Retrospectacles: Mario (a.k.a. plumber by day, stoner by… well pretty much 24/7)

Itsa me, Mario!
What happens when you combine a moustache, a plumber, a national stereotype and 50kg of class A drugs? Only the video game industry’s most beloved mascot of course! From his “Itsa me!” to his famous red and blue outfit you might think you know pretty much all you need to about Mario. In fact you probably know more than you actually ‘need’ to about him. But wouldn’t you enjoy hearing the story of Mario’s rise to fame fighting against the rest of the world whilst battling his inner demons of acute drug addiction? Promise it’s a better story than ‘Never Say Never’…

It wasn’t always celebrity status and hallucinogenic mushrooms for Mr. Mario. There was a time where nobody new who he was, what he was and certainly couldn’t have predicted what he would become. The year was 1981 (the year has also been other numbers in the past but for now we’ll run with this). A former playing card company called Nintendo has recently entered the elctronic games market with limited success. A relative unknown named Shigeru Miyamoto sits down at his desk in Kyoto and thinks: “what do people want?” (obviously he’d think it in Japanese but last time I tried to speak that people called me a ‘racist’… pfft). He’d recently been requested by the fledgling ‘Nintendo of America’ subsiduary to save their sorry selves from the disastarous sales of recent arcade games. They wanted something that would be successful enough to compete with killer titles such as Pac-Man and Space Invaders. “Pac-Invaders?” he thought. “Space-Man?” he considered. “Popeye?” the only logical conclusion of course…

Yes. Mario is Popeye. Except instead of spinach he is addicted to slightly more unlawful substances. Or at least his concept was based off of Popeye: Miyamoto wanted a game involving the then popular comic strip character, his nemesis Bluto and damsel in distress Olive Oyl. What stood in his way? A mountain of copyright law and lawyers willing to sue the pants off of him. So instead he came up with the most original name in the history of the world. Ladies and gentlemen, we present to you… *drum roll*… JUMPMAN! He’s a man and he jumps by the way. His nemesis had the much more creative and far more recognisable name of ‘Donkey Kong’ which was apparently given after Miyamoto’s ‘pro translator skillz’ thought it meant ‘stupid ape’ in English. Legend goes that when he presented this name to Nintendo of America they took the piss out of him profusely but went ahead with it for a laugh. Also the damsel in distress was called Pauline but nobody cares about or remembers her so feel free to ignore this sentence.

Yes. Mario is Jumpman. Except instead of a plumber, Jumpman was a carpenter and had no apparent addictions. He did commit cruelty to animals however which is why his pet ape (?!) decides to kidnap his beloved as revenge. His design was a matter of necessity: he needed a moustache because mouths were too difficult to draw with pixels. He needed a cap because hair was an mystery to animators of the time. And he needed to wear blue and red to contrast his arms against his body so the player could see them swing to and fro as he ran. Donkey Kong is widely atributed as the first ever ‘platforming’ game in which a player must jump between platforms (or in this case over barrels) to reach a target. It was a phenomenal success and launched Nintendo into the upper echelons of the video game market prompting Shigeru Miyamoto to receive a hefty pay rise and setting him on his destiny to create amzing franchises (more on him later). Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s cameo appearances in his own films, Miyamoto decided that he would shove Jumpman into all of his games as a signature of sorts never imagining that he would star in so many. As such he decided to give him the far more generic name of ‘Mr. Video’.

Yes. Mario is Mr. Video. Devoid of any drug or animal related flaws. Probably because he only lasted a few weeks until the American localisation teams got a hold of him. After a heated argument with their landlord, a man by the name of Mario Segale, they decided they would honour him by renaming the character ‘Mario’. And renaming Mr. Segale ‘Fuckface’.

Yes. Mario is Mario. Funnily enough. But he still wasn’t on a Winehouse-esque downward spiral and he still hadn’t found his inner calling in the world of work. That was, until the release of ‘Mario Bros.’ (the non-super variety) in 1983. Mario Bros. involved an infestation in a New York sewer. Great setting. And what good would a carpenter do in a sewer? So Mario decided to be a bit more useful and became a plumber instead (because Mario the Civil Engineer doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). This also began Mario’s illustrious career in animal cruelty, a trait inherited from Jumpman. In this game he kicks turtles and crabs. “Hello, RSPCA…” Miyamoto also decided at this stage that Mario was Italian-American because he had a moustache. Perfect sense.

Mario was fast becoming famous and like all good celebrities turned to drugs for inspiration. With the video game crash of 1983 (story for another time perhaps) Nintendo was left as the sole competitor in the market. In an effort to fill the void created by the collapse of Atari, they released a home console by the name of Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. And what better game to help boost sales of the console than one featuring their new mascot! Unfortunately due to his new found fame Mario had aquired enough drugs to rival Charlie ‘Bi-Winning’ Sheen. As such the entire game is set in the ‘Mushroom Kingdom’ (Mario’s apartment) where he must rescue ‘Princess Toadstool’ (a pack of bacon) by crushing ‘Koopas’ (his pet turtle) and eating mushrooms to gain additional powers (self-explanatory). It was an amazing game however, far better than anything prior to it. As such it became the best selling video game of all time (selling more than 40 million copies worldwide) for over 2 decades until it was overtaken by Nintendo’s own Wii Sports in 2009. Impressive does not do it justice.

The story doesn’t stop there however. At the time of his release another company was also developing its own attempt at the home console market. Sega would release the ‘Sega Master System’ with their famous character serving as mascot…. Alex Kidd of course. No idea? Exactly why the Master System was not particularly successful and why they came up with a far superior mascot in 1991 with Sonic the Hedgehog being packaged with the Sega Mega Drive (a.k.a. Genesis in the US). A war had begun. Sega marketed Sonic to appear cooler than Mario and stated “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”. But as we all know the cool kids are the ones that do drugs (hence why I get high on the caffiene each day with a coffee) so Mario eventually reigned supreme. Sonic still to this day is considered Mario’s primary rival even years after Sega’s withdrawl from the home console market.

Mario became a household name and has since served as Nintendo’s mascot and as the mascot of the video game industry as a whole (although Angry German Kid serves as a good representation too). With graphical improvements came a more refined appearance. The improvements brought with Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo and more so ith the shift to 3D in Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64 in 1996, Mario gained his distinctive bulbous nose, M symbol in the cap and white gloves. He also finally acquired a mouth to go with his moustache at some stage allowing him to spout only the most stereotypical of Italian phrases. Mario has since gone on to appear in over 200 titles from driving to puzzle to sports to educational to good old fashioned platforming again. Maybe Mr. Sheen wasn’t so far off with his bi-winning comment…

Shigeru Miyamoto himself went on to create several more amazing franchises including The Legend of Zelda series and Star Fox. He has received numerous accolades as a result of his work regularly appearing at the top of lists of ‘greatest game creators ever’. And he’s still plugging away producing new and innovative Mario titles (Super Mario Galaxy for example).

Moral of the story: do drugs, become famous.

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