Super Mario may have been marketed as a family-friendly brand over the past few decades, but every once in a while, gamers have uncovered some truly terrifying scenes. From an actual apparition in Super Mario 3D Land to mysterious, shadowy hell children in Super Mario Galaxy 2, there’s a lot to uncover when we dig into the spookier side of the Mario franchise. Here are some of our top terrifying moments in Super Mario games.
Trigger warning: There are some references to suicide throughout this article.
Super Mario 3D Land Has a Real Ghost… And It’s Not a Boo
Super Mario 3D Land isn't the darkest or grittiest of the Super Mario games, but it does include moments that are unsettling at best. This game released 10 years ago, and it wasn’t long before players noticed something odd in World 4-4: a real ghost. Well, as real as a ghost in a video game can be, anyway.
To spot this spooky specter, you must make it to the end of the level and not go through the flag pole. Instead, just wait, and before too long you’ll notice the apparition take shape in the woods in the background behind a fence. This ghost is unlike any Boo you’ve come across in the game and is truly unlike any spirit from any of the previous Mario titles.
It’d be easy to chalk this Nintendo easter egg to one occurrence, but hacker SwankyBox looked deeper into the game and discovered the ghost is actually visible throughout multiple levels (including in at least one instance where it’s basically impossible to see without hacking, as the ghost appears behind a window divider). What’s the identity of this humanoid ghost? We may never know.
The Staring Shadow Figures of Hell Valley
Visible on top of a glacier in the Shiverburn Galaxy in Super Mario Galaxy 2, silhouetted against the night sky, are several shadowy figures that appear to be staring down at Mario as he runs through the level. There’s no explanation as to who these figures are, or why they’re observing the plumber’s adventure through the galaxy. What makes these figures even more unsettling is the source code for the level labels the background as "BeyondHellValleySky" and the figures themselves as "HellValleySkyTree." Many players believe these shadowy humanoids may be aliens who are observing Mario. They also appear later in the game in the Grandmaster Galaxy. There’s no way to get closer to these shadow characters without hacking, so their origins still remain a mystery.
Luigi’s Suicide in Luigi’s Mansion
Luigi’s Mansion may be filled with playful, often goofy-looking ghosts, but the game isn’t without its genuine terrifying moments. One of the more well-known hair-raising scenes in this game takes place in the Telephone Room, where flashes of lightning illuminate Luigi and display a clear shadow of him against the wall. Only… Luigi’s shadow appears to be suspended from the ceiling, and upon closer examination, it looks like he’s actually hanging from a noose.
Would Nintendo purposely have included this silhouette in Luigi’s Mansion? Not likely. In the Nintendo 3DS version of the game, this image of a hanging Luigi is no longer present, likely from the lighting system having been rebuilt. Lighting glitch or not, it hasn’t stopped Nintendo fans from theorizing that this indicates that Luigi has been dead the whole time, and everything that happens in Luigi’s Mansion is taking place in the afterlife. Do you think it’s possible Luigi has actually been dead this whole time?
The Minus World: A Level That Was Never Supposed to Exist
Urban legends and tall tales have been around for as long as video games have been in our homes, but every once in a while, there’s some truth to those tall tales. Take for example The Minus World in the original Super Mario Bros. This is a world that was never meant to exist, and was never actually coded by any individual developer, yet still found its way into the game like the ghost in the machine we’ve been warned about for years.
The Minus World is a glitched level that can be found after Worlds 1-2. To access it, players need to move Mario through the bricks separating the regular exit from the Warp Zone area. If you’re able to glitch Mario through the wall and enter a warp pipe before the "Welcome to Warp Zone!" text is revealed, the game would register a collision, as the collision box around Mario would intersect with the floor below the pipe. If the game detects Mario inside a block, it’s programmed to eject him in the opposite direction. This glitch causes the warp pipe to send Mario to World -1, which is a looped copy of the stage in World 7-2. This water level loops endlessly with no escape. Though this world may have been created by the game’s code to compensate for a mistake, there are references to it in other games, such as Super Paper Mario.
Want to see for yourself? TetrabitGaming has a YouTube video on how it’s done.
Super Mario 64: Evil Pianos & Surreal Drowning Deaths
With the release of Super Mario 3D All Stars last September, many of us were able to revisit Super Mario 64 for the first time in years. And with the game also being available on the new Nintendo Switch Online N64 Expansion Pak, many players are sure to return to Princess Peach’s Castle, or even visit for the very first time. As colorful and welcoming as this environment is, there are countless terrifying enemies and scenes in this game that are sure to give you nightmares.
The scares in Super Mario 64 land a little differently than the others on this list. They may not be outright spine-tingling on their own, but they at least raise an eyebrow or two. Take, for example, the sheer number of ways Mario can die in this game. He can burn to death, be crushed, fall to his death, sink into quicksand, drown, and more. The drowning animation specifically is one of the most disturbing (though seeing Mario disappear beneath quicksand is also unsettling in its own right). What makes the drowning animation so upsetting is just how realistic they make it. In previous games, the screen would freeze and Mario would die, resetting you to the beginning of the level. But in Super Mario 64, the developers added a whole new layer of realism to the plumber gasping for breath underwater, filling his lungs with fluid and twitching before dying. You see him grasp his throat as he takes that last futile breath, before finally keeling over, his bright eyes being replaced with exes as Bowser’s laughter emanates from your speakers. Drowning is notoriously not a pleasant way to go, and Nintendo made sure to represent that while coding their children’s game.
If the last paragraph just made you sad (or at least not want to go underwater for a while), let’s move to another part of the game that doesn’t mirror real life quite so effectively: the piano in Big Boo's Haunt. When exploring Boo’s mansion in Super Mario 64, Mario will come to a room with a black piano in the corner. It looks like an innocent set piece, but upon approaching it, the instrument comes alive, attacking Mario and chasing him around the room. It’s possible to avoid the piano in most playthroughs, but if you wish to collect all eight red coins, you’ll need to gather the one that’s directly behind the piano. Over 25 years later it’s easy to forget how unsettling this piano actually is, but when you consider the lack of jump scares in Super Mario 64, the evil piano is definitely one that stands out.
This is not an exhaustive list of the creepy, supernatural, and unexplained things players have discovered in Super Mario games over the years, but it’s some of our favorites. What are some of your favorite unsettling moments? Has there been a Mario game that you find genuinely scary? Let us know in the comments!