Super Mario is the Nintendo mascot and a video game icon. © Stanislav Kogiku/imago
Super Mario made its debut in 1981 when the Nintendo character was called Jumpman. With “Super Mario Bros.” began a success story that continues to this day.
Hamburg – Super Mario is the main character of a series of video games by the Japanese game console manufacturer and game developer Nintendo. The very first real Mario game was released in 1985 under the title Super Mario Bros. Since then, the games have sold over 387 million copies worldwide. With that, Super Mario became one of the best-selling game series of all time – and the eponymous plumber character in overalls and red cap became an icon of video game culture and the mascot of Nintendo. Originally, Mario had a completely different name – and he wasn’t a plumber either.
|1981 (as Jumpman in Donkey Kong)/1985 (Mario Bros.)|
|Luigi, Princess Peach, Bowser, Yoshi|
Super Mario used to have a different name
The fact that Super Mario even exists is ultimately due to a legal detail. Game developer Shigeru Miyamoto was actually supposed to develop an arcade machine game for his employer Nintendo in 1981 with Popeye the sailor as the protagonist, who was supposed to free his girlfriend Olive from the hands of his rival Bluto. However, Nintendo failed to obtain the licenses for the figures.
So Miyamoto had to change plans and invented the game “Donkey Kong”. The eponymous gorilla became Bluto’s replacement, Olive simply became “the Lady” and instead of Popeye, Mario came into play. When he first appeared, he was still called Jumpman, but he already had the typical Mario look: red cap, overalls, mustache.
Nintendo developer Shigeru Miyamoto once invented Super Mario – the typical red hat was also his idea. © imago
Why is Super Mario a plumber and has a beard?
The typical appearance of Super Mario aka Jumpman is not least due to the fact that the graphical possibilities of video games at the beginning of the 80s were still very limited compared to today. Mario’s face is kept simple: snub nose, eyes, chin. In order to give the face contours despite the low resolution, developer Shigeru Miyamoto put a few dark pixels between the mouth and chin – and this gave the character a mustache.
The characteristic cap on the head ensured that no hair had to be shown, which would have pushed the hardware of the time to its limits. The bright dungarees, on the other hand, should make movements more visible, just like the white gloves. The outfit reminded Mario’s creator of a handyman: Jumpman was first a carpenter, then as Super Mario he became a plumber. That fitted the concept: Creator Miyamoto deliberately didn’t want to create a classic superhero, but rather a “normal” character that players could identify with better.
The first true Mario game: Mario Bros.
In 1983, Nintendo launched the first game with Super Mario as the main character for arcade machines: “Mario Bros.” is about the plumber Mario, who has to fight enemies in the sewers of New York together with his brother Luigi. The basic game principle remained the same in the following games in the series: Mario overcomes obstacles in a 2D world and defeats evil creatures by jumping on them and then kicking them away.
Breakthrough: Super Mario Bros.
The sequel, Super Mario Bros., was the first game in the series to be developed for Nintendo’s home consoles. “Super Mario Bros.” was released in Japan in 1985 for the Nintendo Family Computer (Famicom), two years later the game was also launched in Europe.
The rudimentary story: This time Mario has to free Princess Toadstool (in later parts renamed Princess Peach) from the clutches of a kind of spiny turtle called Bowser. The gameplay was completely new: The players no longer controlled Mario within a rigid, always the same screen like in “Donkey Kong”. Rather, the game world uses side-scrolling, i.e. players look at the 2D game world from the side, which is continuously expanded while the character is walking through it.
“Super Mario Bros. 3” is one of the most successful games in the series. © imago
For decades, “Super Mario Bros.” was the best-selling video game ever with 40 million units sold. Thanks to the success, Nintendo was also able to conquer the North American video game market with its Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Shortly before, there had been a dramatic industry crisis there, which had caused the hitherto leading provider in the USA, Atari, to stumble. Super Mario Bros. defined the platforming and action genres significantly and is still considered one of the most influential video games today.
The Mushroom Kingdom as Super Mario Universe
The team around Mario inventor Shigeru Miyamoto developed its own universe in which the story about the plumber Mario, his brother Luigi, Princess Toadstool (aka Princess Peach) and villain Bowser takes place. The place of action is the so-called Mushroom Kingdom, a colorful fantasy world that is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll’s novel “Alice in Wonderland”.
Many plot elements and the design are mainly due to practical considerations. The entire game has a memory size of 40 kilobytes. To save memory, the developers used the same element for clouds and bushes, for example – only once in green and once in white.
Beginning of a huge series of games: “Super Mario World”, “Super Mario 64” and the Gameboy
The huge success “Super Mario Bros” was followed and still is followed by numerous other games from the Mario universe:
- In 1986, “Super Mario Bros. – The Lost Levels” was initially only released in Japan for the Famicom Disc System. In 2012 there was a port for the Nintendo 3DS.
- In 1988, “Super Mario Bros. 2” was released. The game world scrolled to the right and left as well as vertically for the first time.
- In the same year “Super Mario Bros. 3” was released in Japan, in 1990 the game also came to the USA and a year later to Europe. For the first time there was an overview map within which the character could be moved from level to level.
- In 1989, at the same time as the Game Boy, the accompanying game “Super Mario Land” came onto the market. Each of the following Gameboy versions Color and Advance had their own games.
- In 1990, Nintendo wanted to use “Super Mario World” to show what its new Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) console could do: the game was the most elaborately produced of the series up to that point. The dinosaur Yoshi appears for the first time, serving as a mount for Mario and Luigi and eating enemies and fruit with his long tongue.
- “Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island” was considered a milestone after its release in 1995. This time, the players controlled Yoshi, who carries a baby Mario through various levels.
- “Super Mario 64” was released in 1996 for the new Nintendo 64 console. It is the first 3D game in the series and was later designed for the Nintendo DS handheld console under the name “Super Mario 64 DS” due to its enormous success.
- Super Mario Sunshine was released for the Nintendo Game Cube in 2002. The game was also successful, but didn’t sell quite as well as its predecessor.
- Super Mario Galaxy is the first Mario game for the Nintendo Wii. Once again Mario has to free Princess Peach. This time the action is set in space and the characters can be controlled using the Wii controller.
- This was followed in 2009 by New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the first game in the series that could be played with four players.
- A year later, Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released.
- After “Super Mario 3D World” (2013) and Super Mario Odessey (2017), the latest part of the series “New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe” was released for Nintendo Switch in 2019.
Mario’s dark side: Wario and the evil Luigi
In 1992, the character Wario first appeared in a Mario game: Wario is the boss in the Game Boy game “Super Mario Land 2”. In “Wario Land – Super Mario Land 3” the bad guy became the protagonist and has been found in numerous other Super Mario offshoots since then.
Mario’s brother Luigi also has an evil variant: Waluigi is villain Wario’s sidekick.
Super Mario Kart: The classic racing game
Super Mario Kart was released for the SNES in 1992 in Japan and the US and a year later in Europe. Players can choose one of eight characters from the Mario universe to drive their vehicles: Mario, Luigi, Bowser, Princess Peach, Koopa, Yoshi, Donkey Kong Jr. or Toad.
During the race, players can collect items and use various abilities to eliminate their opponents.
Super Mario Kart finds imitators in the real world, here on the streets of Tokyo. © Sergi Reboredo/imago
The game is among the best-selling SNES titles. Separate versions of the game were released for the following consoles: Mario Kart 64, Mario Kart DS, Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7 for Nintendo 3DS and Mario Kart 8 for Wii U.
Super Mario Franchise: Movie Hero and Lego Character
Super Mario has long been a fixture in pop culture and keeps popping up in media beyond console games. Based on a 1986 Japanese anime film, the first live-action adaptation of the video game series was released in 1993. The cast is quite impressive: Bob Hoskins plays Super Mario, his brother Luigi is played by John Leguizamo and Dennis Hopper slips into the role of Bowser. Princess Peach is called Daisy in the film and is played by Samantha Mathis. The action takes place in the 1970s in the New York borough of Brooklyn and is only roughly based on the video games. The strip was not well received by critics and audiences – Dennis Hopper even called his participation the biggest mistake of his career.
Another Super Mario movie is set to hit theaters in 2023, with a scheduled release date of March 23, 2023. Actor Chris Patt will voice Mario in the animated film, Charlie Day will voice Luigi, Anya Taylor-Joy will voice Princess Peach, and Jack will voice Bowser Black.
A few years ago, the Danish toy manufacturer Lego launched its own Lego building block series with figures from the Super Mario universe for children aged six and over.