Mario is nearly thirty years old and he’s still got what it takes to get gamers giggling and, well, gaming. He’s been around since the advent of Princess Diana and Indiana Jones but, unlike the latter, he hasn’t been completely ruined by bad CGI and George Lucas.
The Day The Arcade Came
Created by Nintendo back in the early 80s, Mario was their plan to get in on some of that American arcade action. After all, who didn’t want a piece of that extremely lucrative pie? When Mario first appeared in the hilarious and addictive Donkey Kong, he was the heroic boyfriend trying to save his girlfriend from a very naughty gorilla.
Designed by legendary designer Shigeru Miyamoto for Donkey Kong, Mario was originally called Jumpman. Not exactly the catchiest name on the block. Would Mario have even been as remotely successful if it hadn’t been for a chance and the landowner Mario Segale?
Yes, Mario Segale. He was the wealthy real estate developer who happened to rent out a warehouse to the U.S. branch of Nintendo way back in the early 80s. A recent article by Technologizer revealed all as they uncovered the real man behind the mascot.
“At the time, a financially struggling Nintendo of America (NOA), was preparing the U.S. launch of Donkey Kong. Legend has it that NOA President Minoru Arakawa noticed physical similarities between Donkey Kong’s short, dark haired protagonist and the landlord. So the crew at NOA nicknamed the character Mario, and it stuck.”
Unfortunately, it appears that Segale is not amused by his association with Mario at all...
Mario was originally designed to look the way he does because of hardware constraints. His moustache was to separate his mouth from his nose, his overalls to show the movement of his arms and he wore a hat because hair was too hard to draw realistically at the time.
Needless to say, Donkey Kong was an enormous success and was followed by Donkey Kong Jr. In 1982 and Mario Bros. in 1983. In the latter, Mario and his younger brother Luigi, are first portrayed as plumbers who have to save New York from creatures crawling out of the sewers.
To Consoles And Beyond
Super Mario Bros. was the game that had Mario onto the NES and saving Princess Toadstool from King Koopa. Seriously? Who came up with the rest of these names? It was also THE game for consoles in its introduction of the wonders of side-scrolling gaming. Tough, addictive and fun, this title was the first to use the 2D Mario style and introduced the other characters from Mario’s world that have come to join him in household name fame.
And I need not say more than “Our princess is in another castle,” do I?
It was in the sequel, Super Mario Bros. 2 that the plumber first started to change shape and the game got confusing. You see there were two versions of this game. One was released in Japan in 1985 but it was considered fiendishly difficult and wasn’t released across the pond. Instead US gamers got an entirely different game in 1988. We’re not entirely sure if we should be offended.
1988 delivered the third in the series – Super Mario Bros. 3 – and also cemented Mario (and Nintendo’s) place in gaming history. It was well constructed, fun, challenging and quintessentially Mario.
In this awesome image (below) that was taken from NFG Games you can see the iterations of Mario from 1981 to 1989. From left to right it’s Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Mario Bros, Wrecking Crew, Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Land. You can see how his eyes gain pixels as the hardware and resolution of consoles improved.
The following year, 1989, had the Game Boy on everybody’s laps with people playing on planes, trains and automobiles. Mario scrambled onto the device with Super Mario Land that was developed by Gunpei Yokoi. It met with mixed reviews. Some loved the unusual storyline and visuals, while others felt that it was one of those that should slot into the Mario Blooper folder.
No matter which way you look at it, however, it was Mario’s first steps onto a handheld device.
Once Nintendo launched the SNES in the nineties, Mario’s list of titles grew exponentially. With around 23 titles available on the SNES that included, featured or used Mario, he was fast becoming a legend.
According to Wikipedia he has appeared in more than 200 videogames to date and he’s showing no signs of stopping. He’s crossed more platforms than George Bush running from the press, had more makeovers than Jordan and is now a three-dimensional hero in his own right.
There is so much history about Mario, including really bizarre and forgotten games that he had cameo appearances in, that it is impossible to write them all in such a short space. There’s a book in Mario, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see when he plans to write it.