There have been a lot of gaming mascots throughout the years that most gamers would recognize. Show them a picture of Nathan Drake and they’ll know he’s from Uncharted. You can pretty much say the same thing for other characters or mascots like Chocobos, Master Chief, Solid Snake, and Agent 47. However, it’s a whole different story when it comes to the general public. There are only a few favored characters that both gamers and non-gamers know and appreciate because of their design, personality, and games. And who better to fit this description than gaming’s longest lasting mascot: Mario.
This Italian ex-plumber is not only Nintendo’s most iconic character but also one of the pioneers in the gaming industry. One look at his red cap with the oh-so-familiar “M” design and the average person could tell you who it belongs to. While he’s had his own fair share of games throughout the years, Nintendo has never really changed his overall style. It’s worth pointing out that his threads look extremely lackluster compared to other characters’ outrageous outfits. But perhaps it could be the simplicity of his red shirt, blue overalls, and a well-worn cap that makes him so popular?
Personality-wise, he’s quite the blank canvas. He hardly speaks, and when he does, it’s usually just garbled up gibberish. However, actions speak louder than words, and he proves it with his countless heroic acts. Mario is your run-of-the-mill hero who will go to great lengths to save the princess, despite not actually holding any rank as a knight or the like. He’s traversed through countless lands, kingdoms, and even galaxies with just a kiss on the cheek or some cake as thanks.
Looking back, video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto created the character back in 1981 as “Jumpman.” He owned Donkey Kong as a pet and mistreated the animal, which led to the ape kidnapping the Lady (who we now know as Pauline). Due to graphical limitations at the time, Nintendo had no choice but to give him his bright clothes to contrast the black background. A year later, Jumpman was renamed as Mario and debuted in Donkey Kong Junior, where he actually acted as the antagonist. It wasn’t until 1985 when he finally got his own game, Super Mario Bros. Interestingly enough, Mario was actually supposed to use a gun, but Nintendo eventually scrapped the idea for fireballs instead. Super Mario Bros. became a major hit on the NES, which led to both Nintendo and Mario’s successful career.
His following games played out as platformers where the player had to reach new areas by jumping, destroying blocks, and using mushrooms to grow stronger. The simplistic play style was, for the most part, easy to get into. The franchise was enticing for both kids and adults, who were engrossed with the gameplay and concept of rescuing the princess (who was always in another castle). Most of these tropes carried over to his other games, but Nintendo made a big jump with the series when they decided to go 3D in Super Mario 64 back in 1996.
Instead of a typical 2D sidescroller, the developers went all out by giving Mario free movement. His objectives were not quite as linear since players had more control over the way they wanted to play. Since moving to 3D became such a major hit, Nintendo decided to stick with it. Mario’s career continued to flourish with Nintendo’s innovative ideas for their games like Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario 3D world. In spite of this, they never abandoned his roots as they still made classic-inspired titles like New Super Mario Bros. That said, he has also appeared as a playable character in other Nintendo spin-off games like Super Smash Bros., Mario Kart, the Mario & Luigi series, and other various sports games.
As one of the founding faces of gaming, it’s little surprise that he has had such a big impact on the industry. Video games actually hit a brick wall back in 1983, widely known as “The Atari Crash.” The industry had fallen on such hard times that many retailers didn’t consider video games as viable products. All hope seemed lost for the gaming industry in the West, while things were actually doing much better in Japan because of the NES. Nintendo decided to take a chance and bring it over to America, which was originally met with tons of resistance. With persistence, innovation, and hard work, Nintendo managed to pull through with Mario spearheading their success.
In line with this, Mario also introduced a lot of new mechanics in the gaming scene. While stomping on enemies and collecting power-ups might seem a bit commonplace nowadays, Nintendo was one of the first developers to incorporate these ideas into their games. The Mario franchise also helped popularize the idea of in-game secrets via the Warp Zones which allowed players to skip major parts in the game. Not to mention that 2D platformers became all the rage after Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. back in the day. Popular titles like Mega Man, Sonic, Superfrog, and Bubsy the Bobcat can all arguably be considered Mario’s brainchildren. Even today, plenty of developers still look up to Mario as a source of inspiration.
Probably the most important thing Mario managed to teach his fans is that not everyone has to be a “hero” to save the day. Compared to other protagonists and characters, even from the Nintendo franchises, Mario isn’t much different than the average citizen. What sets him apart and makes him special is his strong desire of heroism (aside from all the awesome gameplay mechanics Nintendo manages to think of.) Mario has been in the industry for a long time, and it’s clear that he’s here to stay.