MAR10 – #NationalMarioDay
Today marks the celebration of one of the gaming world’s most iconic legends, MARIO the Italian Plumber.
March the 10th was chosen as the best day to celebrate this legend, as some of you may have already guessed, because of the fact that the abbreviated date, Mar 10, looks like the name Mario.
Personally I have always loved all things Nintendo ever since I first played Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and my fascination with the loveable plumber has continued ever since, although he wasn’t always a plumber and originally he wasn’t called Mario, either.
Nintendo, a playing card company founded in 1889, moved into the arcade video game arena in 1975 and sought to increase their share of the American market with the launch of the arcade game Radar Scope in 1980. However, although initial market feedback on the arcade cabinets was encouraging, things didn’t go as expected. Due to the logistical error in building the cabinets in Japan, rather than in the US, delays and higher prices due to shipping costs resulted in Radar Scope almost crippling the company. Rivals such as Taito, Namco and SEGA in Japan and Atari, Midway and Williams in the US were cornering the market with their successful and cheaper games. The introduction of horizontal scrolling in Defender (Williams, 1980) aged all other vertical ‘space shooter’ games overnight and for Nintendo of America, a fledgling company with very little clout in the gaming market at the time, it was disastrous.
Nintendo had to ‘send another game to replace the motherboards in each of the 2,000 unsold [Radar Scope] cabinets; that way, they would only have to be redecorated with the colours of the new title’ (Audureau, W., 2014). This saw the start of Nintendo’s ‘Popeye Project’ as the replacement game, designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, was originally based around the characters, Popeye, Olive Oyl and Bluto (as the brute dispatching the barrels at the hapless sailor). Nintendo hoped this new game would tie into the popularity of Popeye after the 1980 release of the film starring the late, great Robin Williams. Unfortunately, due to Nintendo failing to secure the rights to use the Popeye characters, Miyamoto and the team had to re-think the game and design it using their own unique characters.
After deciding to use the Radar Scope arcade cabinet’s ‘action’ button to allow the hero to jump over barrels, Popeye’s lead character in the game became known as ‘Jumpman’ alongside Pauline and Donkey Kong. But before it’s final release Jumpman became Mario (although at first Miyamoto wanted to name him ‘Mr Video’) and, as the game was set amidst a building under construction, Mario became a carpenter and the game Donkey Kong was finally realised on July 9th 1981.
It’s believed that Mario was named after the Italian-American landlord Mario Segale, who burst in on the Nintendo of America’s staff and demanded payment of rent. Mario was dressed in red overalls and blue jacket to contrast him against the black background and he was given a cap to wear so that Miyamoto wouldn’t have to animate his hair when he jumped.
With Mario’s re-introduction in the arcade game Mario Bros the scenery changed to include pipes and underground scenes so Miyamoto decided to change Mario’s profession to that of a plumber to fit in and, due to his moustache and appearance, he also became an Italian in America, in the New York sewers to be precise, with his plumber brother, Luigi.
I rarely had the money to go playing the arcade games when I was a kid but I did get to play both Donkey Kong and Mario Bros on the full arcade cabinets occasionally, which was an awesome experience although, as I mentioned earlier, it wasn’t until the release of the NES games Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario Bros 3 that I got seriously addicted to the loveable guy Mario. I would spend bloody ages blowing the end of the cartridges, sliding them back in, cursing when they wouldn’t load properly and repeating the ritual several more times before they eventually played. When they did finally work and you heard the game’s introduction music you were in Mario heaven for level, after level, after level…
I only ever played on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) at my friend’s houses as I never owned one at the time but, over the past few years, I have collected several of the retro games consoles and it’s so much fun learning to blow on the cartridges once more – although I must admit that a cotton bud does the trick much better!
As the consoles and handhelds changed so did the games but Mario was always around to entertain us, in fact he had now become super. When Nintendo released the amazing Gameboy handheld console in 1989 Mario appeared in Super Mario Land and the coins, pipes and power-ups continued as well as the missing/captured lady-friend who was now known as Princess Daisy. The game was a huge success once more and saw several sequels on the Gameboy including Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992) and Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1994).
The introduction of the Nintendo DS handheld console in 2004 saw the return of Mario and Luigi in Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story and two Mario vs Donkey Kong mini games as well as the long awaited platform return in New Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario’s return to handheld gaming took a stark change with the release of Super Mario 3D Land in 2011 on the new Nintendo 3DS handheld console which gave us an awesome three-dimensional view of his world. With every incarnation of Nintendo’s gaming systems, whether handheld or console based, Mario has been there like a rock, whether he’s been playing tennis, basketball, baseball or golf he has entertained us no end.
Although, aside from his platform games and the ones I’ve just mentioned, the one game genre that has really had us all gripped is the Mariokart racing games which have been available on all of Nintendo’s platforms since the original SNES version called Super Mario Kart which debuted in 1992. It included a host of Mario’s friends and enemies and brought so much fun and humour to boring old car racing games with oil slicks and bananas flying everywhere (better that than the barrels Donkey Kong used to chuck).
Despite his awesome driving skills it’s a good job that Mario is a plumber because he’d never make it as a bodyguard judging by the amount of times that the Princess keeps getting kidnapped, game after game, but that insignificant issue hasn’t stopped him from becoming Nintendo’s mascot and, most probably, the saviour of that once fledgling arcade gaming company.
Also check out this awesome infographic on ‘Making Mario’ from HalloweenCostumes.co.uk
So Happy National Mar10 Day everyone and may he reign supreme for many more years to come!
Audureau, W. (2014) ‘The History of Mario. 1981-1991: The Rise of an icon, from myths to reality’, Europe, Pix’n Love Publishing.