face of Nintendo, officially stands at 5’1” tall. The height-challenged hero makes up for his short stature with his incredible leaping abilities and super-strong punches. In the original 1985 NES game, Mario was able to performing a standing jump that launched him upwards to a point five times his height. That’s a straight up-and-down distance of 25’5”, which absolutely crushes the current human high jump record: 2.45m or 8’ 0.46” set by Cuba’s Javier Sotomayor.

While Mario’s jumping ability may vary from game to game—and some people are still debating just how fast he is–there’s no doubting the pint-size plumber packs a lot of power. If Mario came to Earth, he’d probably be banned from Olympic competition due to his alien athleticism giving him an unfair advantage. His superior jumping prowess isn’t actually a side-effect of a planetary body with reduced gravity; in fact it’s just the opposite. Mario’s not only out-jumping our world’s best athletes by quite a distance, he’s doing so on a world that has eight times the gravity of Earth which means that his athleticism comes from raw strength alone. This value was calculated based on Mario’s jump height and the time it took him to land back on solid ground in the 1990 SNES video game “Super Mario World.” Other gravity (g) values have been calculated for various Mario games and while the more recent video game physics are getting closer to our Earth-based reality, it’s clear from the extreme gravity that Mario’s home world is definitely not in our solar system.

super-mario-bros-size-chartIntense gravity explains why everyone is so dang short on Mario’s world.

Mario’s World

Not only is Mario an alien, he hails from somewhere far outside our own neighborhood, where the rules of astrophysics and planet formation as we know them are quite different. The most intense planetary gravity in our own solar system is found at Jupiter, coming in at 2.528g, where g = Earth’s gravity. That means an object weighing 100lbs on Earth would weigh in at 252.8lbs on Jupiter. Drawing a comparison between a Super Jupiter and Mario’s world is complicated by the fact that the gas giant of our own solar system doesn’t have a solid surface…although Mario has also been known to run across clouds. At a local extreme, our sun’s surface gravity clocks in at 28.0g, which is too extreme to fit the gravity of Mario’s homeland…unless it’s a super-advanced series of disparate platforms built in space at a safe distance around the sun, possibly to harvest solar energy. But seeing as humans can only withstand up to four times Earth’s gravity before our biological systems are unable to compensate, we’re unlikely to be successfully visiting Mario World in the flesh anytime soon. We’ll have a hard enough time colonizing Super-Earths which feature more gravity than Earth but not as much as Mario’s home planet.

The YouTube science show Space Time has done a fantastic job putting all this information together in a concise video:

Evolution: Flora and Fauna

If super gravity is a trait of Mario’s world and Mario himself possess incredible athletic abilities despite that limitation—including repeated smashing through bricks with his fists, likely making him an expert of alien martial arts–what other incredible creatures could have evolved to inhabit this very foreign world? For starters, there’s the variety of plant life that populates each and every platform. There’s the antagonizing Piranha Plants, man-eating carnivorous vegetation that appear to be a Venus fly trap species on steroids. Maybe the extreme gravity exerted extraordinary evolutionary pressure on these plants, forcing them to “Eat All the Things!” in order to out-compete their more docile neighbors. Or perhaps the same meteor that gave rise to the title terrors in John Wyndham’s “The Day of the Triffids” passed by Mario’s world first.

Other plants on Mario’s world tend to boost his powers when harvested, which remains an understudied facet of the alien world’s ecology: Is it a mutually symbiotic relationship in which Mario’s fireball-throwing ability helps to spread the Fire Flower’s seeds? Does the sacrifice of one Fire Flower from a patch allow Mario to protect the rest from being consumed by Koopas? Whether the plant is cool with being uprooted or not, its physiological effects could be explained if it was a more evolved version of Earth’s own thermogenic plants. These plants, like the Eastern skunk cabbage that melts surrounding snow or the corpse flower that generates heat (and some serious stink) to draw pollinating insects, can raise their temperature above that of the surrounding air. There’s even the Australian eucalyptus tree, which actively encourages forest fires by secreting highly flammable oil that also concentrates in a combustible leaf litter layer — it’s so toxic that insects and fungi won’t break it down. The plant is also fire-resistant, unlike its neighbors.

super-mario-fire-flower

Flowering plants weren’t the only organisms to undergo extreme evolutionary pressures; mushrooms are a huge part of Mario’s world as well. On the beneficial side, Super Mushrooms (a power-up that allows Mario to grow in size, smash through bricks, and sustain an extra hit from enemies) and 1-Up Mushrooms (granting Mario an extra life) are essential to Mario’s survival. Their design is modeled after the Amanita muscaria, which is curious considering the earthbound toadstool’s poisonous classification and psychoactive properties.

If it’s mushroom-derived power-ups you’re searching for, perhaps the healthful Shiitake, the immunity-boosting Reishi, or the potentially HIV-battling Maitake are more your speed. Just be careful that you don’t ingest any of the world’s most poisonous mushrooms, which are essentially the less-than-sentient, sans-eyebrow Earth versions of Goombas that are trying to kill us. (Note: Goombas occasionally wear shoes, suggesting that they’re both sentient and fashionable. There’s also one particular Goomba who managed to live undiscovered for 18 years and has never been defeated.)

It’s not just plants that populate Mario’s world; there are also the turtle-like Koopas that have proliferated into quite a few different species; 34 of them according to the Super Mario Wiki. If Charles Darwin had somehow managed to land on Mario’s world to study Koopas, his resulting theory of evolution might not have looked all that different. Much like Darwin’s finches collected on the Galapagos Islands 150 years before Mario’s NES debut, the many species of Koopas may all have descended from a common ancestor in a process called adaptive radiation. Different selection pressures (food sources, temperature, plumbers stomping on your shell, etc.) in ecological niches could have favored certain adaptations in Koopas, like the Beach Koopa’s ability to shed its shell in the summer sun, or the exploding-shell variants, the Bombshell Koopas. Unlike Koopas, however, our own terrestrial turtles are unable to separate themselves from their shells since it’s an integral part of their body that grows with them, like a skeleton. Perhaps the Koopas evolved the ability to survive without their shells thanks to the selective pressure provided by a species of shell-eating dinosaurs, the most famous of which is Mario’s pal Yoshi.

super-mario-yoshiScience is at a loss to explain this scene.

Yoshi, a.k.a. T. yoshisaur munchakoopas, is Mario’s faithful steed and fellow Koopa-killer. (In the Japanese version of “Super Mario World,” Yoshi also ate dolphins. And sometimes Baby Mario, too. Yikes.) Originally intended to debut on the NES in 1985 as a tame sort of Koopa Troopa, Yoshi’s eventual dinosaur design was likely influenced by Shigeru Miyamoto’s character Tamagon in the game “Devil World.” Tamagon was more dragonesque than the dinosaur form Yoshi would take on, but his appearance begs the question: Which kind of dinosaur would have made the best riding, shell-eating, and egg-laying companion?

Using the handy size chart above, Yoshi’s height comes in at about 5’9”, which seems to be just about right for the 5’1” Mario to ride. So keeping in mind that Earth’s dinosaur species are measured in length, i.e. nose to tail, we’ll use that as a guideline. Some folks theorize that Yoshi is actually a baby Tyrannosaurus rex. That’s possible but unlikely considering that even baby T. rex were seven feet long. And considering T. rex’s carnivorous nature and eventual adult size of 40 feet, Mario could probably have picked a better (and safer) long-term companion. My best guess would be the Oviraptor, a genus of theropod dinosaurs named after the Latin for “egg taker” since the first fossil was found near a nest of its own eggs. These dinos were about six feet in length and had a particular interest in keeping watch over their nearby clutch of eggs. Sounds like Yoshi to me! (Despite the theory that many of Earth’s dinosaurs likely had feathers, clearly Yoshi’s own evolutionary path did not.)

super-mario-deviantart-der-reikoDer-Reiko’s Super Mario fan art rightfully puts Mario in an alien world.

Conclusion

Mario is a super-powered alien humanoid plumber, a member of  Type II Kardashev civilization, tasked with keeping the platforms of a star-orbiting Dyson sphere free of efficiency-draining mushrooms and Koopa infestations, who travels from section to section via a system of interconnected pipes. Much like astronaut Sam Bell in Moon, Mario is a blue-collar worker suckered into doing menial labor and doomed to forever chase the Platonic ideal–personified by the ever-elusive princess–who rules over the artificially constructed Mushroom Kingdom. This virtual reality, all too real to Mario, comes complete with easily conquered enemies and helpful allies, and was created to buoy Mario’s mental health. It’s almost as if Mario’s world was, in fact, a very convincing game simulation designed for the amusement of a race of intelligent beings living far, far away.

But that’s just my opinion.

Images: NintendoSuper Mario Wiki, deviantart

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