Super Mario Celebration Does Not Exist Without Mario’s Early Days

Donkey Kong (1981) was Mario’s debut as a video game character.

This month, Nintendo is kicking off what it has deemed as a 35 year anniversary of arguably its most iconic and significant game in the company’s history, Super Mario Bros. Since the game’s release on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in 1985, it is amazing just how the company has been able to sustain the Super Mario brand and even grow it by leaps and bounds for almost four decades with so many memorable and highly regarded games along the way that have helped define generations of video game systems. The latest news coming from Nintendo is that there will be multiple games and events to commemorate this anniversary between now and spring 2021.

Think of any Nintendo system that has ever existed and you will find something Super Mario related among the top games of that system every single time. I will focus on Super Mario games in more detail in a future post, but the list of works that bear the “Super Mario” moniker deserve all the accolades bestowed upon them. Mario is not only Nintendo’s most recognizable mascot but it would be safe to say that he is likely the most recognizable video game character of all time. He has been in hundreds of games spanning many different genres. Mario has been in platforming games, role playing games, sports games, multiplayer party games, racing games, fighting games, puzzle games, pinball games, adventure games, etc. If there is one video game character that has pretty much done it all, it is Mario. He has also made many cameos as well in games where his name doesn’t appear in the title. Remember the referee from Mike Tyson’s Punch Out?

Indeed the words “super” and “Mario” were joined together as an inseparable pair in 1985. Yet the history of Mario goes back even further to 1981 as the character “Jumpman” in the arcade classic, Donkey Kong. While Mario and Donkey Kong today seem like just two characters to choose from on games like Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros. and Mario vs Sonic at the Olympic Games, the two Nintendo personalities were actually more intertwined in the beginning due to personal conflict. According to the story of the original Donkey Kong game, Kong kidnaps Mario’s girlfriend Pauline, forcing him to come to her rescue. Pauline (who is actually featured as a character in Super Mario Odyssey) was the first damsel in distress in Mario’s history. Before there was Princess Peach, there was Pauline (or “Lady” depending on the region). Also, Mario’s original profession was that of a carpenter instead of a plumber. It makes sense because there were no pipes in the original Donkey Kong game and if anything, the levels resembled that of a construction site. One more tidbit of interesting info: The original Donkey Kong is Cranky Kong in the Donkey Kong Country games. Check out more information on the origin of Donkey Kong and Mario’s involvement HERE.

In Donkey Kong Jr.(1982), Nintendo experimented with the idea of Mario as an antagonist.

From the original Donkey Kong, a sequel named Donkey Kong Jr. was released in 1982 in which the player controlled the son of Donkey Kong in his quest to free his father from Mario’s clutches.The tables were turned as Mario took Donkey Kong captive after Kong was the captor in the first game. The roles were switched so that Mario was now the antagonist instead of the protagonist. The next year featured the release of the original Mario Bros. in arcades. This was the game that not only introduced Mario’s brother, Luigi, but it was the start of Mario as a plumber. Unlike the two Donkey Kong games that were just single player, Mario Bros. was in essence the first multiplayer battle game in Mario history. It was a one or two-player game where the brothers would seek to eliminate as many creatures coming from the pipes as they could while attempting to avoid death. Yet because the characters could jump on each other, push each other and use the “POW” block to disrupt movement, accomplishing those goals was easier said than done.

The reason why I am focusing on Mario’s early history is because without the evolution of Mario from Donkey Kong, we would have never seen the Mario we all came to know and love in the original Super Mario Bros. I understand that for many gamers, Super Mario Bros. was their first experience with the character and what many view as the first days of Mario. But that is not true. Mario was already well seasoned as a gaming character by 1985. Arcade gamers had already seen him for four years. It’s kind of like how many people (including me before typing this post) believe that the GameBoy was Nintendo’s first handheld system when the Game & Watch had existed before it in the early 1980s.

Nothing has really interested me regarding Nintendo’s planned games during the 35th anniversary celebration. It doesn’t mean that you may not find something worth checking out for yourself. One game coming later this month is Super Mario 3D All-Stars for the Nintendo Switch. It will feature Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. If you’ve never played them, now is your chance. Nintendo should have included Super Mario Galaxy 2 as well and I would even vouch for Super Mario 3D World and Super Mario Odyssey being a part of the package. For financial benefit, they could do a second All-Stars version that would feature Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D World, Super Mario 3D Land and Super Mario Odyssey. Super Mario 3D World is my favorite 3D version of Mario platforming games. It was an absolutely brilliant game that not many people were able to play because the Wii U did not perform well enough to give it the exposure it deserved. To me, the All-Star package on the Switch was a great time to port the game over but Nintendo does have plans in the works for an enhanced version of Super Mario 3D World on the Switch down the road.

Super Mario Bros. 35 is a battle royal game featuring assets from the original Super Mario Bros.
Courtesy: Nintendo

Super Mario Bros. 35 sounds like it could be an intriguing game with 35 players online battling within the original Super Mario Bros. environment. The game will only be available as a free digital exclusive to subscribers of Nintendo Online starting October 1 and will only be playable through March 31, 2021. More than likely I will try it out but I don’t see the game being able to sustain my interest. This type of game makes me recall how a good friend of mine pointed out how the original Mario Bros. doesn’t get the love or attention it should. I agree. Other than being featured merely as a side feature in Mario games, Mario Bros. has been virtually untouched over the years. If Mario Bros were to be updated to 2020 with today’s graphics, more characters to play as, a wider range of power-ups and enemies, as well as the inclusion of boss characters and even a level editor, it would be an online multiplayer dynamo that would probably sell Nintendo Online by itself. One could dream.

The 35 years of Super Mario Bros. is a monumental achievement and something Nintendo should be very proud of. Those 35 years have produced some of the highest quality video games that have and will continue to stand the test of time. As a longtime gamer, all the Super Mario games from the very first one are timeless. They represent video gaming at its highest standard of excellence with characters, worlds, abilities, suits, challenges and secrets that are etched fondly into the memories of a lot of gamers. Yet what is even bigger than that is Mario turning 40 in 2021. What does Nintendo have in store for that awesome milestone?


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