This September 13, Super Mario Brothers turns 35 to be one of the most iconic characters not only in the video game industry, but also in entertainment and pop culture: a small man with a mustache, who also everyone believes has an Italian nationality.
Mario was, perhaps, the first character that people related to in a more emotional way beyond the fun of parlor games and video games. Mario was not a shooting machine, or just any driver or the image of a car. Mario was a person who presented himself to the world first as a carpenter, then a plumber, and lastly as an icon.
Mario first appeared in the Donkey Kong arcade game where Mario was not Mario, but JumpMan, a subject who had to jump over the obstacles that a gorilla dropped out there, all in order to rescue the one who was his girlfriend at that time, a certain Pauline. The rest is such fascinating history that we will summarize it here.
Nintendo’s arrival in the United States
It sounds very simple, but the story is fascinating and dates back to 1889. In this year, Mr. Fusajiro Yamauchi started selling Japanese playing cards called hanafuda. Over time, and in order not to get lost in the market, they began to create toys, then they were mechanical games and finally, parlor games. In Japan the latter were a success, but they had not managed to enter the international market, or in other words, the United States.
So Nintendo opened a headquarters in the American country where they sent thousands of machines with the Radar Scope game, which was very similar to Space Invaders, the most popular game in the arcade date. So the plan was not even launched.
What did you do? Well, in Japan they were putting together a new game in which Nintendo placed all its bets: He took those same machines that were already on American soil and changed the circuits to put a new game in them: Donkey Kong. Experts say that it was not only entertaining, but fun (no, it is not the same). And this detail, plus other elements such as the presence of JumpMan and the sound effects, have been the key to success.
This is where the name of Hirokazu Tanaka appears, who we make almost responsible for the success of Donkey Kong in the United States, and therefore, the success of Mario. For starters, Hirokazu Tanaka is a sound engineer and musician. He worked at Nintendo for 20 years beginning in 1980, and was hired exclusively to create sound effects in video games such as Space Firebird, Radar Scope, Metroid, Kid Icaurs, Duck Hunt, Hello Kitty World, and more. But the most legendary of all, of course, was Donkey kong.
Eventually, Donkey Kong became one of the most successful games with the arcade filled with its machines, cereals, animated series that were played on Saturday mornings … an icon. However, the success of Donkey Kong and the future of Mario, was about to not be.
In 1982, Nintendo hired attorney John Kirby to lead Universal’s legal battle against Nintendo over the name Donkey Kong … similar to King Kong. Kirby discovered that The word “Kong” in Japan was synonymous with “huge gorilla” and there were hundreds of businesses with the same name. In addition, their research found that no one linked the content of Donkey Kong to the legendary story of King Kong. So they won the case and Nintendo’s success continued to grow.
Curious fact: Lawyer John Kirby’s last name is closely related to the creation of Kirby, the round pink character which was created as a way of appreciating and paying tribute to him.
Famicom and Super Mario Brothers
But the success of arcade games was not the same in the homes of gamers. Atari was once the lord and master of video games. But they made so many in such a short time, and with minimal quality, that the industry by 1983 suffered a terrible crisis. Nobody wanted to play video games.
Gail Tilden became Vice President of Brand Management at Nintendo in 1983. A year earlier, Nintendo in Japan had launched the Famicom, a home console that was more similar to the experience of arcade machines, so it was a success in the Asian country … but it needed some changes to enter the fray in the West. And this is where we emphasize the importance of Tilden.
Tilden changed the color, changed the design a bit and the gray console was born with a little red (before it was red with white), resulting in the Nintendo Entertainment System or NES.
In 1985 it was launched in New York City and then nationwide. This same year, Super Mario Brothers came out, the most iconic game that was born from the idea of Mario “traveling worlds, completing missions, doing something more developed”, Pablo Corzo tells us from Push the Buttons.
Shigeru Miyamoto, creator of Mario
Shigeru Miyamoto created Mario. And that’s the only cover letter to consider him the linchpin of the industry so far. This man has not only JumpMan or Super Mario Brothers in his history, but also The Legend of Zelda and many other titles that continue to be important in 2020.
In recent years, Reports have emerged that Mario is not Italian, but Japanese. Miyamoto has explained on several occasions, that the image of Mario come from his love for the comics he read as a child, mostly from the West. Hence the big eyes and the huge nose.
And what about the name? To Americans, Mario sounded like an Italian name, and they think this is where the idea came from that his nationality was Italian… but to be fair, Mario also sounds like he could be Hispanic or Latino. You never know.
Another Mario detail that non-gamers surely don’t know about? In Donkey Kong, Mario was a carpenter. It was until 1985 with the Super Mario Brothers, who changed his profession (and girlfriend with Princess Peach) to become a plumber.
In 2017, Mario’s official profile in Japan said he was no longer a plumber, but a year later, he returned to his renowned profession …
A terrible adaptation of Super Mario Bros … and a new one on the way
Mario’s success left the arcade rooms and video games to reach the big screen … but in a negative way. In 1993, Mario starred in the Super Mario Bros. movie. This production was not only important because it was Mario, but because it was the first adaptation of a video game for the cinema and not for television. But it was a failure in criticism … really. Not even the presence of professional wrestler Lou Albano, Italian, could save the production.
Gamers and non-gamers, the media and everyone, tore the movie to pieces, and since then, the reality is that Nintendo has reaped a fair amount of failures in television productions. However, all possibilities must be exhausted.
A new Super Mario Brothers film is ready for 2022 that if you ask Pablo Corzo, it is not necessary … not even a little bit. But on the other side it might be the perfect opportunity to reverse the damage that occurred in 1993 and give Mario the movie that does justice to his importance in video games.
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