Spookytacular 2020: Top 5 Horror-Themed Super Mario Levels
There’s a change in the air that signals the beginning of October. That’s right: Halloween season is here. It’s time for 31 days of horror movies, novels, and games. It’s also time for GameCrate’s annual Spookytacular tradition. This year, our festivities coincide with Nintendo’s Super Mario 35th anniversary celebration, so we’re kicking things off by merging the worlds of horror and Mario.
The Super Mario franchise has always been a mostly lighthearted series of everything from platformers and RPGs to kart racers and board games. The series has never strayed from its family-friendly appeal, though it has dabbled in offbeat humor, cartoon violence, and even a little bit of kid-friendly horror.
With that said, let’s take a look at the top 5 horror-themed stages in the Mario series.
Hotel Delfino, Sirena Beach — Super Mario Sunshine
It’s not quite the Bates Motel, but Hotel Delfino from Super Mario Sunshine, located on the lovely Sirena Beach is still pretty creepy. For starters, the hotel lobby is filled with strange pink boos. It doesn’t help that the hotel manager seems to be terrified all the time. Above all, though, there’s just an unsettling haunted house aura to Hotel Delfino.
When you first set foot on the sands of Sirena Beach, you’re greeted by the massive, terrifying Phantamanta. This ghastly manta ray covers the beach in electrified goop, forcing Mario to tread carefully. There’s a bit of a kaiju vibe to Phantamanta. Speaking of which, in Japan, this episode’s title translates to Mysterious Manta Creature Invasion! That sounds way cooler than The Manta Storm, which was the episode’s title in North America.
You eventually battle King Boo in Hotel Delfino’s casino, bringing the haunted-house-meets-kaiju antics of Sirena Beach full circle.
Pumpkin Zone — Super Mario Land 2
Super Mario Land 2 took the weirdness of the original Super Mario Land and expanded on it while also adding a bit of Super Mario World-styled gameplay to the mix. The end result was a bigger game that was even more offbeat than its predecessor. One of the game’s memorable worlds is Pumpkin Zone, a series of haunted levels filled with Boos. There were also the hockey mask-wearing J-son enemies, a nod to the unkillable Jason Vorhees — though these guys weren’t as imposing as the Friday the 13th killer.
Pumpkin Zone is a fun, spooky level, and it culminates in a fitting boss battle against a witch. They really should’ve just called it Halloween Zone.
Tubba Blubba’s Castle, Gusty Gulch — Paper Mario
Though Tubba Blubba is a misunderstood soul, he still gives you a hard time for a good while in Paper Mario. Located in the creepy wasteland of Gusty Gulch is Tubba Blubba’s Castle. Here you’ll come across all manner of ghouls as you search for the “invincible” Tubba Blubba.
The haunted mansion mood of this stage is pretty cool. It’s fun exploring the various crumbling rooms and taking on foes with Lady Bow by your side. You ultimately meet Tubba Blubba, who’s eaten a bunch of Boos and is bent on destroying you — at least initially.
In what could be considered one of the darkest moments in Mario series history, it turns out that Bowser took Tubba Blubba’s heart — as in physically removed it from Tubba’s body — and tucked it away. You battle Tubba’s Heart which runs away to big ol’ Tubba upon defeat. This leads to Tubba turning into quite the lovable oaf at the end of the chapter. Years later in Super Paper Mario, we find out that Tubba Blubba is the star of his very own anime series. Good for him!
Painted Swampland, Soda Jungle — New Super Mario Bros. U
New Super Mario Bros. U features some of the best level designs in the entire series — it’s also loaded with incredible art. The Painted Swampland stage, in particular, is among the most aesthetically charged in the game. Featuring Starry Night-esque brushstrokes, the stage channels its inner Van Gogh to create a haunting, moody atmosphere.
Painted Swampland is part of the bigger Haunted Forest area, located in the Soda Jungle world. Though the other Haunted Forest stages — and really, all of Soda Jungle — are a great deal of fun, Painted Swampland really stands out. There are Boos everywhere, poisonous water below Mario’s feet, and eerie dead trees in the background. This New Super Mario Bros. U level is the very definition of creepy and beautiful.
Big Boo’s Haunt — Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 became an instant hit for various reasons — chief among them was the game’s ability to take the 2D platforming style of the Super Mario series and taking it into… the third dimension! Big Boo’s Haunt is a giant mansion filled with ghosts and ghouls. Beyond that, though, the stage was able to take the look and feel of the ghost houses from Super Mario World and give them a new, 3D coat of paint.
Big Boo’s Haunt is one of the most memorable levels in the game thanks in large part to its design. It feels like a legitimate haunted house that you can get lost in. The sights and sounds are ghostly, with creaky floorboards and cackling phantoms everywhere. It’s the little touches, though, that really make this stage stand out. The way books launch themselves toward you from the haunted bookshelf in the manor’s library. Or how about that possessed piano? Simply put, there’s a cinematic style to Big Boo’s Haunt that makes it one of the Mario series’ best stages.
Big Boo’s Haunt sees Mario taking on a bunch of regular-sized Boos before the arrival of Big Boo. This leads to a fairly easy boss bottle that’s still largely memorable due to just how gigantic and intimidating Big Boo is. Oh, there’s also the merry-go-round section with the creepy carnival music. To this day, it’s hard to forget that theme.
Honorable Mention: Banshee Boardwalk — Mario Kart 64
Though not a part of the Mario series proper, it’s impossible to not at least mention Banshee Boardwalk. The Special Cup track from Mario Kart 64 is filled with sharp turns, large holes in the boardwalk, and creepy ghosts. It can be pretty distracting driving your kart toward a big pitfall and then being surrounded by Boos or seeing a giant Cheep Cheep ghost flying overhead.
Banshee Boardwalk is one of the tougher tracks in Mario Kart 64, and it’s also one of the most memorable.
What are your favorite horror-themed Mario levels and worlds? Let us know your picks in the comments section!