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Super Mario Bros Retro History

Super Mario Bros 3

It’s a me, Mario! This little, moustached Italian plumber has had a long journey. From Gorillas with barrels, to hotels to kart racing. We count down the history of Super Mario Bros Retro games.

Donkey Kong and Jump Man

Jump Man to the rescue! Pic courtesy of @mobygames

Starting his life in Donkey Kong on the NES back in 1981, our titular character was known as Jump man. Yes, a very minor name for our soon to become hero.

The little guy with the red dungarees and the red cap was not a plumber, but a carpenter. Why was he called Mario? Rumour has it that one of the Nintendo workers realised that Jump Man looked like the owner of their offices. This man was named Mario Segale. Mario Segale had literally burst into a Nintendo meeting, jumping in and demanding back rent payments. It was from that day they decided to change Jump Man to Mario.

The Mario Outfit

Mario Segale was an Italian, which is why our favourite Nintendo megastar has the Italian accent. But why the iconic outfit?

Simply, this was down to the graphic capabilities of the time. Giving blocky hair on the top of his head would not have looked good. It definitely would not have worked on the black background of Donkey Kong. Covering it up with a cap was a much easier option. The dungarees were there to ease the animation of the character, the arm colour of Mario had to be different to that of the overall, yet still show an arm… and that’s how Mario became Mario!

Mario Bros 1983

Picture of Mario bros courtesy of servo @Mobygames.com
Mario Bros on NES. Image courtesy of [email protected]

This was the first Mario game where the character we know and love arrived almost fully formed. He was a plumber and we even saw the introduction of his brother Luigi.

The gameplay however had not yet fully been conceived. Fireballs, green pipes were all there but Mario was on a single screen, bottom to top play field instead of the side scrolling platformer we know so well.

Mario Bros was not a hit in the West due to the video game crash of 1983. It was also not a Nintendo exclusive, being available on everything from Commodore 64 to Apple II.

Super Mario Bros 1985

Super Mario bros 1985 screenshot. Picture courtesy of Joshua J Stone@mobygames.com
This looks more like it! Picture courtesy of Joshua J [email protected]

Now we get down to the bones. This was the first visit to the Mushroom kingdom.

It was also the first time you had to rescue Princess Toadstool who had been kidnapped by the evil Bowser.

It also had all the hallmarks you expect from Mario. Theme tune, power ups, vanishing down green pipes, coins. This is the Mario blueprint.

Super Mario Bros 2 1988

Super Mario Bros 2 image courtesy of Nintendo eShop
Super Mario Bros 2

In the Mario canon, Super Mario Bros 2 probably has the most interesting history. The reason is that it is not really a Super Mario Bros retro game. Once upon a time it was called Doki Doki Panic.

Japan had it’s own version of Super Mario Bros 2. It was considered very tough and quite similar to the first installment. As such, Nintendo of America, with trepidation after the video game crash of 1983, were looking to release the NES. A tough, unenjoyable update was not what the title needed to buoy consumer interest. They decided it was just not worth releasing. At the same time, Nintendo Japan has been working on a platformer named Doki Doki panic for Fuji television. Someone had a bright idea.

All Nintendo did was simply replace the four players from Doki Doki Panic and insert the Super Mario Bros characters. Simple as that. This was the also the only game to feature Wart as the main boss. Mario uses vegetables and potions to defeat his foes in this game as opposed to the classic mushrooms and fire-flowers etc. You had the option to play as Princess Toadstool, Toad and Luigi too.

Super Mario Bros 3 1989

Super Mario Bros 3. Image courtesy of Unicorn Lynx@mobygames.com
Super Mario Bros 3. Image courtesy of Unicorn [email protected]

Back to the canon with another of the Princess Toadstool rescuing platformers. You play as Mario (or Mario & Luigi in 2 player) trying to find Bowser. You must return the Wands of Power that control each land to their Kings by defeating the evil Koopa Kids.

Super Mario Land 1989

Super Mario Land courtesy of the Nintendo eshop
Super Mario Land. Image courtesy of the Nintendo eshop

Developed as a launch title for the Gameboy, Super Mario Land was Mario’s first handheld outing. Although Super Mario Land on the Gameboy was released later than Super Mario Bros 2, the sprites for the Gameboy games always seemed to be a generation behind those of the consoles. The look of Mario wasn’t too different to that of Mario’s from Donkey Kong 1981 and Mario Bros 1983.

Click here to read our article on the strangest handheld consoles to square off against the Gameboy!

Super Mario World 1991

Super Mario World. Image courtesy of Joshua.J.Stone@mobygames.com
Super Mario World. Image courtesy of Joshua. J. Stone @mobygames.com

The first Mario on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and one of the launch titles.  This time it is not set in the Mushroom Kingdom, Mario is in Dinosaur Land. Dinosaur Land featured a scrollable world map and using the mighty power of the 16-bit revolution, Nintendo were able to create a rounded Mario with many different colours and details to enhance his look.

The best thing about Dinosaur land? Yoshi! Our green dino would get his first outing here and would become a firm favourite of the franchise and the Nintendo universe. 

Super Mario Kart 1992

Super Mario Kart screenshot. Image courtesy of Nintendo eshop.
Super Mario Kart. Image courtesy of Nintendo eshop.

This was the first ever Super Mario racing game and it made an immediate impact. It was released on the SNES and featured three different cups (Mushroom, Flower and Star, you could also unlock a fourth, called Special Cup), 3 different racing speeds (50cc, 100cc, 150cc) and three different modes (Battle, Grand Prix or Time Trial). Unlike most racing games of the time, it let go of realism and instead opted for silly, cartoon fun and games. Yet again the sprites had changed a lot.

Click here to read out Mario Kart 64 review!

Super Mario Land 2 Six Golden Coins

Super Mario Land 2. Screenshot courtesy of Nintendo eshop.
Super Mario Land 2. Screenshot courtesy of the Nintendo eshop.

Another Gameboy release, it is the sequel to Super Mario Land and also marks the debut of Mario’s self-proclaimed arch rival Wario, who would later become a recurring character in the Mario series as well as a protagonist in his own series. It is estimated to have sold 11 million copies worldwide.

Hotel Mario 1994

Hotel mario image courtesy of 80@mobygames.com
Hotel Mario. Image courtesy of [email protected]

Another odd backstory is Hotel Mario. A puzzle/platformer game released on the Philips CD-i. It was published by Royal Philips Electronics, which had acquired the rights to produce Mario and The Legend of Zelda games after initial plans to make a CD-ROM add-on for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System fell through. Released on April 5, 1994 in North America to little fanfare, the game had low sales partially due to a lack of interest in the CD-i system and received mainly poor reviews.

In the game’s plot, Bowser and his seven children have taken over the Mushroom Kingdom, where they’ve claimed seven Koopa hotels and have kidnapped the princess, hiding her in one of them. After Mario and Luigi are informed of this, they set out to rescue her. The general goal in each stage is to close all the doors on every floor (Yawn…). However, various enemies will interfere and reopen them at times. Elevators are needed to travel between floors. The first six hotels have ten stages, whilst the seventh has fifteen.

Super Mario RPG 1996

Super Mario RPG. Image courtesy of Unicorn Lynx@mobygames.com
Super Mario RPG. Image courtesy of Unicorn [email protected]

Breaking away from the typical 2D Mario side-scroller, Nintendo partnered with RPG legends SquareSoft for this installment. Squaresoft added a load of new characters in the biggest Mario storyline yet. This was the first of the Mario RPG games and was never released in Europe.

Super Mario 64 1996

Super Mario 64. Image courtesy of DreinIX@mobygames
Super Mario 64. Image courtesy of [email protected]

The N64 brought back the world’s favorite plumber. This time he had to battle Bowser again in all different landscapes as Bowser once again kidnaps Princess Peach.

One of the classic Super Mario Bros retro games, this time Bowser imprisons Peach and her citizens in over 100 star worlds that Mario must fight through to save. With each character saved, Mario unlocks new worlds and areas where he can receive hints, power-ups, and the gratitude from those he rescues. 

Dean Terry

Dean Terry is an expert in retro toys and games and runs the Retro Toys and Games Nostalgia facebook group.

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