Monday, February 11, 2013

What Happened to the Hammer Bros.?

It's September of 1993. A two-year-old Nathan DiYorio toddles across the floor and drops his diapered bottom to the hardwood floor. We're going to ignore that the floor is covered in delicious lead for this story, because it isn't very relevant (but boy, is it good!) He plops down, Pampers crinkling against the ground, before a mysterious gray and black box with a tiny glowing dot somewhere in the lower left corner. He flips open a tiny door on the front of the box, crams a large disk-shaped device into the box, and flips the door shut again.

His face is immediately colored with a glorious blue glow. It is a shade of blue almost as brilliant as that of his eyes. It is a blue that will color the remainder of his life.

It is the bluest of all blue screens.
It is the title screen to the world famous Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The toddler, unaware that the Super Nintendo has existed for two solid years by then, begins his foray into the Mushroom Kingdom. His mind ignites with thoughts and questions. "Were the Goombas once Toads?" "Why is Toad named Toad? How do people know which Toad he is? What if I was named Human?" and most importantly: "Why does Bowser turn into a Goomba when I shoot him with fireballs?"

None of these were ever really answered. That's okay.

Some decades later (approximately one and three quarters) this same Nathan DiYorio, now a Pampered and toddling young adult, began remembering the old Super Mario Bros. title, and its sequels. It was then that an oddity began to puzzle him:

"Why are the Hammer Bros. called Hammer Brothers when they're obviously some kind of rank in Bowser's army? Why do they look so different from the other members of the Koopa species? It's almost like they aren't really common Koopas at all."

Then it hit him:

"Throughout the original Super Mario games, you only ever fight one pair of Hammer Bros. at a time. Same with Boomerang Bros., and Fireball Bros., and Boom-Boom, and Lakitu! Suddenly the Super Nintendo happened, and there were more of them all over the place! But wait, no. That isn't true. There was only ever two Hammer Bros. at a time during Super Mario World, too. It wasn't until Paper Mario that there were suddenly more. Could this mean... Could this mean that the Hammer Bros. were actually, literally brothers? Were there only two of them?"

The answer is yes. The Hammer Bros. were so named because they weren't just a rank in Bowser's army, but they were actually elite lieutenants with abilities above and beyond the grunt soldiers. The Hammer Bros. were only shown one or two at a time because that's all of them that existed. There wasn't a legion of bird-beaked turtle monsters waiting to chuck their magic hammers at Mario's hapless head. There were two of them. They were evil, powerful beings.

Why did this suddenly change with the N64? With Paper Mario came what appeared to be an entire race known as "Hammer Bros." Which is really weird. Why would that specific race of Koopas have an affinity for hammer throwing? Why would donning a helmet suddenly make you look completely different? This just doesn't work. And what happened to the concept that there was only one set of brothers? Why would an entire rank be called "brothers?"

This puzzled and troubled me for some time. The shift in appearance could be easily explained by the typical physical alterations caused by power-ups in the Mushroom Kingdom. I don't like that explanation, but it works. Of course, it doesn't actually fit in with the origin of the Hammer Bros., who looked different because they were different.

So the question still stands: what happened to the original Hammer Bros.?

The answer then came to me one day: Mario killed them.

Now hang on, this isn't even an off-screen, imagination-imposed death. This is literally a plot point in one of the most beloved Super Mario games of all time. You, the player, finally put the Hammer Bros. into their grave. Can anybody tell me what the last appearance of the Hammer Bros. as just two unique and specific characters was? Anybody?

It was at the very beginning of Super Mario RPG.

After this game, after this battle, the Hammer Bros. became a generic species. Mario killed the original brothers right then and there. They are dead. They are no more. In an attempt at recouping the loss of such powerful generals, Bowser has been training other Koopa members at the use of hammers, but none have quite matched up to the powers of the originals.

May they rest in pieces.

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