In 1983, Nintendo launched the Nintendo Entertainment System to arguably little to no fanfare. A rather nondescript, gray and black box that made pixels dance across the consumer’s television screen wasn’t exactly what people in those days were looking for to change the entertainment industry as we knew it. Hindsight, as they say, is damn near perfect, and we all now know the history of the big N and their incredible run of success in the years that followed. As 2010 draws to a close, we have an excellent opportunity, in a milestone year no less, to look back at the game and character that continues to shape the industry to this day, because 25 years ago, in distant 1985, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros. into the world.
We are getting ahead of ourselves, however, because what are, to most of the world, the first memories of the hopping, fireball tossing, pipe-diving hero, actually came several games into his illustrious career, and we’re going back to the very beginning. Our story takes us to even before the days of the NES, to when a struggling playing card company was attempting to gain a foothold in a floundering new entertainment industry. In an attempt to make a game using a known property, Nintendo intended to make a game starring the familiar faces of Popeye, Bluto, and Olive Oyl. Unable to acquire the license to the popular characters, Nintendo was left to create on their own. The result, in 1981, was Jumpman, though his name was not mentioned in the title of his first game because Nintendo instead chose to name it after the game’s main antagonist, Donkey Kong. Jumpman’s task was to climb multiple levels of his construction site to rescue Lady, known as Pauline in the US, from the great ape.
It was another two years until Jumpman made his second appearance. This time, however, things had changed. First, he had a new name, Mario, a brother, Luigi, and a change of career, now a plumber tasked with cleaning pesky creatures out of the sewer system. The game, like Donkey Kong, appeared in arcades as a standalone cabinet. Mario Bros, which has appeared as a mini-game in various titles, set the titular characters against each other in a contest to defeat the most pests. Mario, however, was just getting started.
In 1985, Mario, and video games, took a great leap forward. Super Mario Bros. was released, and with it Mario, suddenly transported from the sewers of New York to the magical Mushroom Kingdom, gained new abilities, a true nemesis, and a new damsel in distress to rescue. Again. And Again. And… well, you get it. Strangely enough, 1985 saw the release of another Mario-centric game, known as Wrecking Crew. Nowhere near the accomplishment of Super Mario Bros, Wrecking Crew, which saw Mario returned to his construction worker roots, has unsurprisingly remained generally unknown to the gaming public. (After all, who wants to play a game with a main character originally called Jumpman who can’t even jump?) Super Mario Bros. went on to become the most successful video game released until that point, and arguably held that distinction until its own sales were eclipsed by another generation-defining title, Nintendo’s own Wii Sports.
An awful lot has changed since that fateful day in 1985. One strange constant, however, is Mario and the quality of his games. Through a transition into 3D with a game that was arguably just as important as Super Mario Bros for a new generation and most recently into space with the Super Mario Galaxy series, we may not know what will come next for this Nintendo icon, but we certainly do know that it will be a great ride.