Some say gaming transports us to other worlds. With outsourcing and digital forms of communication becoming so advanced, will there come a day when we won’t even need to leave our homes? Work from your house, communicate with friends via Google Hangouts, buy groceries online, then stream all your games and movies. One of the greatest legacies the Romans left behind was their amazing network of roads connecting the Empire together. Will future nations showcase their advancement by their complete lack of roads?
In anticipation of this car-less future, we’ve put together a list of the strangest modes of transportation for protagonists in non-driving games… starting with a shoe.
Putting the Best Shoe Forward in Super Mario Bros. 3
The oldest known shoes were found in the Fort Rock Cave in Oregon, dating to 7,000 or 8,000 BCE. The oldest leather shoes were made from cowhide and discovered in Armenia, dating back to around 3,500 BCE. Historically, the biological trend for smaller toe bone width has decreased over tens of thousands of years of human existence, indicating increased footwear by humans. Mario must have some of the toughest feet around, stomping innumerable Buzzy Beetles, Koopa Troopas, and Goombas each time the princess gets kidnapped.
The Kuribo’s Shoe is, in some ways, a form of Mario-envy, being prototyped specifically by the Goombas on level 5-3 to counter their greatest foe while recreating his abilities. Inevitably, Mario takes the shoe over and becomes practically impervious to geographic and physical danger, wreaking terror on his journey through the Mushroom Kingdom. The Koopa Army, realizing its complete failure, never employs it in battle again, much to the chagrin of the Goombas. Who knew Goombas dreamed of electric shoes?
Bionic Commando and Romantic Getaways
There’s nothing like traveling with a loved one, especially as they help pass time along the long stretches of road through endless plains, fields, and farms that smell of fertilizer. The last Bionic Commando took that to another level. Contemporary biomimetics (or biomimicry) uses actual examples from nature to mimic engineering feats, and inspirations include the wings of butterflies for RFID tags and nano sensors to detect explosives, a coolant system based on termite mounds, resin which was created by studying the material found in arthropods and Agent Nathan Spencer’s wife, whose body became part of his bionic arm to ensure a perfect sync. While a bionic arm with a grappling gun is an effective way for a spy to stealthily infiltrate enemy territory—especially as it allows quick travel between high rises and military installations—we imagine it also makes for some weird date nights.
The Portal to My Heart
Stephen Hawking has famously challenged the traditional view of black holes he’d originally proposed, replacing the notion of event horizons with apparent horizons. Precepts of science always crumble in the way of progress, aligning with Thomas Kuhn’s concept of paradigm shifts. Theories that have fallen the way of the Dreamcast include the Phlogiston theory, Aristotelian physics, the Ptolemaic system, the Flat Earth theory, and the Miasma Theory of Disease. Our own theories on what constituted the universe collapsed when were introduced to quantum mechanics. We felt metaphorical portals opening in our consciousness as theoreticians posited more dimensions than we knew what to do with, including ones that spanned time and space.
The universe is stranger than we could ever have imagined. Fortunately, we had an Aperture Science Handheld Portal Device and Genetic Lifeform and Disk Operating System to assist us through our confusion. We’ve actually used a mini-wormhole to cause a temporal displacement so we can go back in time to rewrite this article fifteen times in fifteen different ways. This is actually the fifteenth time you are reading this article. Each time, we have changed the entire tone of the piece to study and test your emotional reaction. “Please note that we have added a consequence for failure that will result in an ‘unsatisfactory’ mark on your official testing record, followed by death. Good luck!”
Gliding on a Mechanical “Cloud” in Enslaved: Odyssey to the West
There have been countless re-imaginings of the classic Chinese tale, Journey to the West. One such retelling of the journey to Enlightenment is Enslaved: Odyssey to the West. For the physical journey in the original, Monkey’s ride was a cloud. Not “cloud” in the sense of a digital space storing infinite pieces of a gazillion forgotten memories, but instead, literal cumulonimbi. In Enslaved, Monkey’s journey through the post-apocalyptic wasteland that was once NYC is a mechanical hover board. The addition of this Back to the Future-type technology in Enslaved gave the classic fantasy ride a sci-fi overhaul.
Whale of a Time in Final Fantasy IV
It’s nearly impossible for a person to survive inside a whale (despite the stories of Pinocchio and Jonah suggesting otherwise). Gastric juices would damage their flesh and they’d eventually die from asphyxiation, starvation, or dehydration…unless the whale happened to be a spaceship ascending from the middle of the ocean, designed for travel to the moon. Final Fantasy IV’s new ATB battle system was partly inspired by seeing Formula One Racing with different vehicles speeding at different velocities to add tension and exhilaration to the matches. The Lunar Whale was the inspiration for airships throughout the FFIV world, which led to an odd cycle in which those very airships began causing terror on innocents in order to collect crystals that would awaken the Giant of Babil, a Lunarian project opposed by the creator of the slumbering Lunar Whale (without which the airships would not have been built). Did I also mention there’s a fat chocobo aboard the ship who eats everything?
Chocobos: Not Just For Racing
An ostrich can disembowel and kill a person in only two to three blows, a fact that didn’t intimidate people who straddled them up and rode them in competitive sports. Ostrich racing took on a whole new level in the Final Fantasy series with the familiar ostrich-chicken hybrid called the chocobo. They’re great as war steeds and one of the fastest rides around the world, able to across mountains and oceans on foot. They also helped make the Final Fantasy Tactics opening cutscene one of the most epic in the series. We don’t know if humans will ever be able to walk on water, but Final Fantasy VII showed us you didn’t need a miracle to make it happen. Just a gold chocobo.
Channel Surfing in Persona 4
We’ve watched television at midnight, hoping to be transported into a TV Land made from the subconscious nightmares of its watchers with a plush human sized Teddy as guide. So far, of the eighteen nights we’ve done this, nothing has happened and all we’ve been stuck with are infomercials pitching diet pills and Tanaka selling us wasabi jelly and Inaba trouts. Our cathode rays are firing away, their content dictated by random numbers. At least a persona can be defeated by hand to hand combat. Bad ratings portend imminent doom. The only way to thwart them is to maximize the number of social links, 1,142,000 household links per Nielsen point to be exact. A whole lot of corpses are buried in the mausoleum of canceled television shows and videogames due to lack of social links. We’d love a tour of all of them.
Riding with the Four Horses of the Apocalypse in Red Dead Redemption
It’s strange to think that a majority of the ideas relating to the Apocalypse began with one guy’s bad dream. After being banished to the island of Patmos, St. John wrote in Revelations about the end times and the Four Horsemen; Pestilence (or Conquest), War, Famine, and Death. We bet John never imagined that two-thousand years later, the Horsemen would show up in videogames, including Red Dead Redemption’s Undead Nightmare DLC. Summoned by blood pacts, the Four Horses, bereft of their riders, are endowed with unlimited stamina and a high health bar to fight off legions of zombies. (Wait—what’s that, GLADOS? Revelations was actually meant as a videogame design document?!)
Sailing the Seas in The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker
Metamorphosis is a key part of the hero’s journey, whether transforming into an insect (Kafka’s Metamorphosis), a donkey (The Metamorphoses of Apuleius, known more commonly as The Golden Ass), a whole lot of animals in Mo Yan’s Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out, or a talking dragon boat called the King of Red Lions who also happens to be the King of Hyrule.
Link has had a variety of unusual methods of transportation throughout the series, from a whirlwind summoned by his recorder, to the Flute Boy’s Bird, to the Master Sword in the Pedestal of Time. But the King of Red Lions was the strangest. To put things in a modern context, it’d be like if we told someone our car had an actual face that talked to us and that he was none other than the spiritual embodiment of Abraham Lincoln prompting us to save the world.
Pi’illo Talk with Mario & Luigi: Dream Team
In Mario and Luigi: Dream Team, Mario is whisked away on a strange journey where he invades his brother’s dreams. Perhaps less strange was Luigi’s self-portrayal in his dream world—strong, brave, while possessing multiple clones with various movesets—Dreamy Luigi was every bit the hero that Luigi wishes to be. Often seen as the less clever, bumbling, clumsy brother, Luigi dreamed himself to be a superhero and in line with last year’s The Year of Luigi, it seems fitting.
The brothers visit Pi’illo Island and discover that the ancient race of Pi’illo have been imprisoned and turned into stone pillows. With the help of Prince Dreambert, leader of the Pi’illos, who transforms himself into a comfortable-looking red pillow, Luigi is able to go straight to sleep once his head hits the Pi’illo prince. From there, Mario is able to enter Luigi’s dreams for fun, fighting against both Bowser and the ancient nemesis of the Pi’illo, Antasma. The Princely Pi’illo certainly makes for a comfy-but-curious transportation device, physically transporting Mario into the land of dreams.
As a bonus to the list, we wanted to list two examples from Racing Games, starting with Yoshi on Yoshi.
Yoshi is My Other Ride in Mario Kart 8
There are lots of strange rides in the Mario universe—caterpillar-like creatures called Wigglers that have buttons for wheels and a sunflower for flight, bear buggies, bug buggies, and a psychedelic noble charioteer named Prancer. But the strangest ride of all is also Mario’s most trusted companion. Yoshi has made his own way in the Mario universe andin Mario Kart, Yoshi can take to the circuit riding a vehicular version of himself (perhaps a meta-commentary on the ridden finally becoming rider?) The only thing odder would have been Yoshi riding Mario.
The Bombads of Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing
More than a decade ago, I (Peter) was a game tester for LucasArts and one of the last games I tested was called Star Wars: Super Bombad Racing, an attempt to recreate kart racing games with Star Wars characters. Back then, it was a big challenge actually getting to work because I didn’t have a car. Fortunately, a generous co-worker let me carpool with him and on days he’d be out, I’d take the BART to the San Rafael bus station that would ultimately take me to the old LucasArts building, an hour-long trip, or so. Some days, I would work late, and having no ride, I’d end up crashing on the sofas. I often used to sleep with a Chewbacca cut-out standing above me that scared me when I’d wake up, disoriented by sonorous vent booms in the middle of the night.
It was fascinating seeing Bombad Racing come together, a big-headed Darth Maul and Jar-Jar Binks with a kiddish Anakin Skywalker all racing each other. Bombad Racing had a great team and it also marked my eventual transition into the art department, as well as writing game manuals. All these years later, firing up the game on the PS2, I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it was uncanny how it evoked so many vivid memories; it also made me remember some of my concerns from that time, like if I’d be able to eventually get my own car. I did eventually get my own vehicle, a large Kuribo shoe with wheels and a spirit-infused television to pass the time. It played the Midnight Channel 24 hours straight, analyzing the American psyche one videogame at a time.
N. Ho Sang has made contributions to Kotaku, SF Signal, Talk Amongst Yourselves and Entropymag. Follow her on Twitter @Zarnyx if you’re feeling adventurous.
Peter Tieryas is a character artist who has worked on films like Guardians of the Galaxy, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs 2, and Alice in Wonderland. His novel, Bald New World, was listed as one of Buzzfeed’s 15 Highly Anticipated Books as well as Publisher Weekly’s Best Science Fiction Books of Summer 2014. His writing has been published in places like Kotaku, Kyoto Journal, Tor.com, Electric Literature, Evergreen Review, and ZYZZYVA, and he tweets @TieryasXu.