RetroVision – The Minus World

Glitches were always par for the course in the days of 8 and 16-bit gaming. Even legendary designers such as Shigeru Miyamoto were every now and again left to the mercy of them. Most would have a negative impact on the player. However, some would become more than just a glitch and would happily add something to the experience. The Minus World of Super Mario Bros. definitely comes under the latter, and is arguably one of video gaming’s most famous glitches ever found.

So what is the Minus World? Well, hidden deep within Super Mario Bros. is an unbeatable glitch level that is represented as “World  -1”. The level itself is an underwater level that is near identical to World 7-2 in terms of both appearance and enemy locations. However, whilst the level itself can be finished, there is no true escape from it. Upon entering the pipe at the end, another glitch occurs and the player returns to the start, dooming Mario or Luigi to an endless fate, with the game ultimately ending when the time runs out, or the player loses all their lives.

In The Minus World
World -1

Over the years gamers have searched for the hidden level in their masses, all in order to experience the Super Mario level that was never meant to be. Nowadays finding it isn’t so hard, as there are an abundance of guides, and players will only have to reach Stage 1-2 in order to try for themselves. Something that has potentially added to the glitch’s popularity.

You see, the Minus World can actually be reached within the underground of Stage 1-2 by simply standing on the final pipe of the area. Once at this pipe you’ll need to stand on top of it whilst facing left and ducking, then jump towards the point where the pipe meets the roof. It may take some doing as it needs to be spot on, but if done properly Mario will glide his way through the wall to the pipes that many will know as the hidden warp pipes to later worlds. However, this time the pipes furthest to the left and right will take players to World  -1.  Interestingly the middle pipe will take players to World 5-1.

Glitch Jump
The Jump To The Minus World

To many this may seem like an extremely hidden Easter Egg, and whilst Miyamoto hid many different secrets in Super Mario Bros., this wasn’t one he intended. For example, Miyamoto explains how the infinite lives glitch with the turtle shell was planned right from the start, even going through a testing phase.

We did code the game so that a trick like that would be possible. We tested it out extensively to figure out how possible pulling the trick off should be and came up with how it is now, but people turned out to be a lot better at pulling the trick off for ages on end than we thought.

However, when it comes to the Minus World, Miyamoto reaffirmed how despite this not being intentional, it was seen as somewhat of a happy accident.

That’s a bug, yes, but it’s not like it crashes the game, so it’s really kind of a feature too!

So why does it occur? Well, by passing through the wall before the screen has crossed over to the hidden warp pipes, the game is unable to activate the invisible objects that in turn generate the secret warp pipes.  This causes the game’s code to default to World 4-2. As such, this causes the middle pipe to send the player to 5-1 rather than 4-2. However, World 4-2 only has the one secret pipe, causing the two exits to the left and right to set to World 36, a blank tile which displays to the player as a blank space. Thus creating “World  -1”.

Minus World Pipes
Minus World Pipes

Following the discovery of this glitch, rather than remove it, Miyamoto and Nintendo embraced it for the Famicom Disk System re-release of the game. Here Miyamoto and the team turned it into a fully fledged Easter Egg. This time players are presented with three levels that can be beaten. These levels feature a variety of different colour palettes, alongside altered enemies, and even the appearance of Bowser and Princess Peach. And whilst the Minus World was removed for Super Mario All-Stars and other remakes, Nintendo’s Virtual Console releases, and even the recent NES Remix, all have the glitch present.

The Minus World has grabbed the attention of players for 30 years, and thanks to Nintendo’s authentic porting process in their Virtual Console releases, players can discover the glitch all over again. Or even possibly, for the first time for some. Miyamoto may have never intended one of the world’s most famous glitches, but even accidents seem to turn to gold when Shigeru Miyamoto and his team are in control of the development. Nevertheless, its nature as a happy accident could mean that maybe there’s still more hidden in the iconic game?

Sophia Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she's written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DivaXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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