When you hear the word plumber, what is your first thought? Man - this is going to cost a lot of money. Okay, maybe your second thought. That's right, Mario - the dimension hopping, princess saving, protector of the Mushroom Kingdom plumber. The Nintendo mascot has had a history filled with more, "what the - - - ?", moments than the last Tarantino film. This, however, has not swayed our admiration, or dollars, away from the happy little Italian. As loved as he may be, his history can be just as confusing as his name - Mario Mario. Join us as we comb through the 26-year history of the plumber without a plumber's crack. Mario, this is your life.
It all began in 1981, with a little game known as Donkey Kong. In Donkey Kong, the story was about a carpenter trying to save his girlfriend from a giant ape. A carpenter? I thought you said Mario was a plumber? Well, not initially. Originally, Mario was a carpenter, though his appearance has been the same since the beginning. In fact, his profession was not the only difference between his first appearance and the Mario we know today. His name was also different. For his first outing, he was known only as Jumpman. He was then renamed Mario and officially became a plumber for the sequel, Donkey Kong Jr.
After tussling with a giant monkey for two games, it was time for the plumber to shine. This time, he brought along his brother, Luigi. Mario Bros., originally titled Pipe Jump, was the first time that both of the brothers took on the original Koopa Troopas and anything else that happened to creep through the underground pipes. Even though the popularity of Mario Bros. steadily declined, that didn't prevent the brothers from going onto probably the most recognizable and best game for the original Nintendo Entertainment System.
1985 was the year and the game was Super Mario Bros., and that one game piqued the interest of many young and old "kids." To some, it sparked the true birth of the video game industry and solidified the NES as the staple in video game consoles. Super Mario Bros. followed the same concept as Donkey Kong - hero must save the kidnapped girl. This time, however, Mario and his brother Luigi reside in the Mushroom Kingdom and the evil King Koopa has kidnapped the Princess Toadstool. Because Super Mario Bros. was the most complex and longest game on the market at the time, it has been accredited and rewarded for being the most popular video game of all time.
How do you reward a popular game? Give it a sequel. That is exactly what Nintendo did, but not in the truest sense. In Japan, they released Super Mario Bros. 2, but it was deemed too difficult for an American audience. This, however, didn't stop the United States from receiving their own sequel. The U.S. version of Super Mario Bros. was such a hit, that it was rereleased in Japan as Super Mario Bros. USA, and the Japan exclusive of Super Mario Bros. 2 was rereleased as Super Mario Bros. The Lost Levels. The remarkable thing about the U.S. version of the title was the increased gameplay mechanics of the characters. Along with Mario, players could choose between Luigi, Princess Toadstool, and the stocky mushroom dude named Toad, which you saved several times in the original Super Mario Bros. Not only were the graphics advanced, but so were the character movements and abilities. Mario was the everyman, Luigi did a wiggle dance every time you jumped, causing him to jump higher than the rest, Princess Toadstool floated in the air, and Toad could pick up enemies and various items quicker than the others could.
Nintendo advanced our plumbers capabilities even further with the debut of Super Mario Bros. 3. This title was so high on the anticipation list that several gamers raced to the theaters to see the Fred Savage movie, The Wizard, which gave audiences their first look at the new Super Mario Bros. 3. The game introduced suits for Mario and his brother to wear like the frog suit that allowed better jumping and swimming, and the raccoon suit that allowed for brief moments of flight and floating. Super Mario Bros. 3 also marked the last title in the series on the NES, but this didn't mean the end of the brothers by any means.
For Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Mario and Luigi survived in the midst of the looming 3D graphics craze that was sweeping the industry. First up was the expansive, hefty dose of Mario in Super Mario World. Once again, King Koopa, now being called Bowser, had kidnapped Princess Toadstool, and it was up to the brothers to save her. The innovation behind Super Mario World was the accessible map, the new cape Mario could don reminiscent to the raccoon suit of Super Mario Bros. 3, and the introduction of the love-him or hate-him dinosaur, Yoshi. The popularity of Super Mario World and Yoshi grew wildly, thus warranting a sequel five years later, titled Super Mario World 2 Yoshi's Island, which focused on Yoshi as the lead character with a baby Mario riding his back. The adventure was to save baby Luigi from baby Bowser. Yoshi, of course, controlled differently, but this meant new capabilities for gamers, like throwing eggs, a ramming attack, and swallowing enemies to turn them into useable objects. Yoshi's Island became immensely popular and, to many gamers, the best platform game ever.
Mario made the jump to full 3D rendering with Super Mario 64. This entry into Mario's history didn't offer the same linear feel that previous installments had, but it did bring new graphics and a couple of new abilities for the pudgy plumber. For example, now Mario could do a triple jump attack and punch. These little additions to him rekindled the fires of adoration for Mario and crew. Again, the story involved Princess Toadstool, now called Princess Peach, being kidnapped by Bowser and Mario, once again, coming to her rescue. This would be the 64's only true Mario adventure, and it would be a while before Mario would return in his own adventure.
He did, however, pop up in a cameo role for his brother's first solo adventure called Luigi's Mansion for the GameCube. Then, shortly after being rescued by Luigi, Mario popped up in his own adventure titled Super Mario Sunshine. Arguably, the most thought out storyline in all of Mario's adventures, the story revolved around Mario being framed for a crime he didn't commit. Eventually, Princess Peach is kidnapped and it is up to Mario to not only clear his name, but to rescue his favorite damsel in distress. The twists and turns thrown at the player added a deeper sense of intrigue to the title. I can't give away the ending just in case you haven't played through it, but I can tell you that it is definitely worth the play-through.
Mario games haven't always been about saving the princess. In fact, Mario had several games that have further implemented his super stardom. Paper Mario has become as popular in gamers' hearts as the typical Mario adventure games. With its simplistic graphics and complex gameplay, this series has already sprouted a sequel for the Wii called Super Paper Mario. Other titles carrying the Mario crew have also found their way into the homes of gamers of all ages. Mario Kart, Mario Party, and the Mario sports games; heck, there is even a Dance Dance Revolution game centered around the Mario characters. Unfortunately, when you start to spread yourself too thin, you begin to slip in the guaranteed hit department, as was the growing case with a few of the sports related games. This is not to say those games were not genuinely entertaining; instead, a few of them felt rushed and, therefore, lost the interest of gamers rather quickly.
Mario and crew also had a few brief moments of success outside of video games, most notably, the Super Mario Bros. Super Show. The show mixed both live action and animation. To some, the animation was dated the first time it aired, but that didn't matter, it was Mario on the television in a way we had not seen him. To this day, any damage that the show might have caused with its inaccuracies and misrepresentations of the characters, the Super Mario Bros. movie surpasses the show tenfold. With Bob Hoskins and John Lequizamo as Mario and Luigi and Dennis Hopper as King Koopa, the movie didn't have a chance from the start.
Despite his misfortune outside of video games, Super Mario Galaxy is looming for sometime in 2007 and it should come as no surprise that Mario's star has never shined brighter. Already one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time, it is no wonder that everyone wants to be a plumber just like Mario. His history has been a long journey for any character to trek, and with no signs of ending his adventures anytime soon, we can expect Mario to continue to capture our imaginations, as well as our dollars, for many years to come. Who knows, maybe one day we might find out why his name is Mario Mario. Until then, dive into the Mushroom Kingdom, save the princess, and defeat Bowser once more, you'll be glad you did.