Super Mario World is a classic of gaming. The launch title of the Super Famicom, the vibrant sprites and slick control were next generation in every sense of the word when it premiered in Japan in 1990, slowly migrating to other regions over the next two years. Gamers have debated ever since whether in terms of actual game design, Super Mario World was really an improvement over Super Mario Bros. 3 on the Famicom. But with the advent of emulation in the late nineties, over the very long term, Super Mario World has certainly established itself as the more compelling of the two in terms of the work it inspired.

I am referring, of course, to the wonderful world of Super Mario World hacking exemplified by Super Mario World Central. While the earliest efforts to hack Super Mario World were in 1999, as soon as the PC technology was good enough, it was only with the advent of Lunar Magic by FuSoYa that the tools for such hacking became simple enough that even the more casual fans could use it. A personal message board, Acmlm’s Board, became a hub for discussion of Super Mario World hacking, until Super Mario World hacking itself became so popular that it completely eclipsed Acmlm’s original creation.

In 2005, Kieran (formerly boom.dk) created Super Mario World Central as a dedicated site for Super Mario World hacking content. Communities drifted, and data lost from a database reset in 2008, yet the community persisted, despite FuSoYa having apparently abandoned his creation. In 2011, he returned, and has issued yearly updates ever since. The sheer ease of use of Lunar Magic cannot be understated as such an integral part of what makes Super Mario World Central such a vibrant community. Drop your ROM file into it, and you can immediately move around the various pieces of Yoshi’s Island 1- or replace them with something entirely different.

Super Mario Maker, itself a borderline retro game at this point, charmed plenty more mainstream gamers with its own ease of creation and level sharing. But at the end of the day, as an official Nintendo product, there’s only so far anyone can go with it. Lunar Magic easily allows the importation of custom sprites and custom music. Ironically, nearly anything you can do in Super Mario Maker, you can also do in Lunar Magic now. It just requires some very basic knowledge of coding. Advanced coding can take you to stranger places entirely, like a Touhou style shooter where Mario now has hit points.

Would we even have Super Mario Maker if not for Super Mario World Central? It’s hard to say- SMW Central admin FPzero claims to have spoken to a former Nintendo of America employee in the past who seemed to confirm as much, by noting that people at Nintendo were definitely aware the site existed. And it shouldn’t be forgotten that Japanese Super Mario World fans have their own communities entirely, with at times radically different styles of hacks. The infamous Kaizo genre of hack, notorious for their borderline trollish difficulty, originates from there, even if in the constantly evolving trends of the communities have ironically led to a current day situation where Kaizo hacks are more popular in the West than the East.

As it often does, the Internet has equalized all. Let’s Plays and the YouTube algorithm went a long way to insure that nearly everyone at least understands the concept of a Super Mario World hack, whether it’s a profanity laden video of a person trying to finish an increasingly trollish Kaizo hack or one of those charming little levels that just plays itself as a sort of elaborate Rube Goldberg contraption. Although it’s worth noting, for those of you tempted to see just how far Kaizo hacks can go, SMW Central actually has a category even beyond that- the pit hack, which don’t just require precision movements, but arcane knowledge of Super Mario World’s most obscure glitches to even have the slightest idea what to do.

But even without new sprites, or music, or obscure mechanics, Vanilla hacks remain a remarkably popular part of the SMW Central scene. As the name implies, these are just hacks that rely on the default resources of the original ROM. Yet even these can create magnificent worlds of cities, space, and jungles. Even back in 2008, it’s remarkable just how much could be done with such limitations. Themed worlds, a loose plot, and effective use of minor gimmicks have turned many aspiring hacks into classics in their own right. There are so many ways to design a hack, even trying to summarize the community in a single article is quite limiting.

Many older hacks even relied on technical emulator flaws to get the desired effect- although these days fidelity to real hardware is both valued, and surprisingly doable due to the improvements in bug checking. What drives anyone to participate in a community like this? Well, as FPzero says, watching it grow and evolve and seeing people create is remarkably fun in its own right, even for a person not driven to create such hacks on their own. Browse the site, read the comments, maybe even take a chance on something random. My personal pick? Mario Vs. Bowser and Mighty No. 9, which probably left more of an impression on my mind than the actual Mighty No. 9 game did for most of its Kickstarter backers. The hack actually predates The Mighty No. 9, by the way. That’s what’s so fun about so many of these hacks. It’s not just that they’re weird, they can be weird in ways you probably never even imagined anyone would want to be.

William Schwartz William Schwartz (6 Posts)

William Schwartz is a media writer who specializes in South Korean media, but also writes about a wide variety of popular culture subjects- including retro video games.