Everyone, even people who have never played a video game, know tales of a little red plumber named Mario. He has been etched in the Mt. Rushmore of video game history and likely will be for the rest of time. But when was Mario born? In what game did he first appear? How has he evolved over time? These type of questions are what we hope to answer! So, lets get started.
The Beginning of Nintendo
In order to talk about one of Nintendo’s most famous heroes, we much first learn how Nintendo got started. Nintendo has not always been the video game power house that we know today. It actually started as a card shop in Japan in 1889. Located in Kyoto, Japan, Nintendo originally produced handmade Hanafuda cards, which are essentially playing cards. Founded by Fusajiro Yamauchi, his Hanafuda cards became so popular in Japan that he eventually couldn’t keep up with the demand and had to hire on some help, and Nintendo began to grow. Yamauchi continued to run Nintendo until 1929, when he passed the business on to his son-in-law Sekiryo Yamauchi (who took his wife’s last name). The company continued growing and expanding their card business, and eventually the business was handed down to Sekiryo Yamauchi’s grandson, Hiroshi Yamauchi.
Nintendo continued producing cards, and eventually became the only card company in Japan to produce plastic playing cards. In 1959, Nintendo made an agreement with Disney to allow their character’s to appear on Nintendo’s playing cards. This license proved to be very successful to Nintendo, who averaged 550,000+ packs of playing cards sold per year.
Fast-forward to 1972, this is when Nintendo first entered the video game market. Nintendo developed the light gun for the Magnavox Odyssey, the first home video game system, and the rest is history for Nintendo. They saw how lucrative the video game industry was becoming and begin to produce their own systems. From one of their first consoles, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) to their latest console, the Nintendo Switch, the companies foothold in the video game market has been nothing but commanding. In May 2017, Nintendo was estimated to be worth a whopping 32.8 billion USD.
How Mario was Born
It wasn’t until 1981 that the world first got a taste of their beloved hero. Nintendo’s latest game was a story of a man (Jumpman), his girlfriend (Pauline), and his pet monkey (Donkey Kong). The goal of this game was for Jumpman to rescue Pauline from the grasps of Donkey Kong by jumping over rolling barrels and climbing laters until he eventually saved her. The game turned out to be a huge success, despite Nintendo’s concern, and thus our beloved hero, Jumpman was born.
Wait, something seems off here. Who the heck is Jumpman? Jumpman was Mario’s original name, but that obviously didn’t last. The name Mario actually came from the landlord of one of Nintendo’s distribution warehouses, Mario Segale. As the story goes, Segale burst into the warehouse one day, demanding that Nintendo pay their rent because they were late on the payment. After some heated words back and forth, Nintendo promised that the rent would be payed soon and Segale left. In the meantime, some of the staff decided that Segale and Jumpman were quite similar, so they decided to give Jumpman the nickname Mario. As it turned out, everyone loved this nickname, so they decided to officially change the name of Jumpman to Mario, and thus our hero was truly born.
In 1983 we see the beginning of Mario’s evolution. Nintendo made the first game of what would be come a popular Mario series, Mario Bros. This is the first game where Mario and his brother Luigi are officially introduced. The brother duo must save New York City by fighting and defeating creatures that are coming out of the sewers. This game began the popular mechanic in Mario games of flipping enemies on their backs and kicking them away.
In 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Brothers, which would go on to become one of the most popular games in video game history. Released on the NES, this game introduced some of the most popular characters in the Mario series, and produced some of the most recognized music in video game history. The story is set in the famous Mushroom Kingdom, which is under attack by Koopa Troopers, whom are led by their King, Bowser. Bowser captures Princess Toadstool, who is the princess of the Mushroom Kingdom, and Mario journeys out to save the beloved princess and restore the Mushroom Kingdom to peace.
In 1988 Nintendo released a sequel to the Super Mario Brothers game, Super Mario Brothers 2. This game can be a little confusing because Nintendo released a game in Japan titled the same thing, but it is not the same game. For this article, we are going to stick to talking about the one released in the United States. In this game, the player can choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Toad or Princess Toadstool, each with their own personalized special abilities. The story takes place in a dream world, Subcon, where the characters try to defeat the main villain, an evil frog named Wart. There are 20 different levels in 7 worlds, with each world having it’s own theme.
Nintendo released their final game in the Mario Bros series in 1990, Super Mario Bros. 3. In this game, Mario and his brother Luigi have their work cut out for them. They must save Princess Toadstool, along with rulers for 7 different kingdoms, from the evil claws of Bowser and his children, known as Koopalings. This was the first Mario game to feature a world map and a range of new powerups, such as flying. This game is considered to be one of the best video games of all time and has sold over 17 million copies worldwide and was the last game in the Mario Bros. series.
In under a decade, Nintendo took their new found success in Mario and ran with it. He evolved from Jumpman, an overall wearing plumber that was trying to save his girlfriend, into a worldwide hero. However, the Mario Bros. series was just the beginning for this hero. In the course of the next 3 decades, the Mario series would continue to grow and become one of, if not the most recognizable names in video game history. We will be back later with part 2, where we will continue telling the story of everyones favorite plumber.
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