Super Mario has made his way into yet another generation of gaming with the launch of Super Mario Odyssey.
It’s hard to believe Mario’s adventure began before home consoles were even a thing and he’s still going strong today.
Seems like only yesterday that we first met Jumpman, since then every gamer has had some contact with Mario. Join us on our nostalgia joyride, as we look back into the history books of Mario.
The Formative Years: 1981 – 1983
When we first met Mario he was going by the rather crude title of Jumpman and having problems with a familiar ape. The arcade cabinet Donkey Kong was a huge hit for Nintendo and would provide the basis for Mario’s adventures for generations.
Donkey Kong had kidnapped Mario’s girlfriend, later named Pauline, and it was up to you to rescue her. Players had to dodge a series of barrels and climb to the top of the level where they could confront Donkey Kong.
— Brian's Man Cave (@Brians_Man_Cave) October 29, 2017
It features the first ever full narrative told in video game format and was the first to utilize the ‘Damsel in Distress’ plot. Donkey Kong was Mario’s pet monkey who had been locked in a cage and mistreated. When Donkey Kong escapes he kidnaps his owner’s girlfriend to exact his revenge.
By the sequel Donkey Kong Jr. our hero has been renamed Mario and has recaptured Donkey Kong. Mario actually features as the antagonist in this story as the player takes control of Donkey Kong’s son. As Kong Jr. you have to rescue your father from the evil clutches of his oppressor.
Mario wasn’t exactly painted in the best light in the first two games – a far cry from the hero we know and love today. Mario first became the hero in 1983 in Mario Bros. where he and his brother Luigi protected the city. Creatures later known as Koopa Troopers were rising out of the sewers and it was up to Mario and Luigi to send them back.
Home Console Wars
By 1985 Nintendo became a key player in the launch of the home console market with the Nintendo Entertainment System. Super Mario Bros. was a flagship title which saw Mario enter the sewers and arrive in the Mushroom Kingdom. The game was revolutionary and instrumental in the emergence of video game culture. It was miles ahead of where Atari was at, which at the time was the premier home gaming system.
Know your classics!
— PressQuit 💠 (@Press_Quit) November 1, 2017
The game was so good that it still holds up today and in 2005 IGN named it as the greatest game of all time. Mario had arrived in people’s homes. He was a game changer for Nintendo but they weren’t looking to stop there. Over the years, Mario would continue to play an integral part in the development of gaming.
The SNES Era
One of the most popular consoles Nintendo has ever put out, this year the SNES made a comeback as a retro gaming gadget. Following on from the huge success of their first console, Nintendo launched the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Although they may seem primitive by today’s standards the graphics were mind-blowing. It brought about a whole new generation of gaming, including one of the most popular Mario titles: Super Mario World.
Mario had also had success in the portable game market with the release of the Nintendo Gameboy. So developers had plenty of experience experimenting with gameplay mechanics and power-ups for the game. With the improved capabilities of the SNES, developers let loose in creating a new landmark for Mario.
— Wirral Code Club (@WirralCode) October 30, 2017
Super Mario World was the debut for series favourite Yoshi, who provided an entirely new aspect to gameplay. The game also introduced a fresh take on Mario boss battles that would endure to this day. Smaller Bowser clones who would later become some of his many children and an early rendering for King Boo appeared in the game. The battle provided different challenges and even the Bowser battle got an update, with the first appearance of his Koopa Clown Car.
The SNES also saw the launch of hugely popular spin-off game Mario Kart, which would go on to have a franchise of its own.
Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 is widely considered to be the spiritual father to all modern gaming; the first 3D Mario game. Super Mario took the advancements that had been pioneered throughout the years and improved on them tenfold. The introduction of a 3D world that players could explore with free reign was a concept thought near impossible.
Super Mario 64 wasn’t the only 3D game on the market at the time but as a platformer, it was certainly the most advanced. Other games that adopted a similar style were often buggy, with poor camera work and controls spoiling gameplay. Crash Bandicoot offered a very limited and structured 3D experience but nothing could compete with Mario.
— IGN (@IGN) October 22, 2017
A lot of the mechanics pioneered in Super Mario 64 are still favored in modern games. The game was hugely critically acclaimed; the Mario team had continued to push the boundaries of their genre and of gaming.
A Modern World
Mario has remained successful for since his inception but hasn’t quite endured the same highs in recent times. Despite the acclaim and commercial success, Super Mario Sunshine remains a console low point in many fans repertoires.
The ambitious inclusion of F.L.U.D.D resulted in the same buggy controls and camerawork that failed many of Super Mario 64’s competitors. The game did introduce popular series antagonists Petey Piranha and Bowser Jr. though, so it wasn’t a complete loss.
Mario continued to experiment with various mechanics from Paper Mario to Super Mario Galaxy. The team even reverted back to a traditional Mario layout for releases on the Wii and Wii U. Mario Kart Wii made great use of the consoles motion controllers and is a highlight of that particular franchise.
It’s not that there has been a bad Mario game recently, but with advancing technologies, Mario is struggling to have the same impact. Popular titles such as Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto and even FIFA offer new dynamics that Mario can’t.
This increase in the gaming market and the emergence of successful competitors have seen Mario struggle to keep apace in a modern world. Super Mario Maker was a new revolutionary departure allowing fans to create, play and upload their own Mario levels. And the arrival of Super Mario Odyssey suggests Nintendo have not run out of ideas and are still looking to challenge the current paradigm.
Mario’s journey has brought him here to Super Mario Odyssey, the latest game in the franchise released late last month. The new format is looking to combine successful elements of the various titles and take the genre to a new level. Only time will tell if it will earn its place among other venerated titles in the franchise, but it has already become the fastest-selling Mario game in Europe.
— Ethan (@E08Avenger) November 2, 2017
As for Mario, we hope that modern gamers can find a space on their shelves for the legendary plumber. No character has been more integral to the success of a company or indeed to the cause of gaming. The phenomenon that is video gaming today could not have existed without pioneers like Mario. No one blazed trails as enchanting or as long standing to the history of gaming than our favorite plucky little plumber.