It's-a me, Mario!
I'm-a Luigi, number one!
Created by Shigeru Miyamoto1, the Mario Brothers are two of the most influential videogame characters of all time. They have appeared in countless games and are famous all around the world. This was not only the breakthough of Miyamoto as a game designer but also enabled Nintendo to become one of the most successful game producers in the world.
Jumpman To The Rescue
Mario began his career in the arcade game Donkey Kong, released in 1981. With the nickname of Jumpman and a job as a carpenter, Mario risked his life to save Pauline, the damsel in distress, from the large ape Donkey Kong.
The game was a huge success in Japan, and turned over a very significant profit in the United States. Considering the arcade industry's impending crash in the US, the results were very surprising to Nintendo. Demand was so high, in fact, that very large amounts of arcade cabinets that were to go to Nintendo's other games were converted to Donkey Kong machines to satisfy demand. A legend was born...
After Mario abandoned his nickname and had a few more arcade adventures with Donkey Kong, his brother decided to enter the scene. From this time on whenever a two-player game of the Mario franchise was released, the first player would take on the role of Mario while the second player would be Luigi. Many people with older siblings still feel very attached to Luigi when they are adults. Mario and his brother, Luigi Mario, changed their profession to plumbers in the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros. Their mission was to defeat the crabs, turtles, bees, and freezies that emerged out of the pipes at the top of the stage. The game was a moderate success2.
According to the story the Mario Brothers are two Italian plumbers born and raised in Brooklyn, New York. Miyamoto once revealed that Mario's name is in homage to the landlord of Nintendo of America's (NoA) office in New York, Mario Segali, an Italian with a thick moustache. Luigi's name, however, was given simply because it was the most Italian name Miyamoto and his fellow designers could think of. The design of Mario and Luigi was a result of limitations of videogame hardware at the time. Hair was difficult to create, so they were each given a cap and overalls in a different color. Overalls were easier to create then a real outfit, and a moustache meant that they could avoid creating a full face. Therefore the Mario Brothers trademark looks were developed out of a need for simplicity. At the start Mario had red overalls and a blue shirt, while Luigi debuted in white overalls with a dark green shirt. Why their looks changed is unknown, but their new looks stuck. To date Mario is small, slightly fat and wears blue overalls, a red shirt and a red cap, while his brother Luigi is larger, slim and wears green clothes and a green cap. Mario is the older brother, Luigi is a few years younger. However, many pieces of Mario merchandise still feature the plumber in his original outfit.
In games Luigi can jump and remain in the air longer than Mario but he has less traction. However, Mario is known more for his bravery, while Luigi seems to be afraid of ghosts. Mario's love interest is Princess Peach Toadstool, and Luigi's is Princess Daisy from Sarassaland, a world explored and saved in Super Mario Land, for GameBoy.
Mario's and Luigi's true break into superstardom was in 1985, when Super Mario Bros was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console. This is the first story set in the Mushroom Kingdom, which features in most of the games. Mario and Luigi have to defend the kingdom against the evil Koopa Tribe and free Princess Peach Toadstool. This would soon become a common theme for the brothers. The game also introduces most of the enemies and items which are seen throughout the franchise.
Super Mario Bros almost did not make it to the US. Nintendo was very wary of the US market after witnessing the videogame crash in 1983 and did not want to commit fully to producing games for the US market3. As a test, they decided to debut the system in New York close to Christmas. The launch was a huge success and caused a system shortage for months.
The Mushroom Kingdom
Most of the Mario games are set in what is known as the Mushroom Kingdom. It usually looks a little different on all available maps, but generally consists of various regions with different environments. Mario and Luigi have to travel through these regions on their adventures. There are lush grasslands, de(s)serts, icy mountains, dark forests and a deep sea. Every region has unique opponents which reappear in many games.
Below the Mushroom Kingdom there lies a vast number of caves, some full of shining crystals while others are filled with lava. The plumbers can descend to these caves through large pipes, which can be found all over the Mushroom Kingdom. Pipes also lead to short cuts, bonus items and hidden areas in the game.
The last level of any game is usually Bowser's Castle, a monstrosity of stone with pools of lava and many traps.
Princess Peach Toadstool lives in a castle in the Mushroom Kingdom together with many little mushroom people. She reigns over the Mushroom Kingdom together with her father, the Mushroom King, who never makes an actual appearance in the games. Peach's appearence is that of a very stereotypical princess: long blonde hair, a long dress in two shades of pink and a tiny crown on her head. In most Mario games Peach is the damsel in distress, while she is a playable character in some spin-offs.
Toad is Peach's steward and loyal servant who often helps Mario and Luigi in their adventures. He is a small mushroom who wears a white hat with red spots and a blue jacket. Toad is at the same time a particular character and member of a species of Toads, or mushroom people. Next to him other notable members of the Toads are Toadette and Toadsworth. Toad and some of his friends also apear in many spin-off games.
Yoshi is a sentient dinosaur with green back and white chest. Along his spine he has red scales and he wears orange shoes on his two hind legs while he also has two human hands. Yoshi and other members of the Yoshi species often serve as steeds for Mario and Luigi, but they also appear in their own spin-off games series and in other spin-off games. Yoshi hatches from a white and green egg and can eat enemies as well as float through the air for a short distance. Other Yoshis of different colors have different abilities like spitting fire balls or flying larger distances.
While Mario's first opponent was Donkey Kong and other villains appear every now and then, his main antagonist throughout the series is Bowser Koopa4, a large tortoise with spiny shell and red hair and eyebrows. Bowser frequently kidnaps princess Peach and tries to invade the Mushroom Kingdom as well as other worlds. He is usually the final boss in Mario games. He also tends to bring his whole family, the Koopalings, along to hinder Mario on the way. Apart from the Mario series, Bowser also appears in many spin-off games where he is often a playable character.
Kamek is a Magikoopa, a tortoise with magic abilities. He is an advisor and parental figure to Bowser and one of the main antagonists in many Mario games. His appearence is that of a tortoise wearing blue hooded robes and waving a magic wand in one hand. He is the main villain of the Yoshi games series. In some games Kammy Koopa also appears - she is a female Magikoopa dressed like a witch and riding a broom.
Lakitu is a Koopa who rides on a friendly cloud. In many games he is a villain who throws spiney eggs at Mario from above, while in spin-offs he often appears to be friendly. When Mario manages to make Lakitu drop out of his cloud he can fly with it himself for a short time .
The Koopa Troopas are tortoise soldiers with yellow skin and red or green shells. The most common kind walks on two legs, while Paratroopas have wings. When Mario stomps on them they retreat into their shells, which can be shot at other enemies or disappear if stomped on a second time.
Some special Koopas are for instance the Hammer Brothers, who wear helmets and throw hammers which can hit Mario if he doesn't take care. There are also Dry Bones, which are animated Koopa skelletons. If Mario stomps on them they become a pile of bones, but they will stand up again after a while.
Goombas are probably the most common enemies in Mario games. They are small, brown mushrooms with grumpy faces who walk back and forth on small feet. They have no arms or legs. The Goombas are natural inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom, and while many of them have sided with the Koopas some are still loyal to the king.
Piranha Plants are huge carnivorous plants which live in pipes. They have ordinary green leaves and a stem but also a huge red 'head' which mainly consists of a big mouth full of sharp teeth.
There are of course many other foes which Mario and Luigi have to overcome. Living fireballs hide in pools of lava, ancient mansions are haunted by ghosts, living bullets fly through the air, clockwork bombs walk back and forth restlessly before they explode, angry stone blocks fall from the ceilings of ancient castles before returning to their place, just to fall again and huge spiney pufferfish float in the ocean.
There are many items which appear throughout the Super Mario games series. Most of them can be found in blocks with a question mark '?' on them. It has to be noted that they are not random, but a block at a specific place in the game will always give you the same item, no matter how often you play the level.
Coins are the most common items in Super Mario games, they are not only hidden in '?' blocks but also just lie around on the ground to be collected or appear as reward for defeating a foe. Collecting 100 coins will earn the player an extra life.
In most games Mario and Luigi start out in their small form, but by collecting a red Super Mushroom they turn into Super Mario and Super Luigi. The most visible effect is that they get taller and put on their caps, but they also can be hit twice instead of once before they die and are more powerful. When they already have their Super form, it is usually a different item which appears in the same ?-box instead, like for instance a Fire Flower or Cape Feather. Picking up one item overwrites the effects of the item that has been picked up before. In some games however the Super Mushrooms and their effect are replaced by a health counter.
1-Up Mushrooms are green and give an extra life to Mario and Luigi, meaning that if they fail in completing a level they can try again from a checkpoint. They were the first extra life items in video gaming ever.
The Fire Flower lets Mario and Luigi shoot fireballs at their enemies and this way kill them from afar. While using a Fire Flower Mario and Luigi put on white shirts and caps.
Picking up a Super Star makes the character invincible to enemy attacks and environmental dangers for a short period of time, it also increases movement speed. At the same time the character blinks in rainbow colours.
There are various other items, some of which only appear in a single game. They give Mario and his friends various powers like flying or even transform them into different animals with different abilities.
Bigger Than Mickey
The Super Mario brothers are two of the most popular characters ever. Three cartoon shows were developed based on the games, as well as comic books, children's books, edutainment software (such as Mario Teaches Typing), toys, clothes, floor mats, bumper stickers, car dice, air fresheners, bobbleheads, pencil toppers, CD soundtracks, posters, hats, arm bands, and even a feature film. Super Mario Bros is largely considered to be the game that saved video games, after sales from the NES resurrected the American video game industry. In fact, at one point in the 1980s, more children recognised Mario and Luigi than Mickey Mouse. And with the amazing designers behind the series, it looks like the brothers will be heroes for a long, long time. And we'll be there to enjoy it.