Games

‘Super Bernie World’ Imagines a Presidential Campaign as ‘Super Mario Bros.’

A small team of developers put together this free platformer to support Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign.
March 9, 2020, 6:01pm
​Screenshot via YouTube
Screenshot via YouTube

A pixelated Bernie Sanders soars through the air, stomping on the head of a turtle with the face of Mitch McConell. He’s collecting votes on the road to defeating Donald Trump. This is Super Bernie World, a new video game from Kitsune Games, the indie studio behind MidBoss and Lore Finder. It’s a fun Super Mario World clone where the player navigates 12 states to nab an electoral victory while dodging MAGA hat wearing enemies, ICE bullets, Ted Cruz, and Donald Trump.

The game is free on Steam and can be played in your browser on itch.io. It was developed in collaboration with other game developing Sanders supporters.

“I've just been working day and night on this, sixteen hours days,” Kitsune Games leader developer Emma Maassen told me on Discord. “We wanted to get it done before Super Tuesday, but that was not going to happen. So we wanted to get it in before tomorrow's round of voting.”

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Wayne Kubiak, whose work has appeared in Binding of Isaac Afterbirth and Cave Story, did the pixel art.

Super Bernie World is a delight. It looks and, more importantly, feels like a Super Mario Bros. game. The pixel art is great, and it hits the difficulty sweet spot. The game ramps up through its 12 levels, culminating in a boss fight against Trump/Bowser, and I had fun trying to clear its later platforming challenges but never felt frustrated.

It’s also an avowedly and unapologetically political game—an interactive political cartoon that links you to resources to help support or volunteer for Bernie Sanders when it’s finished. Instead of coins, Sanders collects electoral votes. Bullet Bill fires rounds labeled ICE. An upraised glowing fist grants invincibility and a rose (the symbol of the Democratic Socialists of America) allows the player to toss roses like fireballs. At the end of a level, Sanders faces down politicians like Ted Cruz and defeats them by dropping them into a jail cell.

"Everything is political,” Maassen said. “Games are just as much political as anything else. And if you say they're not political, then that is in itself political. I've lived a very political life. I'm a queer woman and now I'm an immigrant, which certainly has shaped my politics and America has not been nice or easy. Kitsune games has always been a political studio because it aims to be inclusive and diverse and accessible and we are very much unapologetic about that.”

Maassen said that passion about Sanders’ campaign helped the team finish the project on a tight deadline. “We all just really feel very strongly about this and about Bernie,” she said. “It also helps that all of us, like combined, we have almost 40 years of experience in the industry. And we’re all very good at doing game jams. So that really helps when you’re doing a quick project.”

Maassen hopes the game will help people see that Sanders is the best choice for them in this election. “What it feels like with politics in America right now, is that the Republicans just want to make everything worse,” she said. “And the establishment Democrats, the moderates, and the centrist they just want everything to stay just as it is. Bernie is the only one who's actually out there really trying to make things better.”

Super Bernie World quotes Sanders repeatedly throughout the game but the power of his political message is strongest during his final confrontation with Trump. “Oh no, it’s you!” Trump says.

“Not me, us,” Sanders replies. This is the core of his message—that a dedicated group of people can accomplish amazing things, like the developers who came together to create Super Bernie World.

Sanders will need all the help he can get. Idaho, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington, and North Dakota vote tomorrow.