The History Of Super Mario Bros.

IGN Presents The History of Super Mario Bros.

It’s-a Mario! A look back at the greatest franchise in gaming.
by Rus McLaughlin

After just three years, Nintendo’s aggressive move into the North American videogame market proved a complete disaster. Out of three thousand units built, its much-hyped, last-ditch arcade shooter Radar Scope only sold one thousand units. The rest gathered dust in a warehouse.

Minoru Arakawa, the man who placed the bold Hail Mary order, begged his father-in-law (Nintendo CEO Hiroshi Yamauchi) to reprogram the useless Radar Scope machines into a new hit game. Anything less would be the nail in Nintendo of America’s coffin. Yamauchi agreed, handing the job to Gunpei Yokoi, creator of the successful Game & Watch series, and his young protege, Shigeru Miyamoto… a graphic artist who’d never designed a game in his life.

For the first time, story came first and gameplay was designed around it. Miyamoto based his plot on the Popeye love triangle, a license Nintendo pursued and lost. Very quickly, a giant gorilla subbed for Bluto while Popeye the Sailor-Man became Jumpman, a carpenter leaping barrels and scaling his construction site to rescue “Lady.” Miyamoto wanted a linear progression through different stages. His four-man programming team didn’t want to code the same game four times. It was foolish, like redesigning a chess board every five moves.

Under protest, they delivered a whopping 20k of code while Miyamoto composed the music and designed animated “intermissions” to advance the story. Everything had to stay within Radar Scope’s hardware limitations.

Chips and conversion kits were shipped to America in 1981. Arakawa, his wife and a few others changed two thousand Radar Scopes into Donkey Kongs, but Arakawa knew “Jumpman” wouldn’t cut it with the Americans. The character needed a real name. His breakthrough came when their landlord burst into a board meeting, demanding long-overdue rent.

The man’s name was Segali… Mario Segali.

Might As Well Jump
Twenty-six years later, Mario is the face of videogaming, more recognized around the world than Mickey Mouse. He’s appeared in two hundred games, collectively selling over two hundred million units. He’s launched consoles, salvaged entire industries and led the charge into true 3D gaming. Six out of the top-ten best selling videogames of all time are Mario games. Orchestras perform his theme music. Operas have been written. He’s gotten his own cartoon series and, unfortunately for those that saw it, a live-action film. He propelled his creator from staff artist to legend, honored in America, knighted in France and in control of his own division at the third largest company in Japan.

Well before Mario became the official mascot of Nintendo, Donkey Kong’s runaway success – 60,000 cabinets eventually shipped – was attributed to its star: Donkey Kong. Mario barely registered. For his next appearance in 1983’s Donkey Kong Jr., he took on the whip-wielding villain role.

Miyamoto intended Mario to be his go-to character, a slightly pudgy, silly-looking fellow who could easily fit into any game as needed. Accordingly, he designed his little carpenter mostly by creating elegant solutions to practical, 8-bit problems. Overalls made the arms more visible. A thick mustache showed up better than a mouth and accented the bulbous nose. Bright colors popped against dark backgrounds. He wore a hat so Miyamoto could skip designing a hairstyle – not his favorite task — and to save programmers from animating it during jumps.

…Except Mario’s occupation didn’t sit right. A colleague told Miyamoto that his little sprite looked more like a plumber.

Accordingly, Miyamoto put Mario in a crab/ turtle/ firefly-infested sewer for his third outing. Further inspiration came from Joust, an early co-op game where players worked together or, alternatively, wiped each other out. For Player two, Miyamoto adapted his catch-all character again, swapping Mario’s color palette to create an identical “brother.”

Stories range on how Luigi got his name, from a play on the Japanese word for “analogous” to a pizza parlor near Arakawa’s office called Mario & Luigi’s. Regardless, the twins went to work clearing underground pipes of vermin in Mario Bros., their first headlining game. Players leapt across platforms, stunned critters by punching the ground underneath them, and booted them off-screen to reap their reward in gold coins.

Mario Bros. was only modestly successful. Arcade titles typically had a quick shelf life anyway, and Yamauchi wanted to move Nintendo into the more lucrative home gaming market… just as it completely imploded in the U.S.

Japan remained unaffected. By 1985, the Nintendo Famicom overcame its rocky, recall-stained launch to dominate Asia. However, after several false starts — including a scrubbed deal with Atari — North America remained elusive. Through it all, Yamauchi held to a simple philosophy: games sold consoles, and the best game designer in the world worked for him. He gave Miyamoto his own division, R&D4, to create Famicom games in time for Nintendo’s next pass at the American market.

Mario and Luigi left both sewers and arcades behind. The Mushroom Kingdom was their home now, and the Famicom their new platform.

A Series of Tubes
Early videogames were largely designed by the programmers coding them. Shigeru Miyamoto, on the other hand, was an artist by training. His approach was an artistic one. The games he designed were so different from everything else simply because he didn’t really know what he wasn’t supposed to do. That left him free to explore, and exploration soon became a part of his games.

In Donkey Kong and Mario Bros., he created the first true platformers, and now he wanted to expand those concepts. Early on, Miyamoto played with the idea of making Mario and Luigi bigger and smaller as they gained and lost power-ups. Progression would be linear, but a little exploration and experimentation would reveal hidden items, rooms, and shortcuts. If you saw a blocked-off chamber, it was always somehow accessible once the right blocks were smashed.

Careful attention went into creating the Mushroom Kingdom’s challenges. Miyamoto wanted the player’s experience to be consistently good and constantly evolving… always interesting, never overwhelming. Enemies balanced threat with whimsy. “Mushroom traitor” Goombas and pokey turtle Koopa Troopas got their comeuppance when Mario (Luigi for Player two) stomped on them or punted empty Koopa shells in their direction. Power-ups turned him into giant-sized Super Mario, fireball-throwing Fire Mario, or made him temporarily invincible. Finding and collecting coins earned you extra lives and a ticking clock kept you moving. Pipes and warp zones let you skip ahead or skip entire levels. Miyamoto packed bright, colorful levels full of secrets to find, every inch stamped with his genius and set to Koji Kondo‘s immediately catchy tunes. Even the springy buzz of Mario’s jumps pleased the ear.

Miyamoto spent so much time perfecting Mario, he was forced to put R&D4’s other major project – The Legend of Zelda – on hold, and cede much of Wrecking Crew, a Famicom game staring the brothers Mario, to others.

In October 1985, the Famicom, by then redubbed the Nintendo Entertainment System, went to America in several forms — one of which included a R.O.B. the Robot-less Super Mario Bros. bundled in the box. Arakawa found exactly one unenthusiastic distributor willing to gamble a limited stock in their New York stores as a test run. Expectations weren’t high. That fad was over. Everyone expected the NES to sit on the shelves and stay there right through the upcoming holiday season.

Only it didn’t. Word got out about a system that blew Atari away, and the amazing game that came with it.

The plot wasn’t deep, but it became the basis for virtually every Mario game to follow. A highly unpleasant turtle-dragon named Bowser (a.k.a. King Koopa, a play on the turtle-demon kappas of Japanese folklore) kidnapped Princess Peach (a.k.a. Princess Toadstool) and conquered the Mushroom Kingdom. Tiny Mario leapt chasms, stomped foes, and traversed eight huge worlds rushing to her rescue. You couldn’t help but feel the little guy had a lot of heart.

All paths led to a fight with Bowser over a lava pit and eventually to Peach and a chaste reward… i.e. a nice “Thank You, Mario!” Anyway, heroes expected rewards. Mario was just a working stiff, doing what needed doing.

Super Mario Bros. was a sheer joy to play, and soon bore out Yamauchi’s philosophy. By February, tens of millions of Nintendo systems sold across the U.S., nearly every one representing a gamer playing Mario. Bundled or otherwise, a record forty million Super Mario games sold, ten million more than the nearest competitor even two decades later.

The videogame crash of 1983 was officially done, all thanks to a plucky little Italian plumber. A sequel was obvious, but that’s when things got tricky in every conceivable way.

In Another Castle
Super Mario Bros. became the last time Miyamoto could direct every last element of a game himself. His responsibilities overseeing R&D4 ate up his time, and severely limited his participation in the sequel. Out of necessity, his attention turned to finishing Zelda for the Famicom Disk System.

The FDS was essentially an external disk drive that plugged into the Famicom. The games were cheaper, the disks held five times the memory cartridges did, and the results impressed. Zelda was the first Famicom Disk game. Super Mario Bros. 2 would be next.

Visually, it looked exactly like its predecessor, but it was harder… much harder. Smooth level designs were replaced by insanely tough obstacle courses, occasionally requiring a split-second bounce off a Koopa to clear extra-wide gaps. Latter stages were cannibalized from “Vs. Super Mario Bros.”, a largely redesigned arcade port of the original. Adding to frustrations, some mushrooms were poisonous, some warps sent you back instead of forward, and inclement weather regularly kicked Mario off-course in mid-chasm jump. Waiting at the end of every boss fight, Mario found a trussed-up Toad — Princess Peach’s mushroom retainers — grateful for rescue, “but our princess is in another castle!”

Nintendo decided Mario 2’s difficulty level exceeded North American skill level. Rather than risk the franchise’s popularity, they canceled its stateside release and looked for an alternative. They found one in Yume Kojo: Doki Doki Panic (Dream Factory: Heart-Pounding Panic), a game Miyamoto actually spent more time on than Mario 2.

It followed a platforming family of four — each with Mario-mirroring abilities — on a quest to rescue kidnapped kids in a strange fantasy land. If that wasn’t close enough, the playable characters corresponded nicely; Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad were built on Brother, Mama, Sister and Papa’s models. Luigi got his first distinctive character traits in the original Mario 2 (longer jumps, less traction), and now he got his first original character model as well. Building on Mama’s model made him noticeably taller than Mario, too.

Of course, Doki Doki Panic wasn’t a Mario game and it didn’t play like one; no hidden secrets, no Koopas, no Bowser, no Fire Mario, few power-ups of any kind, and strangest of all, no more stomping enemies. They (or various fruits and veggies) were hefted up and hurled into other enemies. Mario defeated final boss Wart by tossing fruit into its mouth, choking the giant frog, and the whole game turned out to be Mario’s dream.

American gamers enthusiastically jumped on the Doki Doki Super Mario Bros. 2, unaware of the switch. In retrospect, it became the series’ big aberration, but both Mario 2s found huge audiences through various ports. The Japanese version became The Lost Levels in later collections with the more problematic elements cleaned up. Doki Doki Mario 2 got a complete overhaul to launch the Game Boy Advance, making it feel more Mario while keeping the unusual gameplay intact.

By an interesting quirk of timing, Doki Doki Mario 2 originally released stateside in October 1988, the same month Japanese gamers were playing Super Mario Bros. 3. Americans wouldn’t get their first look at the newest Mario until the climactic final battle in a Fred Savage movie – The Wizard – two years later. And then it didn’t hit stores for another two months.

Miyamoto became intensely involved on Mario 3 from conception onward. He wanted new ways to power-up Mario, initially by changing him into a centaur and other mythical creatures, but the first sketch that really stuck showed Mario with a raccoon tail. New gameplay possibilities opened up, and Miyamoto went with them. Mario’s wardrobe further expanded with Frog and Tanooki suits, giving him flight, swimming, and stealth abilities. Miyamoto complemented those powers by creating ingenious levels around them, arguably some of the best levels ever designed for a videogame.

Dozens of new enemies like Boom Booms, Boos and Chain Chomps impeded a quest to rescue seven kings from Bowser’s seven bratty kids, the Koopalings. Naturally, this was merely a diversion so Bowser (now with a mane of red hair) could once again make off with Peach. Also new to the series, mini-games that bestowed power-ups, a handy map screen to track progress and collectable Warp Whistles (bearing a striking resemblance to the one Link used in Zelda II) for those wanting to skip to the end. Not that many did, outside of speed-runners. The incredible amounts of secrets to discover in every level encouraged a complete play-through, and then complete replays to see it all.

Super Mario Bros. 3 fast became the second best selling videogame of all time, and the franchise’s NES swan song. Super Mario Bros. 4 would materialize under a new name, on a new console, and with new competition.

Sibling Rivalries
Mario already counted a dozen mobile games to his name at this point, mostly ports under the Game & Watch imprint. But now Miyamoto’s old mentor, Gunpei Yokoi, had invented a new platform: the Game Boy. Yamauchi wanted their star character on it. Yokoi’s R&D1 team went to work on the first original mobile Mario game in 1989… And the first Mario without Shigeru Miyamoto.

Super Mario Land gave gamers twelve levels of platforming goodness, including a few shooting sequences with Mario piloting planes and submarines. The story took him away from the Mushroom Kingdom to Sarasaland and another princess – Daisy – who needed rescuing from the evil clutches of mysterious spaceman Tatanga. On his return home in Super Mario Land 2, he learned it had been conquered by a new adversary named Wario.

Yokoi’s take on Mario helped the Game Boy surpass the NES as Nintendo’s best selling platform, and the game itself edged past Mario 3’s sales figures. That same year, a re-org changed R&D4 into Nintendo EAD (Entertainment Analysis and Development), giving Miyamoto responsibility over nearly all game content for Nintendo’s next console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. He went right to work on a Mario launch title.

Unfortunately, unlike the NES launch, Nintendo wasn’t the only game in town anymore. The SEGA Genesis had a two-year jump, and a mascot of their own. Sonic the Hedgehog came off as the anti-Mario… faster, hipper, attitude-ready. SEGA wasn’t shy about drawing the distinction, either. Genesis did “what Nintendon’t.” In a personality contest between the two, Mario was just too humble and selfless to be a badass, and that deficiency worried Nintendo execs. It even prompted Miyamoto to publicly admit his game suffered from a rushed production schedule.

Super Mario World arrived in 1991 alongside the SNES, and sold twice as many copies as the first two Sonic games combined.

Miyamoto’s mea culpa aside, Mario in 16-bit looked better, sounded better, played better than any Mario game before and sold better than all but the first. Nothing compared to knocking gigantor Bullet Bills out of the sky with a simple tap, or discovering the secret path to Star Road. Spin attacks combined nicely with Fire Mario firepower. Some blocks spun when hit to create revolving doorways. Bowser returned, as a proper nemesis should, and gamers were introduced to a Mario’s best friend, Yoshi.

The R&D1 design staff wanted Mario to ride a dinosaur ever since Super Mario Bros., but now the technology made it possible. Yoshi came in one size and all colors, with different powers and huge appetites. Players loved the new addition to Mario’s growing roster, so much so that Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island became a Super Mario game were Mario wasn’t playable. The focus was entirely on Yoshi ferrying helpless Baby Mario to safety.

It wasn’t much of a shock. Mario had branched across genres and game types since his first Golf game in 1984, to the point that by the mid-90’s, his name was synonymous with videogames in general more than with the stellar platforming titles where he made his bones. Mario played basketball, tennis, pinball, checkers, Go Fish, raced motocross and caught big air snowboarding down mountains. He was part of the Dance Dance Revolution. Dr. Mario prescribed Tetris-like puzzles, but Mario and Luigi also appeared in Picross and Tetris-branded games. Luigi searched for a missing Mario in riffs on Carmen Sandiego, and Mario himself taught numbers, letters, typing, painting, and sweater knitting.

Some genres he made his own. Mario Kart made pick-up-and-play gaming out of a deceptively complex racer in 1992, made more addictive by random combat power-ups. Guns and missiles felt passé next to homing turtle shells and lightning bolts that shrunk the competition to crushable fun-size. Successive versions would bump the action up to four players, and make kart-racers practically mandatory for platformer characters on every gaming system.

As far as his home genre went, things weren’t going so well. Miyamoto wanted the next “true” Mario game to take things to a completely new level, but after five years of experimentation and frustration, he decided it couldn’t be done on the current system. Mario and Luigi’s last adventure on the SNES instead broke them into RPG gaming with Legend of the Seven Stars.

Miyamoto’s failed project, code-named Super Mario FX, was intended to be the first 3D platforming game.

Little Big Man
The moment Sony’s PlayStation hit the market in 1994, the SNES became dangerously behind the times. Nintendo upped the pace on the Ultra 64, its own fifth generation console, and Miyamoto took the opportunity to step forward with a few requests.

First-person shooters in 3D arenas were standard fare, but five years toiling on Mario FX taught Miyamoto that third-person gaming in a three dimensional environment came with a unique problem: where to put the camera. Moving around in a 3D space complicated everything. Linear stages could use a fixed camera, and early builds all supported the approach, but Miyamoto was adamant. Players wanted the freedom to explore, so they needed a camera they could manipulate where necessary. That required a different type of controller from the one Nintendo had stuck by for over a decade.

They were charting new territory, and Miyamoto made sure to ease players in. He introduced the whole camera concept by making it part of the story; your “seasoned cameraman” was a Lakitu on its flying cloud, filming your adventures instead of hurling bombs your way as per usual. Angles and camera modes were mapped to the new controller’s new buttons, while an analog stick opened up Mario’s range of movement. The normal repertoire of jumping ballooned with crouch jumps, triple jumps, wall jumps and backflips. More than that, Mario could now casually walk around instead of bat-outta-hell running everywhere, allowing him to tip-toe past some enemies. R&D4 tested everything on a flat, featureless grid by making the 3D Mario model chase and nab a yellow rabbit nicknamed MIPS, after the CPU chip. A dozen inspired levels were then crafted around Mario’s new moves and the plot’s “Easter egg hunt” conceit. Every detail was scrutinized. Linear sections funneled players to boss battles, but the emphasis fell on free-roaming discovery without any time limits. Puzzles elements took on greater significance as well. Mario wouldn’t just navigate his environment… he’d have to solve it, too.

Mario also found his voice when actor Charles Martinet crashed the last audition of the day. Told to do a plumber from Brooklyn talking to children about videogames, Martinet ignored his instinct to play it gruff and New Yawk, instead unleashing a babbling high-pitched ramble about how to “make a-pizza pie.” His tape was the only one sent to Nintendo.

A freshly renamed N64 finally debuted in 1996 with a scandalously non-bundled Mario game at its side. PlayStation had an eighteen month head start, but when players plugged in a Super Mario 64 cartridge and a fully rendered Mario announced “It’s a-me, Mario!” Sony’s advantage temporarily vanished. Nintendo’s powerhouse franchise was back. Miyamoto had delivered the most groundbreaking and technically advanced game of its time. Also one of the more purely joyous gaming experiences ever devised.

Drawn to Peach’s castle by the lure of free cake, Mario found bigger-than-ever Bowser had come calling first and stolen 105 of the castle’s 120 Power Stars. Mario 64 opened with a danger-free level to acclimatize gamers to a new kind of game, and then jumped right into the castle’s many paintings on a mission to recover the missing stars. It was a lot of work for cake, but a smooch on the nose from Peach clearly made up for it.

Every jump was punctuated by a “Yah-HOO!” This was a guy happy in his work, glad to be of service. And why not? Every task, from man-cannoning into Whomp’s Fortress to grabbing Bowser by the tail and throwing him into bombs felt great to pull off, and every new world led to a uniquely interesting challenge. Hats were the new power-ups, allowing flight and various levels of invulnerability. In fact, Mario doffed his cap on a regular basis throughout the game; Miyamoto had finally broken down and given his plumber a ‘do. The dev team even managed to smuggle MIPS the bunny into the final build as both a Star objective and a boon to speed-runners looking for glitches to exploit.

Super Mario 64 remains one of the most acclaimed videogames of all time, setting down standards every 3D platformer that followed still adheres to. A planned sequel would’ve added multiplayer, but Super Mario 64 2 never materialized past a one-level demo.

Instead, a Mario 64 port to the DS eight years later made Luigi, Wario and Yoshi playable characters, and Mario added three more durable series to the N64’s legacy. Super Smash Bros. gave Nintendo an all-star arena fighter that stood up to the best in the genre. The Mario Party series put multiplayer party mini-games on the map, while Paper Mario brought plumber and friends back to RPGs with a nifty gimmick: 2D paper cutout avatars in a 3D world. Good as they were, none turned Nintendo’s fortunes. The Game Boy’s successor, Virtual Boy, tanked despite support from Mario Tennis and Mario Clash, and the decision to go with a pricier cartridge-based system over the PlayStation’s CD games put a huge dent in N64 sales. A Famicom Disk-like zip drive-inspired add-on, the 64DD, failed. Nintendo fell well behind Sony’s monster machine.

Its replacement, the GameCube, would be the first Nintendo console to launch without Mario.

Brothers in Arms
At Yamauchi’s direction, the GameCube was built to be the lowest-priced console on the market, and the easiest to develop for. His philosophy endured; he wanted a low entry point to the system, and a ton of fantastic games to match the PS1’s growing catalog. But as EAD’s director, Miyamoto habitually pushed weak projects back or cancelled them outright… or, in Mario’s case, both. He showed a tech demo in 2000 called Mario 128, involving that number of mini-Marios playing with gravity along a circular board, but quickly shelved it. Finished Mario and Luigi models ran around on his computer for years, but no game solidified around them.

Nintendo had plenty of muscle to fall back on. Luigi manned up for a Ghostbusters-lite romp through Luigi’s Mansion, the Cube’s top launch title. Super Smash Bros. Melee followed a month later. Mario had reached a place where multiple spin-offs branched off the main show, many featuring supporting characters and most becoming successful series in their own right. Developer Rare took gamers to Donkey Kong Country for years before Nintendo brought him back for DK vs. Mario and rhythm games. Yoshi got his own Island, while Wario brought his smarmy charms to Wario Land and WarioWare titles. New Paper Mario entries coexisted with Mario & Luigi RPGs (and villains like the awful Fawful, who had FURY!). Peach took time off from kidnappee duties to wield a magic parasol — and rescue the boys for once — in Super Princess Peach on the DS.

Nevertheless, the absence of a flagship Mario game hurt the GameCube. While concepts flew around EAD, a few excited programmers tinkered around with brand-new fluid physics code, building a rudimentary game involving a water pump. It took about three months before it dawned on anyone that this was meant to be the new Mario platformer.

And a radically different Mario platformer at that. Mario and Peach would take a break from the Mushroom Kingdom (goodbye Goombas) in a suburban setting, later changed to a tropical island resort. Instead of power-ups, action and puzzles revolved around a high-powered water cannon backpack. Ten candidates were narrowed down to FLUDD (Flash Liquidizer Ultra Dousing Device), not because it was anybody’s favorite, but it fit the setting best. The team set to brainstorming a full game’s worth of challenges for Mario and FLUDD to hose down.

As work continued, an era ended. Minoru Arakawa, the man who named Mario, retired after twenty-two years heading Nintendo of America. Then Hiroshi Yamauchi himself stepped down as president of Nintendo in May 2002, just a month shy of the new game’s release.

Super Mario Sunshine ended a six year wait for a successor to Mario 64. A few on the design team worried it drifted too far from type. Most believed it maintained a Mario style while expanding on the Mario gameplay.

Either way, Mario’s vacation on Isle Delfino ended before he ever got off the plane. His mysterious doppleganger had vandalized the island with a vile goop that naturally dispersed their 120 guardian Shine Sprites (Power Stars by another name). Swiftly convicted of the misdeeds, Mario was sentenced to literally clean the town up and recover the sprites. FLUDD was Mario’s only tool and weapon, and doubled as a jetpack to take the game vertical. While power-washing the island and various bosses, he unmasked the imposter: Bowser Jr. The little scamp framed Mario to “rescue” his “Mama Peach” from the evil plumber’s clutches, until a final battle at Bowser Sr.’s jacuzzi allowed Mario to rescue Peach for real. Again.

Mario Sunshine met near-universal praise on release, but after that honeymoon a few criticisms landed home. Some bemoaned a lack of the familiar… enemies, settings, power-ups. Some agreed the massive levels boasted superior design, but inferior variety. Mario Sunshine’s real fault was that it didn’t present a quantum leap in gaming the way Mario 64 did. Sales-wise, it did fairly well for a videogame and fairly poor for a Mario game, ending up second to Smash Bros. Melee on the GameCube. The Cube’s lackluster performance didn’t help.

Over the next few years, Mario added soccer to his repertoire and New Super Mario Bros., a spectacular reimagination of the original 2D side-scroller, showed up on the DS. Otherwise, ports of elder games and spinoffs carried the franchise’s weight. Mario 128 rumors surfaced periodically, but they were just smoke. That project had split years before. The mini-Marios turned into Pikmin, while the gravity mechanics became a core element for an entirely different Mario game… one that takes the little Italian plumber in an entirely new direction: up.

All In a Day’s Work
After two systems and ten years of struggling sales, Nintendo’s Wii is primed to recapture the American market, and Super Mario Galaxy is meant to seal the deal.

The song blissfully remains the same. Bowser hijacks Peach (and her entire castle) once again, this time stranding Mario in high orbit above the Mushroom Kingdom. From there, he must bounce between planetoids with various laws of gravity to obey and plenty of opposition to overcome.

For something that’s hoped to deliver that next quantum leap, it’s clearly got an eye on the past. The Mario 64 influences feel strong. MIPS is back, and he’s been breeding. Magic mushrooms and fire flowers return, and add super-jumping springs and ice flowers to the mix. Mystery boxes, aimable Mario cannons, airships, goombas… all back. Some power-ups are keyed to the six themes that propel forty galaxies; Mario gets a bee suit for the Honeybee Galaxy, and disguises himself as a handsome ladykiller Boo for a haunted galaxy. This is a game that knows where it’s coming from, and what it has to live up to.

Miyamoto’s goal was to create a Mario that capitalizes on the Wii’s broad casual gamer audience while satisfying core devotees. The answer, it turns out, was no different in 2007 than it was in 1985: consistently good, constantly evolving, always interesting, never overwhelming, tied together in a friendly and whimsical package. Every galaxy presents a different and thrilling challenge that can be tackled instinctively using the Wii’s control scheme and a unique brand of Mario physics. A flick of the Wiimote boots enemies, while the pointer scoops up and shoots star bits at enemies, or helps Mario traverse debris fields. The easy relationship of hand motion to on-screen response promises to deliver the first fully tactile Mario experience.

The first, but not the last. Already on tap for 2008 is Super Smash Bros. Brawl, a highly anticipated sequel that pits dozens of Nintendo characters against each other and Solid Snake, a gatecrasher from Konami’s Metal Gear series (his creator, Hideo Kojima is a long-avowed Mario fan). Old platform rivals share the marquee after six years of rumors in Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games. New baseball, Dr. Mario and Mario Party games are all lined up, as is Mario Kart Wii. There’s no end of Mario in site.

Nor should there be. The way people respond to Mario is a special thing. Vastly different cultures have embraced him as their own. He belongs to the Internet Generation weaned on the DS just as much as to the MTV Generation who stuck with him since vaulting that first barrel. In a cynical world of fully destructible environments and BFGs and blood soaked hack-n-slash, Mario’s the eternal optimist. Nothing is insurmountable. It can be done. You can have fun doing it.

Shigeru Miyamoto only ever set out to make simple a everyman avatar. Instead, he gave the world the first icon of modern gaming, video or otherwise. Simply put, Mario means Play. That’s not likely to ever change.


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