Most people would agree that Nintendo’s signature character, Mario, is the most iconic and recognizable video game creation of all time. Sure, some might say Pac-Man or Lara Croft are more emblematic of the video games industry; but neither has had the sustained success or long-lasting relevance Mario.
And so, Nintendo has reminded us recently that it is the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros. Now, the gaming historians among you will know that Super Mario Bros. is not the first appearance of the Mario character. He appeared in Donkey Kong (1981), and Mario Bros. (1983), as well as a couple of other titles.
However, Nintendo charts Mario’s official history from Super Mario Bros, which was released in September 1985 for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). And while Mario might have been recognised from various arcade games, it was with the NES that the plumber became rooted in popular culture.
Nintendo released new game to coincide with the anniversary
The 35th anniversary, whether artificially constructed or not, has prompted Nintendo to release a special Super Mario Bros 35th Anniversary game (it came out on the 1st October). It uses the familiar iconic course of the original game, but it offers the chance to battle friends and foes from all over the world.
Of course, gaming has changed dramatically over the decades since Mario first became a household name. Today, gaming is a broad church, covering everything from playing competitive esports to ultra-powerful consoles to exploring online casino games in India. Still, Mario has held its own even when challenged by modern, complex games like Call of Duty and Assassin’s Creed.
Mario has evolved with the times, for sure. If you look at the difference between a contemporary Mario game, say, Super Mario Party, and compare it to the Super Mario Bros. of 1985; they are worlds apart. But in a strange way, Mario games haven’t changed at all. The graphics and gameplay might be markedly different, but the tone is very much the same.
Mario’s simplicity is its most appealing characteristic
Indeed, that idea of the tone of Mario games is important. We have watched video gaming generally change into a darker place, one where sex and violence are always on the menu. Mario might jump on a Goomba or Koopa Troopa at times, but it really doesn’t feel violent. Most parents would have no problems with the ‘killing’ in the Mario games.
At its heart, the longevity of Super Mario Bros. tells us something about the enduring appeal of simple gaming. Similar to games like Tetris and Pac-Man, the attraction endures because the games are simple – not in spite of their simplicity. Furthermore, there aren’t the same emotional stakes at play compared with something like Call of Duty. Mario games allow you to switch off, relax and enjoy without the drain of a Second World War battle or fight against a Greek god.
50 million copies were sold of that first Super Mario Bros. game in 1985. That might pale in comparison when you hear of the 100s of millions of downloads for games like Fortnite. But, it’s worth remembering that this was a time when not everyone owned a computer. The game was a big deal then, and it continues to be a big deal now. In another 35 years, Mario will probably be just the same – and that’s the way fans like it.