Chibi-Robo, the automaton hero of the series bearing his name, is a lot of things; cleaner, adventurer, hero, and more. The one thing he most obviously is, however, is tiny. Small. Minute. Shrimpy (okay, that’s just mean). Chibi-Robo is as pint-sized as it gets, and his games always put the robot into a variety of situations set among everyday objects made enormous by his diminutive stature. Being small isn’t unusual for Nintendo heroes, however, as there have been more than a few occasions where everyone from Mario to Link has gone micro. Let’s take a look, or maybe squint and strain our eyes, at some of those small moments of glory in Nintendo history.
Minish Link (The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap)
The entirety of The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap is centered around Link going from being his usual, well, not-tall self to a truly miniaturized version via the nominal cap atop his head. As a gameplay hook it’s ingenious, as players see what were formerly puddles beneath Link’s feet transform into veritable rivers and lakes when he shrinks down. Riding atop enormous leaves and past acorns the size of boulders is a feast for the eyes, and one of the most memorable sights in any game on Game Boy Advance.
Giant Land (Super Mario Bros. 3)
So this one is cheating a little bit, but comparatively it works out to be the same thing. Mario isn’t shrunken, but his enemies have quadrupled in size, and the plumber finds himself weaving between gargantuan Koopa Troopas and Goombas on his way to the goal at the end of each stage. The reversal of Mario being the one now at risk of getting crushed is a nice twist of player expectations, and though enemy attack patterns are unchanged from what they normally are, simply providing Bowser’s minions with greater surface area to avoid makes them more challenging to defeat than ever before. It’s a gimmick that has come back in different ways over the years, but this installment in the Super Mario Bros. series remains the best use of it.
Lightning Bolt (Mario Kart series)
From Super Mario Kart forward, there are few greater pleasures than setting off a Lightning Bolt to shrink every other racer on the course down to the size of a toy. Usually a sign of languishing in the back of the pack, what can be maddening to everyone else is pure bliss to the one wielding it. The sensation of rushing past the fold while they putter along at a snail’s pace is oh-so gratifying, and continues to be with each subsequent Mario Kart release. Of course, the joy of being invincible or off-course when the bolt hits is its own thrill, but we won’t be getting into that here!
Yoshi vs. Prince Froggy (Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island)
The castle level plays out like any other in Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, until Yoshi arrives in the boss chamber standing before a hardly threatening Froggy enemy. Kamek appears and begins sprinkling his magic dust everywhere, but unlike previous encounters where the boss is transformed, this time the magic is turned on Yoshi, himself! The dinosaur is shrunk down to the size of a bug, and Prince Froggy (not sure what makes him a prince…) quickly gulps him and Baby Mario down into his belly. The battle takes place entirely from inside of the frog, with Yoshi attacking the enemy from within until he succumbs and spits him back out. It’s a surreal encounter (as evidenced by Yoshi’s contorted face when he’s shrunk), and one that stands out amongst the other fine boss battles that Yoshi’s Island is famous for.
Pikmin, much like Chibi-Robo, revolves around being only a couple of inches tall, and is similarly successful at taking mundane environments like a sandy beach or the forest floor and making them interesting by seeing them from a new perspective. When the original Pikmin launched on GameCube years ago, the sensation of being small was quite unlike anything else that Nintendo fans had experienced, as the title was a graphical powerhouse that really sold the experience. This was again the case when Pikmin 3 released on Wii U; looking at hyper-realistic pieces of fruit being carried across sandy dunes was mesmerizing, and a reminder of just how much magic designers like Shigeru Miyamoto can mine from the everyday world.
A Walk Atop the Dead Giants (Xenoblade Chronicles)
Xenoblade Chronicles really throws players for a loop when its setting is finally revealed. As the opening cinematics unfold and the game’s backstory unveiled, players come to find that the vast, open world that they’ll be exploring with Shulk and company rests atop the corpses of two dead giants! Their lifeless bodies frozen in eternal conflict, the very ground beneath the player’s feet, the plants, the creatures, the people, everything has sprung from the forms of two warring gods. It occurs during an early part of the game, but is no less startling for it, and one of the most original setups for any RPG in the past ten years. Shulk might not be shrunk, but he’s little more than an ant on the limbs of these two enormous beings.
Luigi vs. Chauncey (Luigi’s Mansion)
Ghost babies tend to be creepy enough as it is, but when in Luigi’s Mansion the green plumber finds himself shrunken by one and stuffed into its crib for a battle to the death… well, that’s taking things to a whole new level. Chauncey is the name of the ghoul child in question, and Luigi must avoid enormous wooden horses and bouncing baby balls as he defends himself against the tyrannical tot. The battle isn’t the most difficult in the game, but the sense of scale is impressive, and the towering Chauncey is highly unnerving… binky notwithstanding. The Poltergust 3000 gets the chance to shine with some fun back and forth using the bouncing balls against Chauncey, and Luigi proves that even miniaturized cowards can fight their fears and save the day!
An obscure SNES gem, Cool Spot stars the 7-Up mascot as he makes his way through the regular world, albeit at the size of a quarter. From the beach to a child’s bedroom full of toys, Cool Spot fights a number of bugs and small creatures in his effort to, rescue his fellow captured Cool Spots and, uh… get… soda…? Honestly, though his pals are clearly encaged, I don’t think there’s ever any context given to Cool Spot’s adventure! He’s just a cool, tiny dude helping his friends, jumping into enormous 7-Up bottles to find continues, shooting carbonated bubbles at baddies, and looking to drink the best lemon-lime soda out there. Ah, gotta love the ’90s. The game is lovingly rendered for a mascot game, with incredibly lush, detailed environments to travel through that do a wonderful job of communicating the small scale of Cool Spot in comparison to the world around him.
What games feature your favorite moments in miniature?