The Great King Boo Conspiracy

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It's been a while since I mentioned how many topics are on my idea list to write about. There are about 1,400, and only a handful of video game-related topics. Last week, I wrote about Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, and this week, to my surprise, I randomly rolled for a subject (as is my standard method of choosing what to write about), and I got another video game topic. The odds of that happening are low, so I'm now wondering if a ghost in the machine is messing with my rolls. Which ghost?

King Boo, of course.

Ah, Mario. A series of platformers that began in 1985 with Super Mario Bros. and is still getting new installments to this day. The interesting thing to consider with video game ghosts is that they probably wouldn't have existed at all without Gothic fiction being invented and the subsequent works of people like Oscar Wilde.

Original box art of Super Mario Bros. for NES.
Those stretchy lines behind Mario mean he's running really fast. It was an unspoken rule that you never took your thumb off the B button—even if it killed you.

Video game scholars (yes, that's a thing) tell us that Mario Mario (that's his official first and last name) made his first appearance in the 1981 game Donkey Kong as a character known only as "Jumpman."

Arcade flyer for Donkey Kong showing Donkey Kong at the top of scaffolding next to Pauline. Donkey Kong is throwing barrels down at Jumpman.
Donkey Kong, Pauline, and Jumpman. Note that Jumpman looks suspiciously like Wario in Mario's clothing. Another conspiracy to be unpacked at a later date.

That was a long time ago. Since then, our mustached hero, with his trademark jump and heartwarming cheer, has been navigating fairytale adventures, zooming across winding roads in karts, and bringing joy to generations. The video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, primarily credited with inventing most games and characters from Nintendo, has been working on the Mario series for decades. He created Mario, and without him, the landscape of video games would be vastly different.

Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto standing between mascot costumed Mario and Princess Peach.
Shigeru Miyamoto standing next to his own life-sized video game creations. Think about that. That has to be weird. Really weird.

Over the years, Shigeru Miyamoto has become well-known for his creativity and innocent nature. In the time he's been working on the Mario franchise, he's had plenty of opportunities (we're talking like 40+ years) to sneak in something a bit more than Jumpman jumping on stuff.

How Super Mario's Most Iconic Power-Up Was Inspired by Magic Mushrooms

"The idea that the mushrooms in Super Mario games were actually inspired by drugs isn't as ridiculous as you might think."|

Read more by Matthew Byrd at Den of Geek

King Boo, a villainous ghost with a crown, was introduced in 2001 in a game called Luigi's Mansion, and the conspiracy theories about him that have developed since then are pretty wild. And, much like the magic mushrooms theory I linked to above, aren't all that far-fetched. The theories on King Boo stretch far beyond the gloomy confines of Luigi's Mansion, and it's quite the rabbit hole to fall into if you have time, so I'll keep it at a relatively high level for now so I don't end up with a whole book about it.

Unveiling the Phantom Rivalry

From the unveiling of Luigi's Mansion, King Boo has always been shrouded in mystery. The ghostly Boo enemies in Mario go back to 1988 when they first appeared in Super Mario Bros. 3, and there was even a Big Boo that appeared way back in Super Mario World from 1990.

Screenshot from Super Mario Bros. 3. Raccoon Mario on screen with a small Boo and a Thwomp.
A small Boo from Super Mario Bros. 3. Bonus points if you know the name of the other enemy there without looking it up. Hint: it may have been used as a sound inspiration for dubstep.
Screenshot of Super Mario World. Mario fights a giant Boo.
Big Boo boss in the hidden path of the Donut Secret House. Man...with no context, it sounds like I'm babbling absolute absurdity. Seriously, say that to a random person tomorrow and see how they respond.

While there were many Boos, none were King Boo until Luigi's Mansion. It's obvious which Boo is King because of the whole crown thing. He was a big deal in Luigi's Mansion and seemed to come out of nowhere because we were all used to Bowser as the Big Bad Villain. King Boo clearly has a vendetta against the Mario Brothers and possibly the entire Mushroom Kingdom. But where did he come from? Who is he, exactly? And what does he want?

:: you may put your tinfoil hats on...NOW ::

The Bowser Suit and Madame Clairvoya's Terrifying Vision

For those who don't know, Luigi's Mansion is a game where you play as Luigi (in a haunted mansion) and suck up ghosts into a vacuum cleaner. (I'm skipping a lot here.)

The game's climactic ending comes when Luigi confronts King Boo, who, in a surprising turn, merges with Bowser—fulfilling a terrifying vision from a character named Madame Clairvoya.

A very sketchy looking ghost with a crystal ball.
Madame Clairvoya. You can totally trust fortune-telling ghosts inside of a haunted house.

With every clever maneuver and using his trusted Poltergust 3000, Luigi prevails against King Boo and the Bowser beast, releasing King Boo's grasp on the mansion and the souls trapped within. Upon victory, Luigi rescues Mario from the portrait he's been imprisoned in, and the two brothers share a heartfelt moment, reminding us of the unbreakable bond between them. Yada, yada, yada.

Fry from Futurama looking skeptical with narrow eyes. Caption reads "Wait a minute..."
Hold up...

But wait—why does King Boo even exist here? We're really skipping over some potentially dark story here. I realize that this game series is primarily marketed toward a younger demographic, but the reality of ghosts is that you don't get a ghost unless someone dies.

Who died?

Also, isn't it just a little bit disturbing that a ghost donned Bowser's skin and puppeteered his corpse around? Sure, you can tell yourself it's a "suit" if you want.

A Darker Conspiracy: The Sinister Strings of King Boo

As we traverse through the narrative throughout the Mario series, a darker conspiracy blooms amidst the ghostly whispers. Was King Boo the mastermind behind the mayhem all along? When precisely was the last time we saw Bowser alive? How long has King Boo been masquerading around in a Bowser's skin?

Leatherface from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Caption reads: I am King Boowser (spelled B-O-O-W-S-E-R). Grr. Argh.
Definitely not King Boo.

The sinister notion of King Boo orchestrating the chaos right from Bowser's fiery reign to the spectral skirmishes unfolds like a dark cloud over Mushroom Kingdom. Consider the notion that perhaps King Boo has been the antagonist the entire time, going all the way back to the beginning of the series.

This is one of the fan theories floating around.

If that's true, then the Mario series could have a deeper story than the superficial one we get in most of the games. And it would also mean that King Boo has been lurking in the shadows the entire time, orchestrating everything to plunge the kingdom into a perpetual night of haunting horror—much like what we saw in Luigi's Mansion—with him as the ghostly king reigning supreme over a kingdom of shadows.

King Boo—wearing a big purple jewel on his head—chasing Luigi.
King Boo in Luigi's Mansion 3.

If you think that sounds crazy, you might be right, but I'd encourage you to dive into the incredibly elaborate and well-documented fan theories available online that explain all of it in rather stunning detail.

The Crown Jewel: Power and Appearance

King Boo's form seems to shift with the presence of a precious gem that sometimes adorns his crown. This jewel seemingly morphs him from a generic spectral figure into a menacing monarch. His dialogue in Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon illuminates the power bestowed by the gem in his crown, an aspect that intriguingly fluctuates with his appearances across different games.

King Boo and Luigi fighting in a level design that includes a purple spiral background and a floor with green and purple square-ish spirals.
Tell me that doesn't look like a psilocybin-fueled boss fight design.

Is this gem the key to unlocking King Boo's nefarious strength and altering his form, or perhaps even reanimating the fallen King Bowser to further his ghastly goals?

Fans say yes. So, I'm going to have to trust the experts.

King Boo's Hidden Realm: A Mirror to Mushroom Kingdom?

The uncanny parallel between King Boo's eerie realm and the Mushroom Kingdom's sunny domain hints at a mirroring of worlds, each with its king and subjects.

This concept of mirrored worlds comes up often in games, which I mentioned in Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, but the idea of it might be much older.

Unlike Bowser's often comical attempts at conquest, King Boo's spectral onslaught veils a darker, more sinister plot. Is King Boo's realm a ghostly mirror to the Mushroom Kingdom, an eerie reflection of a darker narrative lurking beneath the sunny facade?

King Boo wearing a crown.
King Boo.

Alright, it's all fun and games until you actually have to answer some of these questions. There's no official answer to any of it, which makes all of this wild speculation. We may get answers at some point, as the entire Mario universe is still under active development, and new games are released all the time. I'd love to get some answers directly from the Illumin—I mean, Nintendo, but I'm also okay with an enduring mystery if those official answers never come.

The Gothic Connection

Gothic fiction paved the way for Mario's Mushroom Kingdom. It's a fact. At first glance, a mushroom-popping plumber chasing down a kidnapped princess every week may seem like a galaxy away from the shadowy, eerie realm of Gothic fiction. Yet, exploring a bit of (the warp pipe) of history, there are some unexpected connections. How could a cheerful platformer be connected to medieval castles, supernatural elements, and foreboding atmospheres? 😏

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

"First published in 1764, it is generally regarded as the first gothic novel. In the second edition, Walpole applied the word 'Gothic' to the novel in the subtitle – A Gothic Story. Set in a haunted castle, the novel merged medievalism and terror in a style that has endured ever since. The aesthetic of the book has shaped modern-day gothic books, films, art, music, and the goth subculture."

— Thanks, Wikipedia

Who would've thought that our jovial plumber's escapades through the Mushroom Kingdom could trace their whimsical roots back to the gloomy corridors of Horace Walpole's "The Castle of Otranto"? It's almost as if Mario traded in the somber gothic spires for colorful pipes, and Bowser took up the mantle from Otranto's haunting apparitions, albeit with a penchant for princess-napping and fireballs.

Gothic fiction as a whole emerged in the late 18th century, whispering tales of the supernatural amidst dark, desolate castles. It's a genre built on exploring the unknown, the mystical, and sometimes terrifying. Its ornate narrative architecture houses ghostly apparitions, cursed beings, and ancient, forgotten places plagued by dark secrets. Although the menacing castles of Gothic fiction are a far cry from Bowser's flamboyant trapped fortresses, they share a kernel of creativity and architectural wonder.

Mario's journey is sprinkled with elements that echo the Gothic tradition. Take regular Boo, the little ghostly figure that haunts various abodes within the Mario universe. Boo's ethereal essence and shy yet menacing demeanor are a nod to the ghosts of Gothic tales. Then there's the eerie haunted houses, a staple in many Mario games, echoing the dark, mysterious castles and mansions prevalent in Gothic fiction. With their spooky aesthetics and trick doors, these digital haunted houses pull a page from the Gothic playbook, immersing players in a world of playful dread and curiosity. Each game that includes these elements allows us—the players—to explore the game designers' gothic-infused imagination that translated dread into a playful challenge. From lava pits, spikes, and trapped doors, every one of these darker areas in the Mario series follows the Gothic tradition. Many are even a quintessential Gothic villain's lair: a dark, isolated castle where a damsel in distress has been whisked away as a hostage.

I find it fascinating that a genre rooted in terror and the supernatural could meander through time and imagination to contribute to the colorful, joyful world of Mario. It shows that the seeds of today's creativity are often sown in the soils of the past, no matter how disparate they may seem. Through this gothic lens, the beloved Mario series transcends mere platforming fun, blossoming into a rich tapestry of narrative and aesthetic influences that continue to captivate hearts across generations.

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