What is about Mario that makes him one of the most enduring pop-culture characters of all time? We look back at the legacy of Nintendo’s Italian plumber & learn how he became a global sensation. The history of Mario Mario (his official name) goes all the way back to the golden age of arcade games, which kicked off with Space Invaders in 1978…
In a few short years, iconic titles like ‘Asteroids’ & ‘Pac-Man’ swept the globe, bringing in almost $8 billion in quarters in 1982. And into this brave new world of joysticks and high scores stepped a new challenger… Jumpman. This was the name originally given to the player character in 1981’s ‘Donkey Kong’, and the story goes that workers at the Nintendo warehouse thought he looked like their landlord Mario Segale. Creator Shigeru Miyamoto liked the name Mario & history was made. ‘Donkey Kong’ was a huge hit, a game with an actual story and the new-fangled ability to jump! The angry ape was supposed to be the star but it was the catapulting carpenter on a quest to rescue his girlfriend Pauline who stole the hearts of players. Mario had arrived! In the 1983 arcade game ‘Mario Bros’ he had his occupation changed to a plumber & it’s also the first appearance of his brother Luigi.
It was the next step which truly made Mario a household name – quite literally – as he launched on Nintendo’s home consoles in the 1985 classic game ‘Super Mario Bros’. Almost 40 years on, it remains one of the best-selling titles of all time and is instantly recognisable all over the world. The hum-along music, pixel-perfect platforming & addictive gameplay captured the attention of millions of players.
It also kicked off a massive multimedia franchise for Nintendo – with over 200 Mario games (and counting!) Suddenly, Mario was everywhere, and appeared in every genre. There are plenty of familiar examples like Mario Kart, Mario Golf, Mario Tennis, Doctor Mario but also some less conventional releases like ‘Mario Bombs Away’, where Mario was a soldier delivering explosives to his comrades in the jungles of Vietnam. Yes, really.
But in terms of sheer strangeness, nothing matches 1993’s big-budget live-action movie that starred Bob Hoskins & John Leguizamo as the titular plumbers in modern-day Brooklyn who hop into an alternate universe filled with humanoid dinosaurs, rocket launchers and a frankly insane performance from Dennis Hopper as the villainous King Koopa. It’s a fascinating cultural artefact, with some impressive production design and puppetry co-existing with emerging CGI effects and a dark and gritty feel which is certainly unique. If you’re in the mood for a dystopian take on the Mario universe, including a scene-stealing turn from Ireland’s own Fiona Shaw, then this one’s for you!
So, why has Mario been so iconic for so long? There are lots of reasons, including that genre-hopping versatility which saw him battle and brawl and race to save the day in dozens of different ways. For many, Mario is engrained into their childhoods, synonymous with the memories of getting their new console for Christmas, of playing multiplayer games with friends and family. And it doesn’t hurt that generally Mario has also been associated with top-notch titles. Fundamentally, it’s also because Mario is an everyman. A good guy trying to rescue the girl or help out some anthropomorphic fungi. He’s not an action hero , he’s just a simple plumber having cheerful adventures in bright and colourful worlds.
And that’s why we’re so excited about the new big screen outing – ‘The Super Mario Bros Movie’ from Minion creators Illumination. It’s set to bring all the wholesome adventures the character has had over the last 40 years to life like never before with actor Chris Pratt stepping into Marios shoes.
In the word’s of Mario himself… Lets-A-Go!
Words – Daniel Anderson
THE SUPER MARIO BROS is at Irish cinemas from April 5th