(Written as of 2014)
For over 30 years, Super Mario has been the most recognizable and iconic video game character in existence. Since his first appearance in the video game Donkey Kong, where he was first known as Jump Man, he has gone on to appear in over 200 separate video games, and his respective franchise has become the best-selling in video game history, garnishing sales of over 210 million units of video game software worldwide. Spanning a plethora of different video game genres, Nintendo has gone on to star this character in various different sub-series, such as Mario Kart, Paper Mario, and the Mario RPG series as well as countless Mario sports games. Mario has been developed as a character and a franchise in countless different ways over the last 30 years, and its creator had a long road to go down in order to get to where it is today, and this article takes a look into the developmental journey of Nintendo’s ubiquitous plumber.
Nintendo employee Shigeru Miyamoto created the character, whilst he was developing the video game Donkey Kong with the assistant of long-time Nintendo veteran Gunpei Yokoi. His intention from the very beginning was to create a best-selling video games character for the company, as at this point, they had not long first entered the market, following the creation of Yokoi’s Game & Watch handheld console. Miyamoto’s initial intentions were to create a video game based around the Popeye license of all things, involving the three central characters of the show; Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl. Unfortunately, he was unable to acquire the permission to do so until 1982 when he and long-time colleague Genyo Takeda developed a Popeye game together, and so he decided to use a character that he named Jump Man, along with the villain Donkey Kong, and the damsel in distress named Pauline. Early in development, the idea was not for Mario to be able to jump at all but to have to navigate through a maze in order to reach Donkey Kong and rescue Pauline. Eventually, however, Miyamoto gave Jump Man the ability to jump, reasoning, “If you had a barrel rolling towards you, what would you do?”
Miyamoto originally envisioned the character as being called Mr. Video, and he planned to use him in every single game he worked on from that point onwards. The name of the iconic plumber first came along following a widespread story concerning Nintendo’s operations outside of Japan. The warehouse that Nintendo operated out of in America was leased out to them by landlord Mario Segale, whom one day confronted the then president of Nintendo of America Minoru Arawaka, demanding a sum of owed back rent. Eventually, after a particularly heated argument, Arawaka was able to convince Segale that they would pay him what they owed him and therefore opted to name the character Mario in honor of their landlord. Ever since, Miyamoto has gone on to admit that if they did indeed end up naming him Mr. Video, the likelihood would have been the character would have disappeared off the face of the Earth.
Miyamoto chose Mario’s profession to fit in with the tableau and visual design of his respective game. Since it looked a lot like a construction site of sorts, he opted to label Mario first as a carpenter. It was only after the character’s next appearance in the game Mario Bros that he would then later be known as a plumber; this was also decided to coincide with the fact that both games seemed to be set in primarily underground environments. Primarily, the character’s design draws on influence from the Western world, as indeed has most of Miyamoto’s additional works, such as Star Fox and Donkey Kong. His mustache is attributed to the fact that Miyamoto wanted to “put him in New York”, and designate his nationality as being Italian.
However, due to the graphical limitations of the time, Miyamoto had to strategize to make the character look as realistic and as detailed as possible. He decided to give the character a mustache, cap, and overalls to make his features stand as much as he could. Video game characters at that time were primarily portrayed as having round circular heads, and Miyamoto decided to give Mario a mustache as well as a big nose in order to make him stand out much more than the average video game character. The overalls would also make Mario’s arms stand out in 8 BIT graphics so that the character’s movement animation would be made much more apparent than anything seen in gaming beforehand.
The character was envisioned by Miyamoto as being a “go to” character, which could be put into a multitude of different titles as ever needed. Since Miyamoto never anticipated at this point, that the character would become even a fraction as popular as what he would become in the future, he was originally meant to be called Mr. Video to have him make cameo appearances in later years. But of course, history went a very different way with the advent of Super Mario Bros; first released back in 1985. Following the video game crash of 1983, which also almost ended the industry, the Nintendo Entertainment System was introduced to the market and was met with overwhelming success due to a multitude of clever marketing techniques on Nintendo’s part. Super Mario Bros was released two years following the release of the console and went on to become one of the best selling games on the console prior to the release of Super Mario Bros 3, which became the best selling game on the system.
Ever since, the character of Mario, as well as his respective franchise has gone on to develop into the powerhouse of gaming that it is today. These days, Mario is even more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, which Miyamoto certainly didn’t anticipate when first envisioning the character whilst developing Donkey Kong. Ever since, the character has become a massive pop culture icon, starring in comics, TV shows, and feature-length films as well as video games. Mario has also been recognized by the Guinness Book of Records with ten distinct entries; most prolific video games character, longest-running video games character, most successful video games hero, most critically acclaimed 3D platformer for Super Mario Galaxy, the best selling video game series of all time, the most prolific party game series for Mario Party, both the best selling non-bundles sports video game and best-selling video game cross-over for Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, best-selling racing game for Mario Kart Wii and earliest Nintendo game to feature competitive online multiplayer for Mario Kart DS. Indeed, Super Mario has had a long and varied shelf life with Nintendo, and even amidst the hard times that the company has gone through in recent years following the less than satisfactory sales figures of the Wii U, there’s no doubt that his legacy will be remembered forever amongst the gaming industry, as well as across the entire world.