Every gamer who spent their time in the arcade in their younger years, and still holds a console or PC to date, is familiar with the small, stout Italian plumber with a thick moustache, affectionately named Mario. You might’ve seen him inside a SNES system, jumping over Goombas, and hearing his iconic “mamamia~” every time you lose a life. Or maybe you’ve seen him in 3D, inside a modern game console, hearing his ever popular intro “It’s a-me, Mario!”
No matter where you heard him, when you’ve played him. You know him. There is not a single gamer alive today, who hasn’t come across the legendary character from Nintendo. Even a twelve-year old kid would be able to identify Mario. He’s practically the face of the video gaming giant Nintendo. But who exactly is this character? What is it about this small Italian plumber that makes him so iconic? What makes this character so popular, that he became the granddad of video game success?
The Birth of Mario
We can trace back Mario’s roots in 1981, when the arcade game Donkey Kong was released by Nintendo. Created by Shigeru Miyamoto, Mario was the main protagonist of the above-mentioned game. He is tasked to move across a series of platforms, in an attempt to save a lady against a giant ape named Donkey Kong. During this time Mario had no official name, some refer to him as Jumpman, noting his ability to jump over barrels in the later versions of the Donkey Kong arcade game.
It was not until the arcade game’s sequel that he got the name Mario. In the 1982 game Donkey Kong Jr. Mario played the role of the villain, while Donkey Kong’s son, Donkey Kong Junior plays the part of the protagonist. The sequel is also a platform game, with four stages, each one with its own theme.
His creator Miyamoto wanted a character he can use in every game he develops, something like a “jack-of-all-trades” character that he can place in any game he wishes, may it be as a protagonist, or for cameo appearances.
Mario’s initial design was to fit the Donkey Kong arcade game’s narrative, so during its release his profession was that of a carpenter. His iconic blue shirt and red overalls were more of a result of old gaming hardware’s limitations. His creator mentioned that he chose the colors so the clothes’ colors are contrast, and so that the character will stand out from the background. Donkey Kong’s reception as a game was modest at first, but gradually picked up over the course of time, by June 1982, Nintendo sold more than 60,000 copies of the arcade game.
The Italian Plumber
It wasn’t until 1983 that Mario changed his profession from carpenter to plumber. The change was made when Nintendo released the first platform game under his name titled Mario Bros, this is also the game where his brother Luigi made his first appearance. The story narrative behind the historic platform game is that Mario and Luigi are investigating the strange emergence of creatures in the sewers of New York. The objective of the game is to defeat all enemies in a series of waves. Every cleared wave will move to the next, increasing its difficulty.
Like its predecessor Donkey Kong, Mario Bros. had its own share of gradual success. In July 1983, a japanese publication named Game Machine listed it as the third most successful arcade game of that year. A testament to the game’s success is the 1983 video game crash, otherwise known as the Atari Shock in Japan. The said event caused a massive recession in the video game industry, including the United States, which spanned from 1983 to 1985 due to varying factors. While the rest of the console video game industry felt the force of the Atari Shock, both Nintendo, and the Mario Bros. arcade game were unfazed by the recession. People often call out the revolutionary game’s role during the crash as many believe that they helped recover the gaming industry in North America. To top it off, Mario Bros. cartridge sales for home consoles in that year reached a total of 3.87 million cartridges, making it the best-selling game of 1983.
The Rise of Super Mario
In 1985, the first, and probably the most iconic of all the Mario games in history, was released. Super Mario Bros is the successor of the Mario Bros. arcade game, and like its predecessor it is still a platforming game. The game was meant for the Famicom in Japan, and for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in Europe, and North America.
The game features Mario as the main protagonist of the game, while Luigi, Mario’s younger brother is playable only on multiplayer, controlled by the second player. They both have the same function, and take turns in multiplayer mode. Simply put, Mario will be the first to play the stage, and when he dies, or succeeds a stage, Player 2 will take on the role of Luigi, and try to finish the same stage.
The main goal of the game is to complete multiple stages in an attempt to save the female protagonist, Princess Toadstool against the main villain, Bowser. Super Mario Bros is made up of eight worlds with four stages each. The final stages for each world always end up with a fight against Bowser on top of a bridge. Players can choose to defeat Bowser in a head-on fight, or try to reach the axe behind him to cut off the bridge.
Super Mario Bros. set the standard for side-scrolling platform games, selling more than 40 million copies on its original NES release; it quickly took the throne of the best-selling video games of all time, keeping the title of best-selling video game for over 20 years.
Its monumental success led the title to be re-released, and remade over time through various consoles. The game was critically acclaimed for its precise controls, its iconic game, and music design. There’s not a gamer born in the 80s, and 90s, alive today who doesn’t recognize the “Overworld” theme, as well as the colorful design of Super Mario Bros.
The Mario Legacy
Super Mario Bros. success paved the way in forming the great Mario franchise Spawning multiple successors across a multitude of platforms over the years. And despite being a character from an old arcade game, he is still considered as one of the greatest characters of all time, appearing in over 200 video games since his birth, and going as far as selling more than 600 million games worldwide. Up until this day, new Super Mario games are still being sold.
Surely enough, Miyamoto’s dream of creating a character meant for different games has come true, as Mario found himself out of the platforming into other genres. His dream of having his beloved character make cameo appearances were achieved as well, as Mario appeared in the 1987 Nintendo fighting game Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out. Mario acts as a referee on this game. He also appeared as Easter eggs in two The Legend of Zelda titles such as The Legend of Zelda: A link to the Past, and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. He even appeared in one of Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid franchises, namely Metal Gear Solid: The Twin Snakes for the Gamecube.
He is at the helm of a racing game named Super Mario Kart, which was first released in 1992 for the SNES, and also spawned multiple remakes, and sequels. He also found himself in a crossover fighting video game of all the Nintendo characters titled Super Smash Bros. If that wasn’t enough, Mario also portaled his way through Android, and iOS devices under the name Super Mario Run, which retains the side-scrolling platform of the original Super Mario games, but added an automated running feature, popular in running-based games in mobile devices.
Mario even went out of the gaming world, and entered the film industry. An animated film was released in 1986 titled Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!, and was considered as one of the first films to be directly based on a video game. The character also inspired a live action film based on its best-selling game in the NES, Super Mario bros.
From a carpenter to a plumber, he is now a worldwide cultural icon known not only to the gaming industry, but outside of it as well. The name and character Mario has been engraved into the hearts of both old and new gamers. And like many historical greats, it seems that any game Mario makes an appearance in, achieves great, and unparalleled success. Despite coming from an old arcade game, colored in red and blue pixels, Mario not only stood the test of time, but outlasted it as well, truly making him the granddad of video game success.