Mario: The story behind gaming's most famous character and star of Super Mario Run

By Anusha Sinha

With the release of Super Mario Run, it is time to trace back the story of the Italian plumber who is remembered fondly by anyone who has had the faintest whiff of video gaming. Over 200 games featuring Mario have been made to date and around 240 million units have been sold of the same. As loved as the little man is all over the world, you may find that you know his name but you certainly don’t know his story.

Mario was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, a titan of the video game industry. He joined Nintendo just when it was shifting focus from creating playing cards to video games in 1977 and helped create some of the most critically acclaimed games of all time. He has been a co-creator of the Donkey Kong, Mario, The Legend of Zelda and Starfox franchises. He joined the videogame industry because of his love for manga and because he was hugely inspired by the hit game Space Invaders.

The objective behind developing Mario was to create a hit game for Nintendo after the failure of previous games like Sheriff. Miyamoto originally wanted to use characters from Popeye but he wasn’t able to get the license to use these characters until later and had to create his own. Most of Mario’s characteristics were designed in order to make him simpler to animate using as few pixels as possible. This is the reason that he wears a cap that hides his hair, thus saving the trouble of animating his hair for movement. Similarly, his moustache hides his face, removing the need for animating his mouth separately. His clothes, (a blue shirt and red overalls, originally) also serve the same purpose. He was given the ability to jump, to escape rolling barrels if need be.

Finally, a star was born and he was christened Mr. Video. By Miyamoto’s own admission, Mr. Video would have been lost to oblivion if his name was not changed to Mario. This name was supposedly adopted from that of Mario Segale, the landlord of the warehouse from which Nintendo operated in America. Interestingly, Mario was made Italian because of his moustache which was attributed to that nationality and he wasn't designed to represent an Italian man, per se.

Mario was supposed to be used by Miyamoto in every game he created from then on and different design teams added their own changes to the central character. Mario grew 3D when the graphics permitted it and his features were given more detail. He was given blue eyes and the colours of his overalls were reversed and golden buttons were added to it.

The first game that Mario starred in was Donkey Kong, in 1981, where he was a carpenter. Another interesting aspect of Mario is that he wasn’t always a plumber and neither does he stay a plumber in all his appearances. Depending on which of the large variety of games based on him that he appears in, he could be either a doctor or an archaeologist or something entirely different.

He got his own game with Mario Bros in 1983 where we saw him and his brother Luigi defeat creatures that appeared from the sewers in New York City. Released in 1985, Super Mario Bros saw the introduction of Princess Toadstool who was later known as Peach. She was the damsel in distress and the Mario brothers’ mission was to rescue her from Bowser. Peach is an extremely popular character as well, even if the only game where she leads is Super Princess Peach. GameDaily ranked her #48 in its list of Top 50 Hottest Game Babes and particularly lauded her makeover in Mario Strikers Charged (2007), where she ditches her gown for a tank top and shorts.

The next major milestone for the franchise was Super Mario World (1990) where Yoshi, the green dinosaur was introduced. He had the ability to eat most enemies and eating different coloured shells granted him special powers. Super Mario Kart was launched in 1992 and allowed the player to play with one of eight characters from the Mario series. In 2009, the series topped the Guinness list of top 50 console games of all time. 1993 saw the introduction of Wario, Mario’s nemesis, in the game Mario & Wario.

Here, the environment is manipulated with the character Wanda, a fairy who assists a blinded Mario in getting to Luigi in each level. The 1999 game Super Smash Bros. saw different characters from Nintendo franchises battle it out.

Subsequent editions of games featuring Mario improved the graphics and widened the scope for what Mario would be doing. He even featured in educational games like Mario Teaches Typing and Mario is Missing! (a geography based game). This year saw a revival of interest in this stalwart of the video game industry when Apple announced its partnership with Nintendo for the release of Super Mario Run. This only confirms that Mr. Miyamoto’s legacy will never really die and that the Italian plumber will remain the most recognizable figure in the history of video games.

Factsheet

  • Mario was originally named ‘Mr. Video’
  • Donkey Kong Junior is the only game where Mario is the antagonist
  • Princess Peach was originally called Pauline
  • Mario is not just a plumber, he is an archaeologist, doctor and whatever else the game may require of him
  • His nationality was attributed to his moustache, not the other way round
  • Mario has appeared in over 200 games
  • 240 million units featuring Mario have been sold
  • Mario’s full name is Mario Mario, confirmed by Miyamoto only in 2015

Published Date: Dec 17, 2016 12:05 pm | Updated Date: Dec 17, 2016 12:05 pm