Nintendo is one of the biggest, most iconic and beloved video game companies in the world. They are almost single-handedly responsible for revitalizing the industry after the infamous crash of 1983. Although credited with bringing some of the most iconic video game characters to life such as Link, Seamus and Pikachu, their most popular character has proven to be an Italian plumber named Mario.
His story begins when Nintendo, which had its origins as a manufacturer of Japanese hanafuda cards, was looking to expand from their existing offerings of cards and toys into the growing arcade market. The president of Nintendo at the time, Hiroshi Yamauchi, asked one of the company’s artists, Shigeru Miyamoto, to design a game in one of their empty, failed cabinets. Miyamoto was not a programmer and instead approached the game more from a visual design and story standpoint rather than gameplay.
This game was called Donkey Kong and it debuted in 1981. It featured its namesake character as the antagonist, the gorilla Donkey Kong, who would go on to be an iconic video game character in his own right. The protagonist character that Miyamoto created for the game was Mario. The game, which was fun and something new, defined the platforming genre and went on to become a major success. Mario was not actually named in the game’s Japanese release and was actually called “Jumpman” in the English edition. The name Mario originated as a nickname for the character, given by Nintendo of America employees at the time after the name of their landlord.
The success of this game led Nintendo and Miyamoto to develop another arcade game featuring Mario two years later. This game was called Mario Bros. and included the first appearance of the character Luigi, Mario’s brother. After this, Mario moved onto Nintendo’s new home console system, known as the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in America and Family Computer (Famicom) in Japan, with Super Mario Bros. in 1985. This remains one of the most well-known, successful and iconic video games of all time. It served as the introduction to console gaming for many people and sparked a love of video games in an entire generation.
These early games spawned the Mario franchise, which consists of over 200 games for dozens of systems since the 1980s. These games continue to be both critically and commercially successful, with other noteworthy titles in the series including Super Mario World (Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES), 1990), Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64, 1996), Super Mario Galaxy (Nintendo Wii, 2007) and Super Mario Odyssey (Nintendo Switch, 2017). Mario games are the best-selling video games of all time.
Mario is not only Nintendo’s mascot and most popular character – he is also one of the most recognizable fictional characters worldwide. Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe even dressed as Mario during the closing ceremonies of the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. This should go to show the astounding impact Mario has had on Japanese popular culture and its image around the world.