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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Mario's Subcon Dream Comes From Childhood Memories

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - More specifically, the events of Super Mario Bros. 2 was influenced by the events of Yoshi's Island (chronologically).

Remember: The events of Super Mario Bros. 2 (or Super Mario Advance, the superior way to experience it) were all a dream. They did not actually happen. ...Sorry, I guess that spoiled the game's ending, but I'd like to think everyone knew that already.

That isn't a controversial statement—or shouldn't be, if you understand dreams. However, even though the events of the dream are fictitious, they do represent—even in an indirect way—things that actually happened to the person who was dreaming (Mario). For more information, let's ask an expert in the field. He's known as Pewter. He seems to know what he's talking about:

AI The Somnium Files Pewter explanation of dreams constructed from images experiences memories of dreamer subject
Pewter: Dreams can only be constructed from images and experiences the subject was present for.
Mizuki's Somnium couldn't have contained that figure if she didn't see it in person.
Of course, not everything we see in our dreams looks exactly the same as it did in the real world.
You saw some strange things in Somnium earlier, didn't you, Date?
That event you experienced is obviously not as it happened in reality.
Dreams are a collage of many memories intertwining and blending with each other.
Your skills as a Psyncer allow you to untangle those dreams and solve mysteries no one else can.

What does the state of Mario's dreamy experience in Super Mario Bros. 2 have to say about his past experiences? I believe the memories he's conjured up come from his childhood, or more specifically, his state as a baby or toddler. Now, this can get messy, because Mario has a time machine, and that's how Baby Mario can co-exist with his adult self in the present at times (or sometimes his adult self is in the past). And sometimes he's even employed his baby self as a... doctor? So that causes scenarios where Baby Mario's memories involve things he's seen way into the future, and that affects Mario's dreams in the present (or past relative to today, when he actually had the dream told by Super Mario Bros. 2). In other words, because of his baby self time travelling, Mario as of Super Mario Bros. 2 is able to dream of things that hadn't happened yet in his life because those were past memories encountered by his baby self in the future.

AI The Somnium Files Date hiding something Mario mannekin
With that caveat out of the way, we'll try to understand Mario's subconscious for the rest of this article.

The Nature of Subcon

Super Mario Bros. 2 (or Super Mario Advance) is considered to be a very different title than the rest of the Super Mario series. It does away with the mean and restrictive death-bringing timer that Mario has frequently dealt with (and Koopa Kingdom had no part in making it a thing—even King Bowser has had to deal with them). I hate those timers. I imagine Mario does, too. After dealing with timed levels in Super Mario Bros., he had a nice dream where there was no timer.

You know what else lacked timers (and was better off for it)? Yoshi's Island, when Mario was a baby. The very nature of Subcon's time-less world was a callback to those good ol’ days. And it's not just the fact there's no timer... the design of the worlds accommodated that, with things to obtain and explore. That includes the Ace Coins in Super Mario Advance, of which there are five in each level and the game cares and keeps track of you collecting them. Just like Baby Mario witnessed Yoshi doing with five Smiley Flowers per Yoshi's Island stage. And the connection becomes even more clear with being able to find Yoshi eggs in each stage.

Collecting stuff in levels is pretty much the biggest gameplay differentiator of Yoshi's Island compared to, say, Super Mario Bros. 3. Well, that and turning your enemies into projectiles. While Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad (all characters Mario has known as a baby) can't eat enemies, turn them into eggs, and throw them at other enemies... they can actually skip that intermediary step. They can jump on enemies, grab them, and throw them at other enemies.

There are also a lot of minor elements unique to those two games, like Shy Guys popping out of warp pipes in Yoshi's Island (that you can sometimes go down) just like some Shy Guys pop out of jars in Super Mario Bros. 2, and Mini-Rocket transition sequences (found in Yoshi's Island DS).

Super Mario Advance Yoshi Challenge complete World 1 hatched rainbow
What better way to blatantly make my point undeniable than for Mario to directly dream about Yoshi in relation to collecting stuff?
(This isn't a pride month photo, I swear.)

That's a good transition to...

The Characters of Subcon

Yoshi isn't the only guy to make an appearance from Mario's past. The whole Subcon is littered with these guys... Shy Guys, to be exact. Shy Guys are the main kind of enemy in Subcon, just like they were back in Yoshi's Island while Mario was a baby. Baby Mario, in fact, considers Shy Guys to be so traumatising that he is more afraid of a lowly Shy Guy foot soldier than Master Bowser himself, or even of Magikoopas. So it makes sense that trauma has made the Shy Guy manifest all over Subcon. A lot of common enemies are also shared or similar, such as Sparks, Pokeys (or Pokey relatives), Albatosses (their more benevolent non-dream counterpart are Goonies, though they love to drop bombs regardless), and the Elevator Platform creature (which is just Blarggwich).

But that's not the only familiar face. Look at who works for Wart (some call them the 8 bits). Mouser? Baby Mario has seen Little Mouser mice all across Yoshi's Island. They stole Yoshi's eggs and held them, sort of like how Mouser the Subcon general holds bombs (until he throws them). Fryguy? That's a dream variant of the real Pyro Guy variant found on Yoshi's Island. Clawgrip? That's Clawdaddy. Birdo? That' Birdo. We know Baby Mario has seen Birdo, at least when time-travelling. Perhaps he was so scarred by this thing being flirtatious towards Yoshi in Mario Tennis 64 that Mario later had nightmares about Birdo. Robirdo? Well, that's a bigger Birdo. ...Perhaps influenced by the giant purple Yoob in Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time. Tryclyde? Uh... That's not entirely clear, but Baby Mario could've encountered scary Cobrats in Mario Kart Tour, which are found in Shy Guy Bazaar (which is sure to trigger him to make their appearance memorable).

But the most important member of Wart's crew is... Wart himself. Wart is clearly based off Prince Froggy, a wonderful boss that Baby Mario and Yoshi had encountered. Prince Froggy was unique among bosses in that it didn't just look like a threat... it actually was a threat, since it went and slurped up both Yoshi and Baby Mario. (Which they deserved, because Yoshi had slurped up lots of other creatures by then.) Seriously, the other bosses just grow big and look intimidating, but they don't do anything to impose lasting damage or trauma since Yoshi can handle them. Prince Froggy is like the Pharaoh Man of the Yoshi's Island bosses.

Wart fashions himself a king, which is just a promoted version of Prince Froggy (and it's unclear what, where, or whom Froggy is a prince of). Part of the Prince Froggy experience involves Kamek and his transformative magic—Fryguy and Clawgrip also had magic boost them up to the bosses they became in a similar fashion. And, you know, they're both...frogs. Oh, and they love to eat. And are strongly associated with Shy Guys. Prince Froggy is cruel enough to slurp up his own Shy Guy minions, and Wart is probably a jerk too.

Prince Froggy King Wart Super Mario Advance 3 Yoshi's Island Bros. 2 Subcon sprites
Left: Prince Froggy.
Right: King Wart.
They're kind of similar in expressions, even.

Concluding Thoughts about Mario's Subcon Dream

We can learn several things from all of this. Mario hates timers. His greatest fear is being eaten and knowing how a meatball feels. He fashions himself a hero in his own dream, even if he's anything but in real life. You also have to remember that his dreams, contrary to what some people claim, don't even have Koopas in them. The things that have appeared in his dreams have trended towards things that provide trauma, but after getting to know and murder Koopas after a few years (and Super Mario Bros. 2 is still early on in his genocidal career), he's not afraid of Koopas. He doesn't see us as a threat to his life, but an innocent and docile species he can just unga-bunga murder for fun. The idea that HE is the one acting in self-defence is absurd, and his dreams demonstrate that. But Shy Guys? Nah, he hasn't really seen them much since he was a baby, so as far as he knows, they're still a scary bunch of nightmare fuel to him. (Though he might not feel that way later in life.)

What did you think of Ludwig's analysis? Should he give up his day job as a prince (of a clearly defined entity, Koopa Kingdom, unlike whatever Prince Froggy had going on) to work as a Psyncer and make sense of people's dreams? Or his analysis off? Or perhaps his analysis was fine, but his conclusion was too much of a logic leap? Let him know in the comments section.


  1. I wonder what Mario dreaming of Peach as a girlboss means.

    1. So, I researched this sort of thing.

      Apparently, in speedruns, the most efficient characters are Toad (best) > Luigi > Peach > Mario (slowest)

      Peach isn't necessarily a girlboss, but she is more proficient than Mario is. Perhaps he dreams of her being self-sufficient and rescuing herself.

  2. Go ludwig! Your my favorite koopaling!


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