The Super Mario games, I think it's fair to say, have some of the most iconic videogame enemies ever created, with only Pac-Man's ghosts or Space Invaders', well, invaders matching up to the likes of the Koopa Troopas, Bullet Bills and Boos in the hearts and minds of gamers. Of all those famous critters, one in particular stands head and shoulders (or at least they would if they had heads and shoulders) above all the rest: The humble yet mighty Goomba.
It occured to me the other day that there are almost certainly millions of people out there for whom a Goomba was the very first thing they ever killed in a videogame. Millions. Personally, the first thing I ever destroyed in a videogame was a lime-green wireframe tank in Battlezone for the Atari 2600, but the first unambiguously living creature I digitally dispatched was a poor ol' Goomba in Mario Bros. The best thing about the original NES Goombas was the fact they looked so damn serious, which must be a difficult expression to maintain when you walk in such an adorable, wiggling manner.
Anyway, some Goomba facts: In Japan, they are called Kuribo, which apparently means "Chestnut People," although they are based on shiitake mushrooms and not chestnuts. They were put into the original Mario because the developers thought that Koopa Troopas were a bit too tough an opponent to start the game with. Yes, the Goombas are simply cannon fodder, placed into the Mushroom Kingdom to give Mario something on which to hone his bloodletting skills. What poor little bastards they are. One assumes the name Goomba comes from the Italian-American word Goombah, which I'm sure will be familiar to anyone who's watched The Sopranos, and it fits in nicely with Mario's Italian-ness. Finding out they are called Kuribo finally settled what was a great childhood mystery mystery for me. In Super Mario 3, there is one level which features a Goomba riding in a green wind-up boot that Mario can steal and ride himself. This boot is called the Kuribo's Shoe, and all through my childhood I wondered what the hell a Kuribo was, imagining it to be some kind of never-seen giant monster who has boots large enough for a lardy Italian plumber to ride about in. Now I know it just means "Goomba's Shoe", I have to admit to a certain amount of disappointment.
Another thing that confused me, Goomba-wise, were the Goombas in Super Mario World. Instead of the standard mushroom-shaped Goombas, there were these strange spherical fellows:
All through my childhood, I had no idea these guys were supposed to be Goombas. No idea! I don't know what the hell I thought they were, but when the internet rolled along and I noticed that other people were calling them Goombas, it all fell into place. Apparently, they are a slightly different species called Kuribon, but Goombas they be, and it's nice to know they hadn't been ignored in the SNES days.
According to Nintendo, the Goombas are a seperate species from the Toads, and both races lived in harmony in the Mushroom Kingdom. Awww. Until Bowser came along with his plans to take over the country, and the treacherous Goombas switched sides and joined up with the Koopas (except some Goombas didn't). Now, let me suggest to you an alternative version of events. The Goombas are a slave caste within the Mushroom Kingdom, forced to do all the dirty work while the Toads live in luxury, close to the brutal, autocratic monarchy led by the brainless Princess Peach. Along comes Bowser, with promises of removing the corrupt monarchy and establishing some kind of worker's collective, and the downtrodden Goombas sign up. However, they are sadly unaware that the royalty have on their side some kind of super-warrior, a plumber who sure is good at jumping on things. Bowser is defeated, thousands of Goombas perish and the ones that survive are cast out of society. I personally would like to believe that is the true story of the Mushroom Kingdom. It gives you a whole new perspective on the games, that's for sure.
And finally, I happen to own this little fella:
He's a Goomba that came with a McDonalds' Happy Meal. He's got a little sucker on his chin that you stick to his feet, and after a while the sucker somes loose and the Goomba does a backflip. I looked at the base and he was made in 1989, which means I've owned him for 21 years. He still works, too, and if my house was on fire, you can be sure I'd make a real effort to rescue him.
Anyway, that's enough about Goombas. Long may they continue to waddle around in a fairly useless manner!
Do you want to see a stomach-churningly cute crocheted Goomba, complete with Kuribo's Shoe? Sure you do.