Super Mario 64: The Dark Past of Whomps (Off the Record)

super mario whomps logo

Let’s face it: saving a princess is no small feat. Throughout Mario’s countless adventures across the Mushroom Kingdom, enemies and obstacles frequently block our heroic plumber’s path. From the simple mushroom-headed Goomba to the terrifying Chain-Chomp, Mario certainly has his work cut out for him. But how did Nintendo come up with such a diverse cast of characters? While Shigeru Miyamoto derived many of his creations from personal life experiences, he secretly relied on Japanese folklore for a select few. Often mistaken for the spiky Thwomps, this is the story behind one of Super Mario 64’s most infamous foes: Whomps.

Off the Record is a series that dives into the cultural and symbolic references hidden in many of our favorite video games. We explore how development secrets, story arcs, and gameplay aesthetics connect to ancient traditions and mythology.

One of These Things is Not Like the Other

As alluded to in the introduction, fans can easily mistake Whomps for their spiky counterparts. While Nintendo introduced Thwomps in Super Mario Bros 3, Whomps did not make an appearance until Super Mario 64. Unlike their spiritual twins, Whomps do not have spikes. But that does not mean that these stony creatures pose no threat. In fact, Whomps can be rather intimidating. With their arms, legs, and distorted face, these rugged foes not only impede Mario’s path but also attempt to flatten our mustached friend. Unlike any other rival in the Mushroom Kingdom, Whomps are truly one-of-a-kind. So what was the inspiration behind these oddly shaped adversaries?

The Not-So Invisible Wall

The answer to our question lies deep within the confines of Japanese folklore. In the early 1700s, travelers to Japan’s third largest island, Kyushu, experienced a number of oddities. But perhaps none was more pronounced than the mysterious “invisible wall” that impeded the wayfarer’s progress. Dubbed the Nurikabe, this mysterious creature was thought to be the root cause of adventurers losing their way. Numerous accounts of an infinite “wall” began to litter the works of prominent scholars, such as the well-known Kunio Yanagita. Within the confines of Yanagita’s studies, we learn that attempting to circumnavigate a Nurikabe “wall” is futile. The only proven means of escape is to strike the invisible monster in the lower portion with a stick.

The Plumber’s Respite

Even though Shigeru Miyamoto made his rendition of the Nurikabe visible, the Whomp still borrowed many of the same characteristics from Japanese folklore. The swift movements and relentless pursuit atop Super Mario 64’s first world made Whomp King feel every bit like a never-ending wall. Although Mario is unable to wield neither twig or branch, the “Jump Man” is able to overcome using the power of deception and acrobatics. By stepping out of harm at the last possible moment, Mario is able to expose the Whomps greatest weakness: his tender backside. Just three short tramples are all that is needed to fell this piece of Japanese mythology. If only the 1700s explorers had been so fortunate.


And there you have it: the dark and troubled Japanese folklore behind Super Mario 64 Whomps. But we want to know what you think. Are you surprised by the mythology surrounding the Whomps? What is your favorite 3D Super Mario game? Let us know in the comments below or the social media links on the right. Also, be sure to check out our other news items on Final Fantasy VII RemakeAnimal CrossingModern Warfare, and more.

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