Rewind to 1981. Arcades were generating billionsof dollars in quarters, and Atari was selling home consoles.
At the time, the biggest hit in arcades was easily Pac-Man, but an almost century-old family business in Kyoto, Japan entirely broke the world by releasing its Donkey Kong arcade machine, a game that pits the titular ape against a heroic protagonist dubbed “Jumpman.” It wasn’t Nintendo’s first arcade game, but up until Donkey Kong, the Japanese company struggled to break into the American market.
Originally, Donkey Kong was going to be a licensed game staring Popeye the Sailorman and Bluto, but Nintendo wasn’t able to license the characters at the time (they would the following year though). Fortunately, Nintendo had just hired first-time video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto right out of college. Miyamoto did something that was unique to video games at the time – he started working on a story, and on characters. This led to Donkey Kong being an overnight success.
Jumpman was given a moustache, cap, and overalls were because of technical limitations with the number of colors an arcade machines could display, and how large the pixels were on the screen. It was easier to animate movements like running and jumping this way, and give the character a distinctive look on screen.
So who is Jumpman? One day in 1981, an angry landlord stormed into Nintendo’s offices in Tukwila, Washington, demanding they catch up on rent. He was a short, stocky Italian man with suspenders by the name of Mario Segale, and the rest is history.
This wasn’t the only time that Nintendo named a character after some random guy they worked with. Shortly after Donkey Kong’s massive success, Universal Studios sued the Japanese game company over similarities between Donkey Kong and King Kong. Nintendo’s lawyer for the case had a big round head, often wore a pink button up, and was named John Kirby. This is kind of a crazy story on its own, and at one point John had to bring up the fact that King Kong was clearly sexually attracted to the damsel in distress, while Donkey Kong was not.
Since then, Mario has been in over 250 games, from Super Mario Bros to Mario Kart to Mario Teaches Typing. The character nearly single-handedly saved the video game industry from the great crash in 1983, and is considered more recognizable than Mickey Mouse, worldwide.
Since 1995, Mario’s voice has been provided by the wonderful Charles Martinet, who showed up uninvited to an audition. If you ever want to see the definition of compassionate gratitude, look up interviews of this man – he’s on the same spectrum of wholesomeness as Fred Rogers, Jim Henson, and Bob Ross.
In 1993, Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo starred in the Super Mario Bros. live action movie. It was arguably bad, but Bob Hoskins had no idea the movie was about a video game series at the time of filming it.
Another live action iteration of Mario that is (shockingly) a licensed piece of Nintendo history is a porn called Super Hornio Bros, starring Ron Jeremy. Nintendo bought the rights to the adult film in order to prevent it from being sold… which of course brought more attention to it.
Most of the team who worked on the original Super Mario Bros game on the NES continue to play a role on games in the franchise today. Shigeru Miyamoto has been a producer on almost all Mario titles, and music composer Koji Kondo continues to compose catchy earworms. Talk about job security!
Speaking of the music, not only did Koji Kondo compose the music, he programmed it, along with all of the sound effects in the early games.
The entirety of the first Super Mario Bros game has 256 kilobits of program code and 64 kilobits of graphical data. Remember that when installing your 120 gig Call of Duty patches.