Saturday, July 10, 2010

A Bros by Any Other Name

There was a time when aliens slowly moving towards the ground was the height of plot development in a game. Times change. Games change. But when games endure that test of time, the remnants of an... unspecified ... backstory can rear their ugly head.

Some of those unspecified details involve character names. When first creating a game, developers never know if it's going to be "Ninja Gaiden" or "Ninja Crusaders." So while it may seem like a confusing choice to put a Ryu and a Ken in a game that isn't Street Fighter, it isn't an issue when no one can identify even one character from "Ninja Crusaders."

Well, there are a couple popular Nintendo characters whose names have either changed, or not changed, and it can be a little confusing if you stop and think about it.

Mario Mario and Luigi Mario
Ok, we all know that Mario and Luigi do not have official last names according to Nintendo. But the games' titles, "Mario Bros.," certainly confuses things. But hey, I can't blame Nintendo. What were they going to call the games? "Plumber Bros."? "Fireball Bros."? "Jumping-on-walking-mushroom Bros."? It's a little easier to just say "this is Mario, and he has a brother - they're the Mario Bros."

Fruits and Veggies
In Japan, she was always a Peach. In America, it was decided a Toadstool would be more appropriate. The popularity of Super Mario 64 finally brought the Princess' fruitful ways to the West. But you still hear confusion that stems from her ruling "The Mushroom Kingdom." Wouldn't a Toadstool rule the Mushroom Kingdom? Why a Peach?
Why do some people think her first name is Peach and her last name is Toadstool? "Princess Peach Toadstool"? Not only is that a mouthful, it's a bad-tasting mouthful!

Toad and Yoshi: Misplaced Identity
Keeping with the mushrooms, we all know the 4th playable character in SMB2. He's cute, he's got a voice that is both harsh and adorable, his name is "Toad" and he is a Toad. ... His name is Toad and he is a Toad. That'd be like a human named Human. Especially since he is but one of many inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom. Toadsworth knows it. Toadette knows it. Even Ala-Gold and Bucken-Berry kind of know it. But Toad? He's just ... Toad. And we'll have to love him for it.

Yoshi doesn't have it any better. It's the same deal, his name is "Yoshi" and he is a Yoshi. But I feel the waters get muddied when you consider the other colored Yoshis. Do they have names? Identities? Are they really other Yoshis? Seems some games have different colored Yoshis with different abilities. While other games have the same "Yoshi" whose skin changes color depending on his diet. Hmmm.

I'm Stubborn as a Monkey
Last but not least, I've heard Shigeru Miyamoto confirm a million times over that the large guerrilla who throws barrels was intentionally named "Donkey" to reflect a stubborn, oafish nature. However ... he's a big monkey! Why not name him "Stubborn Kong"!? There are no donkeys in any of these games. And is DK really any more stubborn or oafish than Bowser or any other recurring game antagonist? Especially considering the character he's become, DK seems pretty darn sway-able since he's mostly been a PROtagonist for years!
So let me say this, I take Shigeru's word as gospel. When you do what he's done, you earn the right to some credibility - even if it's implausible. But dang, Shiggy, it's pretty darn implausable!


Well, ike I said, it can be a little confusing if you stop and think about it. ... I guess that's why most people chose not to!

How do you feel about curious naming in gaming? Fun? Annoying? Funny?
Any game names that boggle your mind? Any Dr. Robotniks that became your Dr. Eggmans? Let us know!


Mop_it_up said...

I think a lot of this naming confusing stems from the difference in American and Japanese culture.

It might seem strange to call two brothers by the name of just one of them, instead of their last name, but it isn't in Japan.

Notice how almost every female character in Mario games has a delicate-sounding name (Peach, Daisy, Rosalina, etc). This has to much to do with how the Japanese historically view women. And, actually, her official name IS Peach Toadstool. This is confirmed in Super Mario 64 when she signs the letter as both Princess Toadstool and Peach.

The concept behind Toad and Yoshi is complicated, so bare with me. It has to do with the Japanese sense of self. A person or a creature can simultaneously be an individual and all members of its group. It's a bit of a heady concept for such a simple videogame as the Mario series, but it is nonetheless accurate.

Yoshi is Yoshi, the endlessly hungry green dinosaur who has followed Mario around since Super Mario World. But at the same time, Yoshi can also be any one of the entire race of dinosaur characters that look just like Yoshi, and have the same personality, even if they are a different colour. Even when Yoshi appears in multiples, each one is still Yoshi. It’s very strange, when you think about it. But you're not supposed to think about it.

Same thing goes for Toad.

Something to note: No game ever officially refers to Yoshi or Toad as the name of that species. We just assume it.

One Mario character name that I've always found strange is the lovable pink dinosaur known as Birdo. Characters in SMB2 tend to have names that are derived from the type of animal they are. Pidget the pigeon, Ostro the ostrich, etc. Birdo is not a bird. So why Birdo? The only theory put forth has to do with how birds are sort of "modern day dinosaurs" since they are believed to be the only living relative of dinosaurs.

The thing is, in Japan, Birdo is know as Catherine. What was wrong with that name? Why change it into something nonsensical for the US? As an aside, going with what I talked about up there, even when Catherine appears in a game as a generic race, she is still known as Catherine.

Rocket said...

I remember calling Birdo Ostro for years. There was another videogame character named Catherine in the PS2 game "Gregory Horror Show". She was a pink lizard thing like Birdo except this Catherine was a psychotic nurse that chased you with a giant syringe. I wonder what the name Catherine means to the Japanese? Or it could be a coincidence.

Mop_it_up said...

It's a coincidence. "Catherine" is a very common feminine name, as well as being one of the oldest. I doubt it goes beyond that.

In both the SMB2 manual and game, the names of Birdo and Ostro were erroneously switched. I'm sure many were confused by this, as it was never corrected until later appearances and remakes.

Greg Meyer said...

This was a fun article. I never even thought about how weird "The Mario Bros" sounds.