Press shots from the highly acclaimed new Mario game Super Mario Odyssey feature our big-konked hero done up like a Mafioso don strolling the streets of New York. Reviews explain that the game sees him become a superhuman shape-shifter capable of ‘capturing’ and transforming into playable characters including frogs and, um, a wall-climbing fork. It’s just the latest incarnation of probably the most famous and successful character in video game history, so let’s look back at the Marios we’ve known, loved and teased to double height over the years.
Mario The Monkey Exterminator
The older Mario manipulators amongst us first met Mario in actual video arcades in 1981, jumping barrels and scrambling up ladders to reach Donkey Kong, little more than a slightly cuter space invader gun. So innocuous was he that he was known simply as Jumpman in Japan, and Princess Peach was but a glimmer in developer Shigeru Miyamoto’s eye – in Donkey Kong, Mario was tasked with rescuing his girlfriend Pauline.
Mario The Mushroom Muncher
Like the record label receptionist who gets turned into a major star, someone at Nintendo clearly spotted Mario’s star potential and gave him his own game. 1985’s Super Mario Bros. set the blueprint for many Mario games to come, as our tiny protagonist raced along his side-scrolling worlds in search of Princess Toadstool (later Peach), head-butting bricks for money and inspiring many an optimistic drunkard’s concussion.
They gave him a fox suit, a lizard to ride and all manner of mushroom powers to enjoy, but by 1992 the question was starting to itch – just who was Super Mario? What are his hobbies? What does he like to do when he’s not kicking turtle shells all over Yoshi’s Island like a maniac? So Nintendo began to give us a bit of Mario’s down-time backstory. He was a keen golfer and a dab hand at tennis. Later he’d try his hand at baseball and football and even manage to qualify for the Olympics, rather taking the shine off it for Jessica Ennis-Hill. Frankly, it’s a miracle there was never a Super Mario Knocks One Off To Game Of Thrones game, but Mario really came into his own on the Kart course. 1992 saw the first Super Mario Kart game, and the franchise has moved on in leaps and bounds since those days of watching the bottom screen look like a bizarre monkey, princess and dinosaur conga.
Mario in 3D
No more being forced ever onwards by the irreversible scroll of the sky background, in 1996’s Legend Of The Seven Stars he was given a more fleshed-out world to explore, punching turtle guards in RPG-style battle rounds, and in Super Mario 64 he even went open-world for the first time. Run free, Mario! You can just go around the deadly pipe plants now!
Mario Gets Fighty
He could run. He could jump. He could change size. But could he kick ass? A Mortal Kombat obsessed world needed to know. So along came Super Smash Bros. in 1999, in which Mario, over the course of many impressive sequels, finally got to beat seven shades of shite out of Yoshi, Link, Starfox and virtually all other Nintendo characters like a plumber on ‘shrooms naturally would. Sometimes in 3D.
Mario 2D: The Return
All the while, good old 2D Mario was still slithering down pipes and stomping beasties – as well as swimming underwater and navigating swinging sky platforms – in increasingly high definition on many a hand-held console, most originally in 2007’s Super Paper Mario, in which he was rendered as a paper man able to draw his way out of sticky situations.
Mario Boldly Goes Where No Mario Etc.
Where else was there for Mario to go? Into space! In 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy, NASA’s training requirements were lowered considerably, allowing a clearly under-qualified blue collar worker to leap around willy-nilly on unexplored 3D planets, trampling on who knows how many science-altering biological specimens as he went.
Mario: Build Your Own
With the developers clearly out of ideas, in 2015 they threw up their hands and basically went ‘for fuck’s sake, it’s been 35 years, you do one’. Enter Super Mario Maker, wherein you could build your own Mario levels. Because designing games is so much more fun than playing them, right? Right?
Mario’s Magic Hat
If only Mario had realised his hat had the ability to morph him into anything he threw it at, he could have just posted it to an unsuspecting Bowser at the start of game one and saved us about a billion hours of needless palaver. Thankfully, the new game Super Mario Odyssey allows Mario to take over other characters, opening up whole new realms of possibility for the video game hero who’s done everything. But where can he go from here? The Evil Within Mario, anybody?