This article is about the platforming video game series. For the flagship character of the series, see Mario. For other video games and media featuring the character Mario, see Mario (franchise). For other uses of "Super Mario", see Super Mario (disambiguation).
Super Mario(Japanese: スーパーマリオ,Hepburn: Sūpā Mario) is a series of platform video games created by Nintendo featuring their mascot, Mario. Alternatively called the Super Mario Bros.(スーパーマリオブラザーズ,Sūpā Mario Burazāzu) series or simply the Mario(マリオ) series, it is the central series of the greater Mario franchise. At least one Super Mario game has been released for every major Nintendo video game console and handheld.
The Super Mario games follow Mario's adventures, typically in the fictional Mushroom Kingdom with Mario as the player character. He is often joined by his brother, Luigi, and occasionally by other members of the Mario cast. As in platform video games, the player runs and jumps across platforms and atop enemies in themed levels. The games have simple plots, typically with Mario rescuing the kidnappedPrincess Peach from the primary antagonist, Bowser. The first title in the series, Super Mario Bros., released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, established gameplay concepts and elements prevalent in nearly every Super Mario game since. These include a multitude of power-ups and items that give Mario special magic powers such as fireball-throwing and size-changing into giant and miniature sizes.
The Super Mario series is part of the greater Mario franchise. This includes other video game genres as well as media such as film, television, printed media and merchandise. Over 310 million copies of games in the Super Mario series have been sold worldwide, as of September 2015, making it the best-selling video game series in history.
Super Mario Bros.
Main article: Super Mario Bros.
Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) and is the first side-scrolling 2D platform game to feature Mario. It established many core Mario gameplay concepts. The brothers Mario and Luigi live in the Mushroom Kingdom, where they must rescue Princess Toadstool (later called Princess Peach) from Bowser. The game consists of eight worlds, each with four sub-levels. Though the worlds differ in themes, the fourth sub-level is always a fortress or castle that ends with a fight against Bowser (or one of his minions disguised as him). The game was successful, and is one of the best-selling video games of all time.
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
Main article: Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is the sequel to the original Super Mario Bros. and was released as Super Mario Bros. 2 in Japan. It uses the original Super Mario Bros. engine with additions such as weather, character movements, and more complex levels, altogether yielding a much higher difficulty. The game follows the same style of level progression as Super Mario Bros., with eight initial worlds each with four levels. The last levels of the eight worlds is a lava-filled castle that culminates in a battle against Bowser. This sequel was not released outside Japan in this time period, because Nintendo of America did not want the Mario series to be known for frustrating difficulty, to be inaccessible to a steadily broadening market of American video game players, nor to be stylistically outdated by the time the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 could be eventually delivered to America. The game later debuted outside Japan in 1993, as "Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels" in the compilation titled Super Mario All-Stars for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES). The original Famicom version was released for the Wii's Virtual Console service in September 2007, listed as "Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels" outside Japan. A later Super Mario All-Stars Wii port, titled Super Mario All-Stars 25th Anniversary Edition, features the SNES gameplay and adds Wii Remote, Classic Controller, and GameCube controller compatibility.
Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA
Main article: Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2 was known in Japan as Super Mario USA. In it, Mario and his companions are out to stop the evil frog Wart in the Subcon dreamland. Based on a discarded prototype, the game was instead originally released as Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic in Japan, and was ultimately converted into a Mario game for the rest of the world as Super Mario Bros. 2, before being named in Japan as Super Mario USA as part of Super Mario All-Stars. One of the game's most defining aspects is the ability to pluck vegetables from the ground to throw at enemies. This is also the first Super Mario game to use a life meter, which allows Mario and the other playable characters to be hit up to four times before dying.
Super Mario Bros. 3
Main article: Super Mario Bros. 3
Super Mario Bros. 3 is divided into eight themed worlds, each with 6–10 levels and several bonus stages displayed as locations on a mapped overworld. These locations are not necessarily in a linear order, and the player is occasionally permitted to skip levels or play the game out of order. Completed levels cannot be replayed. A world's final level is a boss stage. The penultimate boss stage is a side-scrolling level atop an airship ("Doom Ship") with a fight against one of Bowser's seven Koopalings. The game introduced a diverse array of new power-ups, including flight as Raccoon Mario after grabbing the Super Leaf power-up . Bowser is again the final boss.
Super Mario Land
Main article: Super Mario Land
Super Mario Land was the first handheld Super Mario title after the Game & Watch port of Super Mario Bros., and was released for the Game Boy. As with other games in the series, it is a sidescrolling platformer in which Mario sets out to save Princess Daisy by defeating the a mysterious spaceman named Tatanga. The game consists of twelve levels split across four worlds.
Super Mario World
Main article: Super Mario World
Super Mario World was released for the SNES and consists of nine worlds displayed via a world map overworld. Most of the 72 levels have one exit, though some have hidden second exits. Mario's new moves include a spin jump and the rideable Yoshi who can eat enemies and either swallow or spit them out. Power-ups include the returning Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Super Star, and the new Cape Feather, based on Super Mario Bros. 3's Super Leaf, which lets Mario and Luigi fly with a cape.
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Main article: Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins introduces Mario's rival, Wario, who had taken over Mario's castle during the events of Super Mario Land and forces Mario to collect the six golden coins to reclaim his castle. While its predecessor is similar to the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Land 2 has more in common with later games. The player is no longer restricted to moving towards the right. A bell at each level's end activates a minigame, where the player can try to get extra lives. There are 32 levels, based on several themed worlds each with its own boss. Three power-ups return: the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Super Star. The game introduces the Carrot power-up, which gives Mario large rabbit ears that let him glide when falling for a limited time. Its story was continued in Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, which would retroactively become the first of a spin-off series, Wario Land.
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Main article: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island is considered by Miyamoto to be part of the Super Mario series with its sequels forming a spin-off series. In the game, Yoshi carries Baby Mario across Yoshi's Island to find Luigi. It is considered a prequel to all other Super Mario games, portraying the birth of the Mario Bros. The primary goal is delivering Baby Mario safely to the end of each level, where he is transferred to the back of another Yoshi, who does the same. When Yoshi is struck by an enemy, Baby Mario is ejected from Yoshi's back and floats around in a bubble while crying as a timer counts down until Yoshi pops the bubble. If the time counts down to zero, Baby Bowser's minions fly on screen and kidnap Baby Mario, resetting the level. The game has a childlike aesthetic, with environments stylised like crayon drawings. Yoshi's Island has received sequels that have spun off from the Super Mario series, including Yoshi's Story, Yoshi's Island DS, and Yoshi's New Island.
Super Mario 64
Main article: Super Mario 64
Super Mario 64 was the first 3D and open world game in the series, and a launch title for the Nintendo 64 home console. Each level, or course, is an enclosed environment where the player is free to explore in all directions without time limits. The player collects Power Stars that appear after completing tasks to unlock later courses and areas. The Nintendo 64's analog stick makes an extensive repertoire of precise movements in all directions possible. The game introduced moves such as punching, triple jumping, and using a Wing Cap to fly. It is the first Super Mario series game to feature Charles Martinet's voice acting for Mario. Mario must once again save Princess Peach from Bowser, and collect up to 120 Power Stars from the paintings and return them to her castle, the overworld. There are a total of 105 Power Stars in the paintings, with 15 hidden in the castle. The game's power-ups differ from previous games, instead as three different hats with temporary powers: the Wing Cap, allowing Mario to fly; the Metal Cap, turning him into metal; and the Vanish Cap, allowing him to walk through obstacles.
Super Mario Sunshine
Main article: Super Mario Sunshine
Super Mario Sunshine, the second 3D Super Mario title, was released on the GameCube. In it, Mario and Peach travel to Isle Delfino for a vacation when a Mario doppelgänger appears and vandalizes the entire island. Mario is sentenced to clean the island with a water-squirting accessory, F.L.U.D.D. Super Mario Sunshine shares many similar gameplay elements with its predecessor, Super Mario 64, but also introduces moves, like spinning while jumping, and other actions through the use of F.L.U.D.D. The game contains a number of independent levels, which can be reached from the hub, Delfino Plaza. Mario collects Shine Sprites by completing tasks in the levels, which unlock levels in Delfino Plaza by way of abilities and plot-related events.Sunshine introduces Bowser's only child, Bowser Jr. as an antagonist. Yoshi also appears again for Mario to ride in certain sections.
New Super Mario Bros.
Main article: New Super Mario Bros.
New Super Mario Bros. was released on the Nintendo DS. In it, Mario and Luigi set out to save Peach from Bowser Jr. The gameplay is 2D, but most of the characters and objects are 3D on two-dimensional backgrounds, resulting in a 2.5D effect. The game uses an overworld map similar to that of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Some levels have multiple exits. The classic power-ups (Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Super Star) return alongside the Mega Mushroom, Blue Shell, and Mini Mushroom. The Mega Mushroom briefly turns Mario (or Luigi) into an invincible giant that destroys everything in his path, the Blue Shell protects Mario from harm and allows him to slide (depending on speed), and the Mini Mushroom shrinks Mario to very small size, which allows him to fit through tight spaces.
Super Mario Galaxy
Main article: Super Mario Galaxy
Super Mario Galaxy is set in outer space, where Mario travels between "galaxies" to collect Power Stars, earned by completing quests or defeating enemies. Each galaxy contains a number of planets and other space objects for the player to explore. The game's physics system gives each celestial object its own gravitational force, which lets the player circumnavigate rounded or irregular planetoids by walking sideways or upside down. The player is usually able to jump from one independent object and fall towards another close object. Though the main gameplay and physics are in 3D, there are several points in the game in which the player's movements are restricted to a 2D axis. Several new power-ups appear, and many of these return in its sequel, Super Mario Galaxy 2.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Main article: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
In New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Peach is captured by Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings during her birthday party in her castle, and Mario, Luigi, and two Toads (blue and yellow) spring into action to save her. The game features 4-player co-op and new power-ups: the Propeller Mushroom, the Ice Flower, and the Penguin Suit. The Propeller Mushroom launches the player into the air by shaking the Wii Remote. The Penguin Suit enhances traction of sliding and speed and agility of swimming abilities, in addition to the ice ball projectiles that are provisioned by the Ice Flower. Players can ride Yoshi. Like in its predecessor, there are three hidden Star Coins to find in each level, which can be used to unlock movies with gameplay tips. It was released in November 2009 and was a commercial success and won several awards.
Super Mario Galaxy 2
Main article: Super Mario Galaxy 2
Super Mario Galaxy 2, the sequel to Super Mario Galaxy, was initially developed as an expansion pack to the latter, although was eventually developed into its own game, being released on May 23, 2010. It retains the basic premise of its predecessor, and includes items and power-ups. These include the Cloud Flower, which allows Mario to create platforms in mid-air, and the Rock Mushroom, which turns Mario into a rolling boulder. Also, Mario can ride Yoshi. It was released to widespread critical acclaim.
Super Mario 3D Land
Main article: Super Mario 3D Land
Super Mario 3D Land was released for the Nintendo 3DS in November and December 2011. It is the first original 3D Super Mario title on a handheld console. It was an attempt to translate the gameplay of the 2D games into a 3D environment, by simplifying the control scheme of the 3D games and using more linear levels. It also brought back several older gameplay features, including the Super Leaf power-up last seen in Super Mario Bros. 3. It was released to critical acclaim.
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Main article: New Super Mario Bros. 2
New Super Mario Bros. 2, the direct sequel of New Super Mario Bros., released in July and August 2012 for the Nintendo 3DS. The player, as Mario or Luigi, must save Princess Peach from Bowser and the Koopalings, with the game's secondary goal is to collect one million coins. Several gameplay elements were introduced to help achieve this goal, such as the Gold Flower, a rarer variant of the Fire Flower that turns items into coins.
New Super Mario Bros. U
Main article: New Super Mario Bros. U
New Super Mario Bros. U, the Wii U follow-up to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, was released on November 18, 2012 in North America. It plays similarly to the previous New Super Mario Bros. titles, and introduces both a Flying Squirrel suit that lets the players glide through the air, and asymmetric gameplay that allows the player holding the GamePad to influence the environment. On June 20, 2013, New Super Luigi U was released as a downloadable content (DLC) package for the game, featuring shorter but more difficult levels, starring Luigi. It was subsequently released as a standalone retail game on August 25, 2013 in North America. Unlike the downloadable content version, the standalone retail version of New Super Luigi U does not require having New Super Mario Bros. U to play it.
Super Mario 3D World
Main article: Super Mario 3D World
Super Mario 3D World, the sequel to Super Mario 3D Land, was released for the Wii U on November 22, 2013 in North America, and utilised the same gameplay mechanics. It introduced three power-ups, the Super Bell (which turns the characters into cats to attack and scale walls), Lucky Bell, and Double Cherry (which creates a clone of the character that collects it). Like Super Mario Bros. 2, it features Princess Peach and Toad as playable characters in addition to Mario and Luigi. Rosalina from Super Mario Galaxy is also unlocked later in the game.
Super Mario Maker
Main article: Super Mario Maker
Super Mario Maker is a video game creation tool released for the Wii U in September 2015 and allows players to create their own levels based on the gameplay and style of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U, as well as share their creations online. Despite being based on existing games, several gameplay mechanics were introduced for the game, with existing ones also available to be used together in new ways. A Nintendo 3DS version of the game, called Super Mario Maker for Nintendo 3DS, was released in December 2016. It features a few new pre-installed levels, but no online level sharing.
Super Mario Run
Main article: Super Mario Run
Super Mario Run is a side-scrolling and auto-scrolling video game released in December 2016 for the iOS platform and March 2017 for Android. It marks the first Mario game to be developed for mobile devices, and featured simplified controls, to the point that it was promoted as being playable with only one hand.
Super Mario Odyssey
Main article: Super Mario Odyssey
Released on October 27, 2017 for Nintendo Switch,Super Mario Odyssey is a return to the open-world "sandbox" 3D style of game last seen in Super Mario Sunshine. After Mario's cap is possessed by a spirit named Cappy, he is able to use it to temporarily "capture" enemies and objects and utilize their powers. Like previous sandbox 3D games, the game's worlds contain a large variety of objectives that can be achieved in a non-linear order before progressing. Super Mario Odyssey was critically acclaimed, with many describing it as one of the greatest games of all time.
Below is a table showing releases of Super Mario video games. It does not include games released on LCD systems.
THE izakaya has a name, but it cannot be published. Its location is a closely guarded secret. Entry is restricted to members—celebrities, media types and otaku, a particularly devoted kind of pop-culture geek. They do not come for the food, though it is excellent, nor for the drinks, which are well mixed. They come for Toru “Chokan” Hashimoto, the Nintendo alumnus who runs the place, and for his friends and their memories. On one wall is a sketch of Pikachu, a popular character in Pokémon games, drawn by its creators when they dropped by. On another is the original sheet music from a classic Nintendo game, a gift from the composer. Front and centre is a drawing of Mario signed by Shigeru Miyamoto.
Mario, an extravagantly mustachioed Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn, is Mr Miyamoto’s most famous creation. He is also the foundation of Nintendo’s fortunes; David Gibson, an analyst at Macquarie Securities, a broker, reckons that his antics account for a third of the company’s software sales over the past ten years. Games in which he features have sold over 500m copies worldwide. His image appears on everything: not just T-shirts and mugs, but solid gold pendants.
At the closing ceremony of the Rio Olympic games, Shinzo Abe, the prime minister of Japan, made his grand entrance dressed as the chubby plumber. Some of the worldwide audience was doubtless bemused. But most, surely, smiled the way that one must when something is both unexpected and utterly fitting. In what better guise could Japan have welcomed the world to Tokyo, venue of the next summer games, than as the world’s most recognised everyman? Eating at a Singapore restaurant soon after, Mr Abe was recognised by fellow diners. Look, they whispered to each other, it’s Mario.
“Donkey Kong”, the game in which Mario first appeared, was born of failure. In 1980 Nintendo, a toy company, was trying to break into America’s $8bn arcade-game market. But “Radar Scope”, the “Space Invaders” knock-off on which the company had pinned its hopes, was a flop. Hiroshi Yamauchi, Nintendo’s patriarch, gave Mr Miyamoto the job of making it into something better.
Yamauchi had hired Mr Miyamoto as the company’s first staff artist three years before. Mr Miyamoto had not been terribly keen on a corporate job. Nintendo had had no need for a staff artist. But Mr Miyamoto’s father arranged a meeting between them, and Yamauchi took a liking to the shaggy-haired young man with a taste for cartoons and bluegrass music.
The first idea for the “Radar Scope” makeover was to draw in the audience by licensing Popeye, a sailor man, to act as the game’s main character. But the licensing deal fell through, and Mr Miyamoto had to invent a new character from scratch. In doing so he had a pretty free rein. The game’s plot—hero rescues girl from gorilla—did not require back story or motivation from its protagonist. Mostly, he just jumped.
Mr Miyamoto wanted his character to be a regular guy in a regular job, so he made him a chubby, middle-aged manual worker—originally, a carpenter. Some design decisions were dictated by the technical limitations of low-resolution displays: the hero got a bushy moustache so that there would be something separating his nose from his chin; he got a hat because hair presents problems when your character has to fit in a grid just 16 pixels on a side; he got bright clothes so they would stand out against the black background.
His name was an afterthought. Top billing on the game was always going to go to the gorilla. (“Kong”, in the context, was more or less a given; “Donkey” was found by consulting a Japanese-English dictionary for a word meaning silly or stupid.) The protagonist was simply called “Jumpman” for the one thing he was good at. But Minoru Arakawa, the boss of Nintendo in America, wanted a more marketable name. Around that time, writes David Sheff in “Game Over”, an authoritative account of Nintendo’s rise, Mr Arakawa was visited at Nintendo’s warehouse outside Seattle by an irate landlord demanding prompt payment. He was called Mario Segale, and he had a moustache. Thus does destiny call.
“Donkey Kong” was a colossal hit. Nintendo had shifted just 1,000 “Radar Scope” arcade cabinets in America; in its first two years “Donkey Kong” sold more than 60,000. Sequels followed, including, in 1983, “Mario Bros.”, in which the game moved to the sewers of New York. Mario traded in his notional hammer for a figurative wrench and became a plumber; he also gained a brother, Luigi.
In the same year Nintendo released the Family Computer, or Famicom, in Japan. The maroon-and-white console, which allowed gamers to play arcade titles in their own homes, was a massive hit. Mr Hashimoto, who joined the company in 1984 (and now runs that secret Tokyo bar) says demand was so intense that engineers from Nintendo’s Kyoto headquarters were sent to stores to help with sales. By 1985 two in every five households in Japan had one.
“He doesn’t do much plumbing, or talk about his heritage”
In 1985 Famicom was released in America as the Nintendo Entertainment System, with “Super Mario Bros.” included in the price. The new game revolved around Mario’s quest to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, a giant evil turtle. But if the set-up of damsel distressed by unfeasibly large animal seemed familiar, very little else did. The game took place under a clear blue sky at a time when most games were played on a space-y black background. Mario ate magic mushrooms that made him bigger, or “Super”, and jaunted from place to place through green pipes. “Super Mario Bros.” offered an entire world to explore, replete with mushroom traitors (“Goombas”), turtle soldiers (“Koopa Troopas”) and man-eating flora (“Piranha Plants”). It was full of hidden tricks and levels. It was like nothing anybody had ever seen.
Mr Miyamoto called it “a grand culmination”, taking the best elements of gameplay from Nintendo’s other titles to produce something that invited hours of immersion and lots of return visits. Children—and their parents—lost days of their lives inside Mr Miyamoto’s kingdom. “Super Mario Bros.” sold 40m copies and the Mario franchise never looked back; it went on to produce more than 200 games, several television shows and one memorably lousy movie. By 1990 American children were more familiar with Mario than with Mickey Mouse.
In the 1990s and 2000s Nintendo continued to be a profitable maker of games, home consoles and hand-held gaming systems. To begin with, it was highly admired as such. In 1991, the president of Apple Computer, when asked which computer company he feared the most, replied “Nintendo”.
The two companies were in some ways similar. Just as Apple’s operating systems are made available only on phones and laptops that it designs and sells, Mario and his extended family could be found only on Nintendo’s hardware. That strategy, combined with the company’s policy of appealing to the mass market of families and casual gamers—rather than the smaller niche of “hard-core” gamers targeted by its rivals—made Nintendo a big success through the 2000s. But where Apple kept innovating, creating whole new categories of product, Nintendo brought out only one big innovation; its Wii console, released in 2006, which liberated living-room game players from the couch and let them use more than just their thumbs.
The original Wii was a hit. But soon one of Apple’s new categories of product cut the Japanese company’s world out from under it. The iPhone and its successors saw casual gamers abandon dedicated devices for mobile phones. By 2012—five years after the launch of the iPhone and, not coincidentally, the first year in its history as a public company that Nintendo posted a loss—the market for games on mobiles was already worth $13.3bn, about half as much as the market for home consoles and hand-held gaming systems. By 2018, reckons Macquarie’s Mr Gibson, it could be worth half as much again as the market for dedicated gaming consoles.
Nintendo has released only one new console in the iPhone era, the Wii U. It flopped. It has made some wonderful new games, such as “Splatoon”, a critical and commercial success, which came out in 2015. But with console sales sluggish, few new gamers ever encounter them. “Switch”, a hardware offering Nintendo will release in spring 2017, does double duty as a home console and a hand-held device, letting gamers take their games with them on the go. But a glance around the Tokyo metro confirms that the Switch is solving a problem that does not exist: carriages are crammed with men and women staring into their phones, playing “Candy Crush” or “Puzzles and Dragons”.
So Nintendo is changing its strategy. Under Satoru Iwata, who took over from Yamauchi in 2002, the company avoided mobile games on the basis that they were low-quality and their pay-as-you-go model was exploitative of children. But in the summer of 2016 the surprise success of “Pokémon Go”, a mobile game developed by Niantic, an American company spun off from Google, confirmed Nintendo’s previously rather tentative decision to change tack. In a PR master stroke Nintendo sent Mr Miyamoto to Apple’s annual autumn press event to announce “Super Mario Run”, a new game for the iPhone.
This is not the only way that Nintendo is exploiting the value its intellectual property can realise when allowed off the company’s own hardware. Universal will invest $350m in a Nintendo-themed attraction at its amusement park in Japan. Nintendo is once again considering Mario movies.
Not before time. Recognisable characters are one of the most sought-after resources in the entertainment industry: from Hollywood’s superhero franchises to theme parks to video games, a name the public knows is perceived as the best way to reduce the risk of expensive failure. This is especially true of smartphone games. Early on it was possible to introduce novelties, such as “Angry Birds”, an early runaway hit. But competition has got very intense. In 2008, a year before those Angry Birds were hatched, some 250 games were submitted to Apple’s app store every month. Now more than 700 games are submitted every day.
Today the business thinks that success is contingent on familiarity. “Pokémon Go” was a moderately successful game, called “Ingress”, before its creators rebranded it with Pokémon, cute little monsters part-owned by Nintendo. It was subsequently downloaded onto half a billion devices. “Stardom: Hollywood” was a mediocre game about going from wannabe to celebrity until it signed on Kim Kardashian and morphed into “Kim Kardashian: Hollywood”, an instant blockbuster.
In this climate the success of “Super Mario Run” is hardly up for debate. But will it introduce a new generation to the Mario franchise, or simply delight those already familiar with it? Early indications suggest the latter. The game, released on December 15th, is a delightful rendering of the essence of Mario—which is to say, jumping—tailored to the small screen. But at $10, it is comparatively expensive (though there are no hidden extras in the form of in-game purchases). And for now it is also available only on iPhones. Both decisions rule out big emerging markets.
In the 1990s Nintendo’s nugatory presence outside developed countries was no obstacle to Mario’s global charm offensive. Cheap knock-offs of Nintendo consoles made in Hong Kong and Taiwan flooded poor countries, and Mario went with them—often quite literally the only game in town. Now no one with a phone who wants games lacks them; and those who have only ever gamed on phones feel no burning need for Mario. In China, the world’s biggest gaming market, Mario is practically unheard of, says Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based games consultant.
Phone-based follow-ups to “Super Mario Run” may yet take off; Mario’s charm is not to be sniffed at. But it is of a peculiar sort. “On one level he is very specific: an Italian-American plumber from Brooklyn, America”, says Jeff Ryan, the author of “Super Mario”, a history of the character. “On the other hand he doesn’t do much plumbing or talk about his heritage. He’s just an avatar.” That does not mean you can replace him with any other avatar. He is particular, and distinct. It’s just that there’s nothing to being Mario other than being Mario.
Ray Hatoyama, who led the global expansion of Hello Kitty, a cute, mute cat-like character whose image rakes in several billion yen every year, likens the global success of characters such as Mario and Hello Kitty to the export of rice. It is easier to sell an ingredient to a foreign culture; they can add the spices and herbs to their taste, he says. By contrast fully cooked stories with a specific setting, such as “Doraemon”, set in a Japanese school, are a harder sell abroad. The contexts are too different. If Mario’s plumbing and heritage mattered, he would be a lot less successful.
There is one aspect of his context, though, that matters: fun. Mr Abe turned up in Rio dressed as Mario not just because Mario is instantly recognisable around the world. He embodies the delight of play. Talking to the New York Times in 2008 the reclusive Mr Miyamoto explained that people like Mario and his ilk “not for the characters themselves, but because the games they appear in are fun. And because people enjoy playing those games first, they come to love the characters as well.” When “Super Mario Bros.” came out, it was the game that children and adults fell in love with. Mario’s cheerful face on the packaging of its sequels and spin-offs guaranteed further high-quality fun. His success became self-reinforcing. If “Super Mario Run” takes off among phone gamers for whom Mario is a vaguely recognised but arbitrary pop-culture emblem, it will be because it is a really good game.
According to Mr Hashimoto, who worked with Mr Miyamoto, Nintendo’s characters are always at the service of the game, rather than vice versa: “Whatever fits better.” Splatoon is a case in point: it features an all-new cast of humanoids and squids. “We weren’t invested in creating a new character. We just set out to create a game with a new structure,” Hisashi Nogami, Splatoon’s producer said in a company chat. Before they settled on squids, Splatoon’s creators considered making the characters rabbits or blocks of tofu. But they decided that squids worked best.
Good gameplay is not enough. Strange though the world is, it is hard to imagine tourists in Tokyo dressing up as tofu to drive around in go-karts, as those entranced by the “Mario Kart” driving games do. The middle-aged men who put on blue dungarees and fake moustaches to watch India beat the English at cricket would probably not dress up as squids to the same end, whatever video games they might remember from their youth. Star Club, a Mario-themed bar in Tokyo’s Shinjuku nightlife district (and the retro-gaming themed 8-bit Cafe, around the corner), would do less business with foreign fans and Japanese otaku alike were it not for the cheery moustachioed presence. The Mario-ness of Mario does matter.
But at Mr Hashimoto’s place, among the true cognoscenti, for all the affection in which the characters and their creators are held, the game’s the thing.
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