there are so many mario hacks. yet there are so few unique bowsers, leading one to the inevitable conclusion that most mario hacks are, in fact, not that good.
still, they were games for cheap so some of us bought 'em. me, i was terrified of them. i thought they were going to destroy my console. i can't describe how something like this made me feel: like a blasphemy had been committed, a primal revulsion at the desecration of what, to young me, were eternal symbols.
i became fascinated by them.
i sought them out with an illicit curiosity, though i was afraid to buy them for years. i'm not scared of the things that populate most horror movies. i don't fear death. i don't fear clowns or monsters or chainsaws (well, okay, i have a healthy fear of chainsaws, because i would like to keep my hands while alive). these things unsettled me, and i imagine it was the thrill others found in watching horror movies.
but over time, that started to wear off. and really, many of them are just like? honest attempts at bringing a game to a different console, especially in regions where famiclones are ubiquitous and everything else is scarce. hackers are comrades.
on the other claw, there were plenty of cheap bootlegs that only stuck mario or sonic's head on the character of another game, riding on the coattails of those better games' popularity to make a bit of money.
that brings us back to bootleg bowsers. to be clear, i'm talking bowsers that were drawn from scratch, not merely ripped from super mario bros. 1 or 3 as so many were. few of the head-swap bootlegs bothered to change up the final boss graphics to include a bowser, leaving mario to fight whatever fiend was at the end of the host game.
that's one gigantic cat. or is mario in truth a wee elf, and we have simply assumed that he was a man?
the saddest of all stories involving a bootleg bowser. made by taiwanese studio hummer team (they of the horsey mascot), this was actually a half-decent fighting game for the NES, long before super smash bros. it was named kart fighter, presumably, because it contained super mario kart's roster of 8.
however, because they ran out of CHR RAM space, bowser is the shortest character in the game.
....seriously? you couldn't have trimmed down toad a little?
it's not a bad sprite at all, but the absurdity of the king of koopas being the shortest out of the human-heavy cast takes you out of it. he doesn't even get his own stage or music. all in all, just a bad bowser outing.
or super mario bros. on the mega drive, as it's sometimes called.
this game can't decide what its title screen should look like, mostly because it's a hack of another pirate game, called squirrel king, which is in turn a loose rip-off of chip 'n' dale on the famicom. yes, the same chip 'n' dale that you might have noticed from an earlier screenshot, which was hacked to make a different mario bootleg. still following along?
this bootleg, like squirrel king before it, has really nice graphics for a rip-off. that includes a bowser.
this bowser is sufficiently stompy and full of fire, the only caveat being that he's the first boss. unfortunately we get to see him before the game is even begun, thanks to this spoiler of a box that not only shows off his sprite, but portrays him as a yoshi. would the real bowser allow himself to be ridden by mario? that, my friends, is a topic for fanfiction.
world heroes 2 (NES)
so this is the game we're talking about. the other super smash bros. before super smash bros. the ur-game, as it were. the source... of thicc bootleg bowser.
world heroes 2 is a NES game by prolific pirates cony soft. due to using the same (apparently poor) fighting game engine as their other fighters, it's supposed to be clunky playwise.
and yet, i'm tempted to try it out. because it has so much beautiful bowser art.
this is cony soft's, ahem, "official" box art for the game. it varies in quality from the obviously copied-and-pasted goku, via the slightly wonky freehand redraws of sonic and raphael, to the competently rendered but distinctly all staring dead-eyed at the camera trio of ryu, bison, and That One Blond Muscle Wrestler i swear i know his name. haggar? anyway. we're not here to talk about them, because they're boring. not even slightly-photorealistic chun li in the bottom left can save us from the blandness.
and yet there is hope. there is light, quite literally, in the form of the infernal hands of the mario spectre dominating the land. or are those two people doing spinning bird kicks? i can't tell.
and there, of course, off to our right. bootleg bowser, looking... almost pensive. he contemplates the grisly, mechanised battle to come. his eyes are black, beady, sclera-less. is he weary of this fight? is he merely reflecting on his past tyranny?
also androgynous, flowy-haired ken is very nice, cementing ken's position as the pansexual one among a sea of lesbian barbies and buff g.i. joes. wait, wrong ken. they look surprisingly alike, now that i notice, except that this ken is wearing a white mage tank top for some reason.
i caved and tried it out, mostly because i couldn't find any screenshots of bowser gameplay.
there's a strange screen when you start the game that says IF SCREEN IS ERROR followed by the choice of MODE A or MODE B. confusingly, you don't select these using up and down but by pressing the actual A or B buttons. i messed this up and ended up in Extra Glitch Mode, which i think is fitting for this webbed sight.
also one of the glitches says cis haha
in FCEUX 2.3.0, with "enable more than 8 sprites per scanline" turned on, the graphics are actually quite smooth and nice. mario's own theme also plays as a victory theme, if he wins. sadly most of the characters don't have their own themes, but they clearly tried to make this look and sound good. it's clearly janky around the edges, but from my 5-minute bash at it with keyboard controls, it's not horrible. really, i would have been pleased as punch to have this in 1994, if i'd grown up with bootlegs and not developed a strange bourgeoise terror of them. a solid 8 bowsers out of 10.
dragon dividers by Baird's Dragon Den!
other images © nintemdo and related co's., inc. but do we actually credit the big corps nowadays? naaah. someone drew these sprites, kudos to them.
none of my art will ever be NFTs. do not make NFTs of my art. do not be racist or otherwise abusive with my art. otherwise go wild
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