Saturday, October 30, 2021

Tales of Terror

          The spooky season is fully upon us.  It is a time of mysteries and horrors the likes of which would be mere fancies at other times of the year. During this season it has become cliched for retro game enthusiasts to use Halloween as a time to discuss scary, or at least scary adjacent, games.  This has become very well tread territory and, at the end of the day, my thoughts on Resident Evil, Splatterhouse, or Superman 64 would not really add anything to the discourse.  Instead, I thought we could take a different approach.  Rather than talk about a game that is intentionally scary, we will take a look at something in gaming that I, at one point at least, found scary.  So join me after the break as we find out what it was that I found terrifying and probably have a good laugh at past me's expense.

          Your eyes are not deceiving you.  The image above is indeed the topic of this article, Monty Mole from Super Mario Bros.  At this point, you might be wondering how something from one of the most family friendly franchises of all time could be the focus of an article about something frightening.  That is a fair question and, quite honestly, I am not sure I'll pull it off, but I'll do my best.

          First some background, Monty Mole made his debut in 1991 in the Super Nintendo pack-in title Super Mario World.  I was 6 years old at the time of his debut.  While I was already enamored with video games, our house was not yet a Nintendo household.  My parents had bought in to Atari's "the Fun is Back" campaign and put an Atari 2600 Jr. under the Christmas tree in the late 80's when most kids were receiving Nintendo Entertainment Systems.  Although this has engendered my lifelong love for all things classic Atari, it meant that heading in to the late summer of '91 my experience with Mario games had been limited to the 2600 port of the arcade game and whatever bits and pieces I had managed to play while at friends houses.  Because of this, I had played a limited amount of the original Super Mario Bros. and really only sunk my teeth in to his first portable outing, Super Mario Land, thanks to the availability of a Game Boy at our family friend's cabin.  I had never played Super Mario Bros. 2 or Super Mario Bros. 3.  All of this is to say that I was wholly unprepared for the vastness and changes that Super Mario World brought with it.

Hard to believe that this didn't prepare me for Super Mario World.

          One of my neighborhood friends was lucky enough to be gifted a Super Nintendo from his uncle within weeks of its release.  It wasn't too long after that until I was invited over to give the new Mario adventure a try.  The world map in Super Mario World allows players to choose to play either Stage 1-1 or 1-2 right off the bat.  I chose to go right to 1-2, this would prove to be my mistake.  Stage 1-2 starts innocuously enough.  We are greeted with a large group of Koopas but are also presented a shell with which to defeat them and net an easy 1-up.  Things continue in this same manner; we meet Yoshi for the first time and are presented with a couple of different colored Koopas to show us that Yoshi interacts with the different shells in different ways.  It is right before the halfway check point that things start to change.  Here we run in to our first Chargin' Chuck.  This is the first enemy that was different from anything I was used to.  He ran at you rather than approaching at the same predictable pace and he took multiple jumps to defeat.  An unnerving experience, but I pressed on.

          Clearing the half way point transforms you in to Super Mario helping to build up confidence and a sense of safety.  Then, terror ensues.  Pressing forward, the sides of platforms begin to shake as though something is about to break through.  Out of these burst forth Monty Moles.  Like Chargin' Chuck, these guys also run at you.  Further, they are quicker to change direction to pursue you if you opt to pass them by.  They are relentless; it will be either you or them.  On that fateful day in 1991, Yoshi was the first casualty.  He ran away in frightened madness before the onslaught of the moles.  Next, the illusion of safety that was my super form was stripped away.  At this point, terror took me too.  I kept pushing to the right trying desperately to evade the pursuing Monty Moles.  It was the worst choice I could have made.  The rest of the stage contains even more Monty Moles.  All that my flight to the right achieved was increasing the number of my pursuers.  Finally, I fell to my adversary and was returned to the world map.  I was an easily scared and emotional child.  This entire ordeal had been too much for my six year old self.  I was near (or possibly in, pride shields me from certainty) tears.  Rather than try the level again, I opted to quit playing.

Pictured: Sheer Terror


          As the years progressed, I would play Super Mario World again at that and other friends' houses but would always avoid World 1-2.  It wasn't until Christmas 1994 when I received my own SNES that I would reface my fear.  Despite the trepidations I felt entering that stage, I succeeded and put the abject terror that Monty Mole had instilled behind me, at least mostly.  While I am more than capable of dealing with Monty these days, I would be lying if I told you that I didn't experience a brief moment of anxiety any time I see mounds of dirt start to shake in any Mario game that has come out since World.  That, to me, speaks to the power of video games.  I watched more than my fair share of The Real Ghostbusters around that same age and while some episodes of that show were certainly creepy they never succeeded in making me too afraid to rewatch them.  I was an active participant in Super Mario World, even though, on the surface, Monty Mole is way less unnerving than the werechicken episode of Real Ghostbusters, that terror was my terror.  Because of this, Super Mario World is the piece of media that likely has had the greatest impact on my fears.

          And there you have it, a Halloween article about Monty Mole.  Thanks for joining me.  I'd be interested in hearing any of your unexpected/embarrassing fears.  Feel free to drop them in the comments.  Happy Halloween and see you back here soon.


  1. Muppets. Especially creatures from the movie Labyrinth. *Shudder* and I stand by that instinct in my adult life. When they're trying to remove her head and they don't understand that that will kill her... They just want to play...😨