Super Mario – A Thirty Year Legacy

For 30 years, this cultural icon has been the mascot for gaming. Even now, with photo-realistic graphics and triple A games, Mario has a place in our hearts as the eminent image of video game pop culture. As we celebrate his 30 years of existence, this piece will look back at his history.

In 1981, the arcade is king of the video game market. A moustached plumber named Jumpman mistreats his pet ape Donkey Kong.  This monkey decides to steal Jumpman’s girlfriend Pauline, forcing Jumpman to rescue her.  This simplistic game involved climbing ladders and jumping over barrels, nothing compared to Super Mario Bros. which came out a year later.  Even so, it proved to be very popular.

In Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), Mario with his Brother Luigi has to save Princess Toadstool from King Koopa (later known as Bowser). He did this by jumping on platforms, killing Koopa’s minions and trying to beat eight worlds, each with a castle that would become progressively more difficult as time went on. This game was a resounding success for Nintendo, even partly revitalising the video game industry in the European and American markets.

“Even now, with photo-realistic graphics and triple A games, Mario has a place in our hearts as the eminent image of video game pop culture”

The sequel for Super Mario Bros was also extremely well received, even with its strange backstory. In Japan, the sequel was seen to be too difficult for the Western audience, so Nintendo reskinned a game called Yume K?j?: Doki Doki Panic, which is why, unlike the other games, different characters had different special abilities. Peach could float for example. Luigi could jump higher and is remembered fondly by many, even if it wasn’t the true sequel to the first Super Mario Bros!

When the Gameboy came out in 1989, Nintendo wanted a flagship game to define this handheld console. The developers came out with Super Mario Land, which unlike its predecessors had different themes depending on which world the player was in. There was an Egyptian land, a Castle land, and many others which made this game stand out on the Gameboy.  Like the NES before it, the Gameboy’s success was largely to do with this little Italian plumber.

After this, there were a few other excellent games such as Super Mario World (where instead of a linear game the player could explore different sections of a world map) and its sequel, where Yoshi the green dinosaur makes his first appearance. The most important advancement in this time was Super Mario 64. Once again Nintendo brought out Mario to sell their new console (the Nintendo 64) which brought him into the third dimension – it proved to be an excellent platformer and managed to survive the leap to 3D much better than his blue rival Sonic.

After Super Mario 64, Super Mario RPG brought role-playing elements to the franchise. This game is less strongly remembered than another Mario RPG called Paper Mario. This was particularly praised for the plot, music and graphics which were hugely different compared to other Mario games. Instead of being just a platformer, it also had battle sections similar to other JRPGs which gave turns to player and the enemy. He could pick up items to boost himself and his skill in battle was defined by statistics – more in common with a Pokémon game than a Mario one.

“Like the NES before it, the Gameboy’s success was largely to do with this little Italian plumber”

All his great success listed before is just his success before the Millennium. Super Mario Galaxy allowed Mario to play with gravity and jump between planets, extremely popular with the many families that owned a Nintendo Wii. Another notable title after the millennium was New Super Mario Bros Wii which allowed local cooperative play on levels up to four players. Although it was criticised for being poorly designed for multiple players it was still hugely successful.

Mario has had an extremely popular history, and well deserves being the mascot for the gaming industry. There are many games that haven’t been mentioned (including Mario’s stint at being a doctor in Dr. Mario, and his attendance of the Olympic games in 2008 and 2012 with Sonic), but the games given should show why Mario will continue to be in every gamer’s hearts.

Tim Spencer

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