If it wasn’t obvious already, the game-as-political-activism is heavily inspired by the Super Mario series, with level design lifted from the 1985 original, and its namesake from the 1990 Super Nintendo sequel.
“We saw a video from the Los Angeles [Democratic Socialists of America], which was a pix art, gamelike video for Bernie Sanders, and we realized that’s something we are uniquely positioned to do,” said Kitsune Games founder and president Emma Maassen, who started the company in 2013 with partner James Yarrow. “We already do texting and phone banking. But we can also make a video game and humanize him and put a call to action on it.”
Kitsune Games previously created MidBoss, a dungeon crawler type of game for Steam that found indie success in 2017. Her company endorsed Sanders last month, citing his Medicare policies as ideal for freelancers and gig economy workers. She also said Sanders has the strongest policies planned for health care access for the transgender community.
Maassen spent more than two weeks to cobble together 12 levels, representing 11 states and Washington, D.C. The enemies were themed after Trump’s Make America Great Again hats, while modeling the enemies as conservatives and wealthy capitalist suits.
The Mario games are among the most influential in history, so it’s no surprise Maassen and her four volunteers settled on the format. They had hoped to release the game before Super Tuesday.
“Super Mario Bros. is about as simple as you can get, but it’s also good and nostalgic for a lot of people,” Maassen said. “You can put a lot of character into it, it’s not gritty or violent.”
And yes, they were going to name it Super Bernie Bros., but a Flash-based browser game with the name already exists.
“It’s probably for the best,” Maassen said, pointing to all the recent coverage of Sanders’s Twitter fan base.
The game features small “cutscenes” that reiterate Sanders’s stance on several issues, including Medicare-for-all. And on the title screen, the game offers players several options to volunteer for the campaign.
“We’re not expecting that people who are not on board with Bernie that this will sell them on Bernie, although if it does that’s great,” Maassen said. “It’s more for people who are on board with Bernie but haven’t really acted on it, or maybe they think they can’t do stuff for him like phone banking. We really just want to encourage these people to do these things.”