The video game industry has gone through an unimaginable number of changes over the years. Consoles have come along promising the next great thing, only to get fazed out when newer technology takes over. Many new series’ that excited people with their refreshingly different adventures have since become memories of a period long gone. People who were already a little aged for previous generations now view the hottest items as completely foreign objects. Similarly, those born into an era with internet based games and mass media consoles probably think previous groundbreakers like the Super Nintendo or PlayStation have very little to offer. Video gaming as a whole has evolved completely unburdened, and nothing ever stays the same.
Except for Mario. It doesn’t matter when you were born or what your preferences are. If you know anything about video games, you know about Mario. He is the single constant that anyone can view with familiarity. Many companies have tried to take Nintendo’s mascot down, most notably Sega with their blue hedgehog Sonic, but that failed so spectacularly, the best games featuring Sonic are now lead by Mario. This Italian plumber is unstoppable in every sense of the word. His flagship series Super Mario turned 30 this year and it’s impossible to imagine anything else getting more popular. To commemorate this event, Nintendo is releasing Super Mario Maker on September 11th, which allows players to make their own Mario levels based on his biggest games. Reviews show that this was a very, very smart decision.
Out of all the major franchises that currently exist, Mario is easily the best one to feature such a free-form game. This fits its entire premise to a tee. As we’ve seen since Mario first appeared in 1981’s Donkey Kong, his greatest asset is his almost completely blank persona. Nothing distinctive about him, like his mustache, ability to jump high, and Italian background, forces conformity to one genre. This has allowed him and his brand to appear everywhere across Nintendo’s long line of consoles. The Super Mario games are obviously platformers of the highest quality, but there’s also parties (Mario Party), kart racing (Mario Kart), all types of sports, educational games, and even RPGs. Super Smash Bros., though not officially featuring his name, is undeniably fronted by Mario himself. The guy has even gone to space! Several times! By keeping Mario’s design simple, Shigeru Miyamoto single-handedly delivered the keys to Nintendo’s future standing as an industry leader.
To separate themselves from their competition, Nintendo likes to market itself as a company for the masses. Their biggest identity is one of uniform accessibility. That is another big reason why Mario has continued to persevere well into this age where video games generate millions in revenue. Every Mario game features bright colors, extremely upbeat music, generally happy characters, and very easy to understand directions. A child can dump hours into a single session of Super Mario. A college student can become the star of a group gathering if they provide a copy of Mario Party or Mario Kart. A parent can bond with their kid over the plethora of Mario games that have multiplayer features and have an incredible time. Mario can just as easily introduce someone to the game industry as it can keep people entertained who are already deeply invested.
It’s also important to remember what the industry was like back when Mario really got going with Super Mario Bros. The North American video game crash in the early 1980’s seriously damaged public perception about what electronic entertainment could be. Most companies only wanted to deliver as much product as possible without caring about quality, and that significantly hurt consumers. This prompted the North American market to essentially turn away from this budding entertainment source. At the same time though, Nintendo was rising in Japan by proving that games needed care and deep knowledge to solidify a following. Super Mario Bros. wasn’t Famicom’s first game, but when the console came to a deeply disillusioned North America in 1987 as the Nintendo Entertainment System, it was the main launch title. With Mario leading the charge, Nintendo showed this market that video games are worthwhile, and international audiences quickly appointed this mustached face as the industry’s icon.
Not everything has gone well for Mario however. Even though the franchise is an unmitigated success with video games, other adaptations have faired poorly. One in particular was straight up awful. Of course, we’re talking about Super Mario Bros.: The Movie. To call the film terrible is actually giving it a compliment. It’s baffling how people could take a property so beloved, so accessible, and completely bastardize the whole thing. This is impressive for all the wrong reasons. Super Mario Bros.: The Movie was so poor, it actually turned Nintendo away from Hollywood ever since. Recently Miyamoto revealed that they might reconsider that stance, but with the long list of games getting film presence, it’s telling that they’re still not entirely on board. Mario is both their biggest success and the source of a huge, embarrassing misstep.
I have not owned every Mario game, but I have never not had one in my library. From my earliest days as a gamer with the NES, Mario has stayed a consistent figure. My family owned Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 2, and Super Mario Bros. 3, and I played all very regularly. My personal favorite was the third game and I have distinct memories of playing it with my brothers. With each new console came more experiences too. Mario Kart 64 and Super Mario 64 were definite highlights from that generation. Super Mario Sunshine was such a uniquely fun experience on the GameCube. Super Mario World completely entranced me on the Super Nintendo with it’s many detailed levels. I’m a fairly recent owner of Super Mario Galaxy as well (better late than never) and absolutely loved it. I’m confident that no matter what changes with the video game industry, I’ll still turn to a Mario game for an assured good time.
Super Mario Maker looks like the best celebration of Mario’s long history. It’s awesome that Nintendo is giving players the chance to make their own adventures after they put Mario in as many places as he can go. This franchise has been an astronomical success in nearly every capacity. With well over 30 years since his very first appearance, it’s tough to imagine where else Nintendo can possibly take this Italian plumber. Perhaps there’s a sport he has yet to play (Mario Pool? Mario Jai Alai?) or maybe they’ll just make him run for President. He already was a doctor and a referee, on top of being a plumber (they could make him do actual plumbing). Either way, there’s no doubt that Nintendo will find new avenues for Mario to branch out into, and you can bet it will be awesome.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor. Every Saturday afternoon you can read his classic video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.