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Retro Revisit: Super Mario Wacky Worlds

Posted June 19, 2013 by Esteban Cuevas in Features
Retro Revisit

Do you know about Super Mario Wacky Worlds? You probably are thinking that I mean Super Mario World, the classic game released at the launch of the Super Nintendo. However, I’m actually referring to the canceled sequel. No, I’m not referring to Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island as that’s not really a sequel to Super Mario World. In fact, in Japan, that game is just called Super Mario: Yoshi’s Island. Super Mario Wacky Worlds is actually a sequel to Super Mario World that was in development for the Philips CD-i, a relatively obscure console that had permission to use Nintendo properties in their own games. This inaugural edition of Retro Revisit will explore the history of the Super Mario World sequel that never was.

Back in the early 90s, Nintendo released the Super Nintendo Entertainment System console. It had a strong lineup and better graphics than its competitor, the Sega Genesis. What it lacked however was an add on that allowed you to play video games on a compact disk. The CD format had a lot of benefits, such as music with real instruments, more space than cartridges for storing data, and a cheaper manufacturing cost. So Nintendo made a deal with Sony, the company behind the SNES’ sound chip, to create a CD add on for the Super Nintendo. However, Nintendo started to dislike the agreement that they had made with Sony and canceled the deal. They then made a new deal with Philips, while Sony decided to make a console of their own to compete with Nintendo.

While the add on was being developed at Philips, the slow sales of the Sega CD had Nintendo second guessing the CD format and ultimately decided to forgo a CD add on entirely. However, due to the progress of the add on, Philips decided to release it as a standalone product called the Philips CD-i. Some details had to be hammered out before the CD-i could be released. As a result of Nintendo pulling out of the deal and Philips releasing the console itself, Philips gained permission to create games using some of Nintendo’s properties, such as Mario and Zelda. The first example of this was Hotel Mario, which had Mario closing all the doors of a hotel before the Koopas could open them. It wasn’t very good.

Developer NovaLogic wanted to be picked up by Nintendo and when they asked a Nintendo sales exec how they could do this, the exec suggested they port a simple SNES game to the CD-i. This gave the developer the idea of “putting Super Mario World onto a CD-i disk”: making a quasi-sequel to the SNES launch game for the CD-i.” Developers Silas Warner and John Brooks were tasked with the project and they worked 24 hours a day for two weeks to make something they could present to Nintendo. Their meeting was on a Friday morning at 8 am with the disc containing their work having been completed only a few hours before.

Nintendo was impressed with what the two had managed to complete in only two weeks and development continued for a year. Silas Warner left the project after the initial Nintendo meeting but Brooks along with lead artist Nina Stanley continued with the game. The goal was to make a traditional Mario title in the vein of Super Mario Bros 3 and, of course, Super Mario World but set in real world historical environments. So levels showed Mario at Egyptian temples, inside a Greek Trojan Horse, jungles and swamps, and the Antarctic. There were also more abstract levels such as one with nothing but Easter Island head inspired masks in the background, and a level comprised solely of pipes.

Many of the sprites in the game are actually ripped from Super Mario World directly and many of the enemies look like they do in Super Mario World. This was mostly due to the way that sprites were made on the CD-i to be much different from the way the SNES did them. New sprites in the game were mostly just old sprites with alterations made to them, such as Koopa Troopas covered in fig leaves or wearing a tunic. Some new sprites were actually quite original for a Mario game such as a vampire Koopa, and new walrus enemy. Stages also ended in a different manner with a giant red arc resembling an M placed at the end of each level. Passing through it would end the level.

As time went on, the Philip CD-i failed to find an audience and the Nintendo games that did make onto the system – Hotel Mario, Zelda: The Wand of Gamelon, Link: The Faces of Evil, and Zelda’s Adventure – were horrible disasters that Nintendo to this day doesn’t acknowledge as canonical to the series. Despite NovaLogic wanting to deliver the first “good” Nintendo game on the Philips CD-i, Nintendo ultimately canceled the title simply due to the sales of the Philip CD-i making the project unprofitable.

A prototype of the game has been released as a ROM on the internet of the game so if you have a Philips CD-i emulator, you can see how the game plays for yourself. However, the developers only managed to complete 80% of the game’s art, 95% percent of its design, and around 30% of its code. Therefore, the game doesn’t play properly at all. Enemies can’t hurt Mario, enemies just disappear when you hit them, Mario will fall through the ground at times, the level ending arches don’t work, there’s no sound effects except for Mario jumping, and Mario can’t die. The game was still in pre-alpha but there is still enough there to see what they were getting at.

A traditional Mario game set in the real world is an interesting concept and maybe this game could have been an intriguing footnote in the series. Alas, it is lost to history now. What do you think of this lost Mario game? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below and be on the look out for the next entry in the Retro Revisit series.


About the Author

Esteban Cuevas

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