Fun guy: is that Toad from Mario’s head or is he wearing a hat? | Games
In the Guide’s weekly Solved! column, we look into a crucial pop-culture question you’ve been burning to know the answer to – and settle it, once and for all
Over the course of almost three decades playing video games and 15 years writing about them, I have seen a few recurrent questions that just refuse to die. Are video games art? (Yes, when they want to be.) Is Sonic better than Mario? (Obviously not: Sonic has only starred in about three good games since 1991.) Does playing games turn you into a sociopathic murderer? (No, but having to answer that question 4,000 times has certainly given me thoughts of mild violence.) But none has ever bothered me as much as this: is that Toad from Super Mario’s actual head, or is he wearing a mushroom hat?
At first, it seemed obvious to me: Toad is clearly a little person in playful headgear. That would fit in with the rest of the Marioverse. Mario himself is recognisably a human person. Princess Peach: also a person. The baddies, meanwhile, are clearly reptiles: see Bowser, a nonspecific spiky dinosaur. So it makes intuitive sense that the denizens of the Mushroom Kingdom would also be short people in costumes, not literal anthropomorphised fungi.
But then, the world of Super Mario is a more than mildly hallucinogenic place. The clouds have eyes. The turtles are sinister. Plants can be consumed for temporary superpowers. Why shouldn’t a mushroom grow arms and legs and a face and start wearing a waistcoat? Then again, if Toad is a sentient fungus, it adds a dark aspect to Mario’s penchant for eating mushrooms.
The more you think about it, the more questions arise. There are loads of different Toad people in Mario games; why would they all wear the same hat? Is it some kind of class signifier in the Mushroom Kingdom’s dystopian monarchy, to signify servitude to Princess Peach? But if it is his head: what’s inside it? Cartilage? A gigantic, bulbous brain? What is its texture? Is it spongy and soft, like a portobello, or hard and smooth, like ceramic?
The Headers v Hatters debate has seen some seismic upsets over the decades. There was the episode of the Super Mario TV show in the 1980s where Toad took off his mushroom cap to reveal a teeny, tiny, bald head; in the Paper Mario games, Toads had hair peeking out from under the mushroom protrusion, seeming to settle that it is indeed a hat. Crucial evidence from 2007’s Super Mario Strikers Charged, uncovered by brave truth-seekers at the sadly now defunct Dorkly.com, showed a character model where Toad’s skeleton has a normal-sized skull and an unsettling void round it. Then Toad started appearing in games with headphones on over the head/hat, throwing everything into question once again.
In 2018, Super Mario Odyssey’s characterful producer Yoshiaki Koizumi stated that it was his head, but then failed to provide any kind of satisfying justification: “I’m going to have to leave it to all of you to figure out exactly how that works out,” he said casually, having just lobbed a grenade into a decades-old debate. That’s not good enough, Koizumi!
Clearly this is not settled, so someone’s going to have to do it. Here we go: it’s a hat, not his head. The alternative, clearly, is too horrifying to contemplate.