Mario: the first 15 years
Mario is a veritable cornerstone of gaming culture, but like all the greats, he had to pay his dues
Nintendo’s diminutive Italian plumber is probably the most iconic video game character ever, but did you know, he was originally a carpenter and his name wasn’t even Mario? He wasn’t even the main character. HE WASN’T EVEN DATING PRINCESS PEACH.
Okay, technically he’s never actually dated Princess Peach because she’s a princess and he’s a blue collar tradesman, and that means he’s in the friendzone forever, even if he does make the best spaghetti and meatballs this side of the other castle. Besides, Bowser has confidence. Chicks dig confidence in a dude.
But how did this all get started?
Donkey Kong (1981)
This was when Mario wasn’t Mario, he was Jumpman, the amazing jumping man who jumped over a thousand barrels to save the damsel in distress. This was also before Peach, obviously, so this time, he was chasing after some girl named Pauline instead who’d managed to get herself captured by a giant gorilla. Already, Mario/Jumpman clearly had a type.
In a Freudian twist, Mario reappears in the sequel Donkey Kong Jr as the villain guarding the cage holding Donkey Kong, who reappears in the role of the victim. Or maybe that’s when he first starting experimenting with those magic mushrooms, and the whole thing is just some sort of zany hallucination as Mario struggles to deal with his hero issues and questionable taste in women. Maybe not.
BONUS FACT! Mario’s sprite was drawn in overalls to easily distinguish between his arms and body.
Mario Bros (1983)
Jumpman became Mario, and Mario got a brother, Luigi. Mario had also decided that woodwork business wasn’t for him anymore, and took up plumbing – a decision he must’ve instantly regretted when he discovered the entire New York water system was infested with monsters.
BONUS FACT! Mario’s surname in this version was, somewhat inexplicably, Mario, making him Mario Mario, and his brother Luigi Mario. Japanese game designers apparently aren’t so hot with Italian names.
Super Mario Bros (1985)
And Mario became a megastar. Not that it won him many points with Princess Peach (then Princess Toadstool), even though he slogged through the entire Mushroom Kingdom to rescue her from King Koopa. I guess that’s why his mushroom habit got so out of control.
BONUS FACT! The mushrooms in the game were based on the real life Amanita muscaria, a toxic mushroom that – when ingested – makes the eater feel as though they’re changing in size. The same mushroom was also the inspiration for Alice in Wonderland’s famous fungus.
The inevitable sequels followed with Super Mario Bros 2 in September 1988, and Super Mario Bros 3 the next month.
Super Mario World (1990)
With the advent of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Mario was invested with the powers of flight via a magical cape, as well as a dinosaur sidekick, Yoshi. The mushroom habit was clearly getting much worse.
BONUS FACT! Shortly after the game’s launch in America, DiC Entertainment released a Super Mario World animated TV series, although the setting was different to the game and some of the character’s names were changed.
Dr. Mario (1990)
This was a thing that actually happened.
Super Mario Kart (1992)
Tired of all that running and jumping around stuff, Mario got some wheels and took to the road with his buddies in pursuit of the elusive Blue Shell.
BONUS FACT! Super Mario Kart is credited with kickstarting the whole kart racing genre of video games.
Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)
Mario lost a bit of weight, and gained a whole new third dimension on a grand quest to retrieve the seven star pieces of Star Road, stolen by the Smithy Gang. He also rescues Princess Peach (again), because it just wouldn’t be the same without it.
BONUS FACT! The game was launched in Japan and several months later in North America, but Europeans had to wait another twelve years until it was re-released via the Wii Virtual Console in 2008.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
Released just months after Super Mario RPG on SNES, Super Mario 64 was one of the hot new Nintendo 64′s launch titles and went on to become the console’s best-seller with more than 11 million copies sold to date. The game starts off with an invitation for Mario to join Princess Peach for cake, but things (predictably, perhaps) don’t quite work out that way.