Monday, May 20, 2013

Fire Flower and Ice Flower: Subspecies?

When I was a kid and a fledgling gamer I had four favorite video games: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World. In truth, I had a lot more (Chip 'n' Dale: Rescue Rangers, Tiny Toon Adventures, Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (SNES), etc.), but these four Mario games were the ones I liked the most, because even as a child I could feel the origins of a mythology around them. These games presented a whole world of thoughts and ideas for me to explore, and the contradicting gimmicks and functions of the game environments provided a whole wealth of potential nuances even the designers might not have thought of. Of course, to a four year old there aren't any designers. The Mushroom Kingdom was as real to me as the dining room or the kitchen, and I studied it as such.

One thing that always had my attention was the mysterious behavior of the Fire Flower. Even disregarding the age-old debate of whether or not Mario must consume them or just touch them (it differs depending on media!) and whether he throws the fireball or spits it (he throws it), there was always its bizarre behavior in the 8-Bit NES version of Super Mario Bros. 3. In Super Mario Bros., Super Mario World, and all instances in Super Mario All-Stars, the Fire Flower gave Mario a change of attire. His overalls and cap became white, his shirt either stayed or became red depending on the game. This has changed slightly over time, with the shirt and overall colors switching places, but it has generally been a constant pattern of white and red clothing.

And a sudden feeling of badassery.
Despite this theme, which has remained throughout all Super Mario series games (with the exception of Super Mario Land 2, which needed to get around a black and white color scheme) ever since the days of the SNES when it was solidified as 100% canon. However, there was something different about the effects of the Fire Flower in Super Mario Bros. 3, something which has stayed with me ever since my wee early years. This is something that I loved simply for the novelty of it when compared with the traditional fire suit. I've always made sure to include it in my fan game plans, my movie plans, any kind of plan involving a creative effort in the Mario universe has seen this detail included at some point.

What is it?

In Super Mario Bros. 3 the Fire Flower does not change Mario's outfit into the traditional, and now iconic, red and white fashion. Instead it changes Mario completely. His skin, his shirt, his hat, his overalls, even his shoes, they all change. They all take on a degree of orange pigment. Darker on his outmost layers, lighter at his inmost. Its as though this Fire Mario is a living embodiment of the blazing energy which runs through him.

For a long while, after I grew up enough to understand creative conventions like "retcon", I simply chalked it up to being a cool part of the creative development of Super Mario, and that's really all it is. And that's fine, because I still personally love that stuff. The evolution of a franchise and its conventions, it's all very fascinating for me (and I think that's probably a driving force behind the decisions I've made in regards to how I handle my own fiction). However, I also still love pretending these worlds are real. I love putting myself in the middle of the grassy hills and dissecting different flowers from different regions to see why this one has this effect or that one has that effect. That aspect, though, the imaginative one, it was largely lost to me for a number of years. More than ten, probably. Something, though, something brought it back. Something happened that made me remember my theories about this mysterious second-generation of Fire Flower.

This happened.
After two decades of fans everywhere thinking up knock-off flowers to coexist with the Fire Flower, and after two decades of the Ice Flower being at the top of that list, it finally happened. Out in the reaches of space Ice Flowers blossomed on distant planets. Grabbing them gave Mario similar abilities to those of the native Fire Flowers, though they enabled him to throw ice balls instead of fire balls. Their first appearance brought with them a change in form far more drastic than their burning brothers: they transformed Mario into a living ice sculpture, picture perfect to skate atop a set table at a fancy wedding.

You don't need to have been paying too much attention to see what this is similar to.

Any attention at all, really.
This was cool, I thought. I still do. It's a very dynamic transformation, really showing off that Mario is composed of ice. This Mario embodies every aspect of the frigid element and shows that he has complete mastery over it. Water hardens at his step, he skates across any surface like a pro. This was awesome. Awesome... and familiar. And one title later, it was going to get a whole lot more familiar. Eerily familiar. New Super Mario Bros. Wii brought back the Ice Flower, and showed the world that it had more in common with its predecessor than we had ever cared to realize...

That eye-shattering combination of colors up there is the suit worn by Mario in all other instances of the Ice Flower. No longer an abominable snowplumber, this Ice Mario can't skate across surfaces or freeze water. Instead he's nearly a carbon copy of the Fire Mario with a snowball-belching blue shirt and cap. While still a useful power up, it's nowhere near as stunning as it was in its original incarnation. Really, the decision to change the suit design was baffling, and it still is. While it does bring a better sense of unity to the franchise, it makes me wonder why they didn't do it originally.

And that wondering restarted the in-universe apologist within me.

It occurred to me then that there must be multiple species of elemental flower with similar properties, some more potent than others. While one branch of the Ice Flower family is powerful enough to turn Mario into a sculpted swan, another branch merely designates a change in clothes. The same is true of the Fire Flowers, with the Super Mario Bros. 3 form being very similar in aesthetic tone and intent to the Super Mario Galaxy Ice Flowers.

While I know this is all just developing stuff from one game to the next, and that none of it is really not intended to be coherent, I'd like to see them make it coherent. I'd like to see Nintendo incorporate both styles of elemental flower in one game. The weaker, now-traditional Ice Mario alongside the more stunning Galaxy version. I'd like to see the common Fire Mario blasting balls while the blazing orange one lights up enemies and environments at a touch.

I know it won't happen, though. Which is okay. Because the longer it doesn't, the longer I get to think about what other elemental flowers are out there waiting to be devoured. And ultimately, the imagination might just be a whole lot more fun to play with.