Super Mario History and Origins: How ‘Jumpman’ became a global phenomenon (1985 - 2023)
From a carpenter known as ‘Jumpman’ to the moustachioed Italian-American plumber loved by gamers worldwide, Super Mario’s legacy is nothing short of legendary and now that his voice actor of 30 years is retiring it is an apt time to reflect on it - lets-a-go!
As confirmed by the video game journalism website Eurogamer: “Charles Martinet, the exuberant voice of Mario, will no longer be the English voice actor behind Nintendo’s most recognisable mascot, after almost 30 years in the job.”
In a statement posted on X (formerly Twitter), Nintendo announced that Martinet would instead become a “Mario Ambassador” and “travel the world sharing the joy of Mario and interacting with you all!”
Of little surprise to some fans, given that the iconic voice actor was already replaced by Chris Pratt in the recent Super Mario Bros. Movie, many were relieved that Martinet at least retained a role in that film as Mario’s dad and his legacy doesn’t seem to be over just yet.
Clearly, many people have strong feelings about this plump, Brooklyn-based plumber who was conceived in Japan, and it shows. So, how did we get here? In just over a year, we will be celebrating forty years since the Mario franchise came out.
In that time, the US lending company TitleMax estimates that Mario games have pulled in a whopping $30.25 billion while Screen Rant confirms that the movie generated at least $1.346 billion this year alone. As one of the most recognisable characters from the Kyoto-based video game company Nintendo, Mario’s cultural influence has been far-reaching.
At the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics, the former prime minister of Japan, Shinzo Abe, turned up to the event cosplaying as Mario - showing just how beloved the character was even on the global stage. It was not always this way, however, as Shigeru Miyamoto - the creator of Mario - once had a strikingly different vision for the plucky plumber.
As the Economist reports, “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.”
“The protagonist was simply called “Jumpman” for the one thing he was good at.”
Much of his iconic design ultimately fell to happenstance. For example, the low-resolution display limitations meant that his moustache, hat and bright clothes were chosen merely because they stood out best within pixelated constraints.
His name (which is now famous worldover) was determined by the former boss of Nintendo in America, Minoru Arakawa, having a chance encounter with the ‘irate’ landlord of their warehouse in Seattle who was demanding payment. His name was Mario Segale and he sported a moustache; the rest is history.
Speaking of history, as we commemorate the career of Martinet as Mario’s voice actor for three decades, here is an overview of all major instalments of the Mario franchise that have made it into the resounding success it is today.
Disclaimer: this covers ‘main’ Super Mario Bros. series games i.e., not spin-offs or remasters devoid of new content, with descriptions provided by Nintendo.
Super Mario Games - the ‘pre-Martinet’ era
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). It was the successor to the arcade game Mario Bros. from 1983. The story, from the original instruction booklet published by Nintendo, reads:
“One day the kingdom of the peaceful mushroom people was invaded by the Koopa, a tribe of turtles famous for their black magic. The quiet, peace-loving Mushroom People were turned into mere stones, bricks and even field horsehair plants, and the Mushroom Kingdom fell into ruin.
“The only one who can undo the magic spell on the Mushroom People and return them to their normal selves is the Princess Toadstool, the daughter of the Mushroom King. Unfortunately, she is presently in the hands of Bowser, the King of the Koopa.
“Mario hears about the Mushroom People’s plight and sets out on a quest to free the Mushroom Princess from the evil Koopa and restore the fallen kingdom of the Mushroom People.
“You are Mario! It’s up to you to save the Mushroom People from the black magic of the Koopa!”
Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (1986)
“The Lost Levels expands on Super Mario Bros. with tough new level designs, trickier enemies, and new features like fierce winds that blow Mario away.” The game was developed by Nintendo R&D4 and originally released in Japan for the Famicom Disk System as Super Mario Bros. 2.
Super Mario Bros. 2 (1988)
Super Mario Bros. 2 was first released for the NES as another 2D side-scrolling platform game. The plot, according to IMDb, goes: “Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and Toad enter a mysterious door to save the people of Sub-Con from the evil frog Wart and his minions.”
Super Mario Bros. 3 (1988)
“Mario and Luigi are called back into action when Bowser and his kids turn the kings of the Mushroom World into animals and steal their royal magic wands. The acclaimed Super Mario Bros. 3 features more Mario action than ever before: fly as Raccoon Mario, swim as Frog Mario, throw fireballs as Fire Mario, and turn into an invincible statue as Tanooki Mario!”
Super Mario Land (1989)
“Mario’s acclaimed Game Boy debut brings the plucky plumber to new territory: Sarasaland, where the evil space monster Tatanga has hypnotised the people and kidnapped Princess Daisy!”
Super Mario World (1990)
“In Super Mario World, the Mario brothers come to Dinosaur Land, meet their new lovable companion Yoshi and do battle with Bowser and his minions across dozens of fiendishly designed levels packed with secrets.”
Super Mario Land 2 (1992)
“In his greatest Game Boy adventure, Mario faces off against his evil rival Wario, who has captured Mario Land and turned it into his private playground.”
Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 (1994)
“Witness Wario’s world-famous debut as a playable character, in the first game to bear the Wario Land name. In Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3, the greedy treasure seeker is on a quest to Kitchen Island where he plans to steal the pirates’ booty, to help him build a castle bigger than Mario’s.”
Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995)
According to the Mario Wiki: “The game is the prequel to Super Mario World and it stars Yoshi and the Yoshi clan who, while carrying baby Mario, travel across Yoshi’s Island to rescue baby Luigi from baby Bowser and his Magikoopa minion/caretaker, Kamek.”
Super Mario Games - the ‘post-Martinet’ era
Super Mario 64 (1996)
Nintendo Life reports: “Mario’s first foray into the world of 3D is regarded by many — most, even — as one of the greatest video games of all time, and with good reason.” This game also introduced the world to the voice actor extraordinaire, Charles Martinet, who is now famous worldwide for voicing Mario in a number of titles.
Super Mario Sunshine (2002)
“Super Mario Sunshine kicks off with Mario packing enough red t-shirts and blue dungarees for two weeks’ wear, and jetting off with Princess Peach for a much-deserved holiday on a sun-kissed tropical island. But the rest and relaxation don’t last long. A dastardly vandal has been polluting the beautiful landscape - and to make matters worse, he’s the spitting image of Mario himself! His moustache no doubt bristling with rage, Mario sets out to clear up the island - and clear his name.”
Super Mario 64 DS (2004)
“This 3D platformer was one of the most popular launch titles for the Nintendo DS. In comparison with the original Super Mario 64, this version adds a variety of new features that are sure to please both newcomers and veterans.”
New Super Mario Bros. (2006)
“Nostalgic and new in equal doses, New Super Mario Bros. brings classic gameplay bang up to date with sumptuous visuals, toe-tapping tunes, and tons of secrets and surprises.”
Super Mario Galaxy (2007)
“From the amazing diversity of galaxies to the incredible control scheme offered through the Wii Remote, Super Mario Galaxy takes the Mario action you know and love and transports it into a world of gravity-defying levels set amid the stars.”
New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)
“New Super Mario Bros. Wii combines classic platform gaming and the power of Wii to create a brand new experience that’s fun to play alone or with friends and family.”
Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
“It is time once again for the Stardust Festival, held once every hundred years when the Mushroom Kingdom is showered in shining stardust. Receiving an invitation from Princess Peach, Mario heads for the castle accompanied by a stray star child he found wandering the cosmos. But when Mario arrives at the castle, it’s already too late. Bowser has harnessed the power of the stars and whisked Peach away. An epic cosmic quest to rescue Peach is about to begin…”
Super Mario 3D Land (2011)
This game “reinvents everything fans love about Mario gaming with the first platforming environment in true 3D, presenting a 3D Mario game that plays like a 2D Mario game! Players will experience an exhilarating new sense of depth, distance and speed while running, jumping and stomping on enemies throughout the levels.”
New Super Mario Bros. 2 (2012)
“New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the first traditional side-scrolling Mario game to be made especially for the Nintendo 3DS system. With over 80 brand new courses full of hidden areas and secrets to discover, it’s a classic Mario game with some major golden differences.”
New Super Mario Bros. U (2012)
“Bowser, Bowser Jr., and the Koopalings have taken over the whole of Peach’s Castle, and have flung Mario and friends to the farthest reaches of the Mushroom Kingdom.”
Super Mario 3D World (2013)
“Bowser has kidnapped the Sprixie Princess, and it’s up to Mario and his friends to rescue her, racing to the Goal Pole at the end of various stages along the way!”
Super Mario Maker (2015)
“Let your imagination loose, and see what you can dream up with an intuitive course editor.”
Super Mario Run (2016)
“In Super Mario Run, Mario runs forward on his own, but relies on the touch of a single finger to jump over obstacles, avoid pesky enemies and capture the flag pole to complete levels.”
Super Mario Odyssey (2017)
“Bowser has snatched Princess Peach once again, and this time he’s planning a lavish, no-expense-spared wedding!”
Super Mario Maker 2 (2019)
“Break the rules and make the Super Mario courses you’ve always dreamed of in Super Mario Maker 2, only on Nintendo Switch! With lots of new tools, course parts and features at your disposal, let your imagination run wild as you craft unique levels to share with friends and players all over the world.”
Super Mario Bros. 35 (2020)
“Run and jump through a random selection of iconic courses from the original Super Mario Bros., defeat familiar foes sent by your opponents and try to be the last Mario standing...or running!”
Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury (2021)
“Join Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad on a quest to save the Sprixie Kingdom in Super Mario 3D World + Bowser’s Fury on Nintendo Switch! Rescue the Sprixie Princess and her followers by yourself or with three other players in this enhanced version of Super Mario 3D World.”
Super Mario ‘Blockbusters’ (Pun intened)
Super Mario Bros. (1993)
Thought of by many as “the Mario film we don’t talk about”, this movie directed by Rocky Morton and Annabel Jankel turned out a box-office failure. The actor who portrayed Luigi, John Leguizamo, admitted to drinking on set as the filming was called “laborious”.
The Super Mario Bros. Movie (2023)
The Super Mario Bros. Movie has been a major success this year, pulling in $1.346 billion at the box office worldwide according to Screen Rant. While some aspects of the film were considered ‘contentious’ such as Chris Pratt voicing Mario or Princess Peach’s character standing accused of being rewritten to appease ‘woke’ audiences, the movie has many respectful nods to the overall franchise which is why it was widely praised by the fanbase.
There are other Mario movies like “Super Mario Bros.: The Great Mission to Rescue Princess Peach!” from 1986 and animated cartoons too.
Mamma mia! It sure has been a busy four decades for Mario, here’s to many more. Wahoo!
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