History of Mario

The birth

In 1980, Nintendo of America (NOA) released Radar Scope, an arcade game they hoped would kickstart a long reign of success. It flopped, leaving Nintendo stuck with 2,000 unsold Radar Scope units. To stay afloat, NOA desperately needed a smash-hit game—and fast. Hiroshi Yamauchi, the president and CEO of Nintendo Co., Ltd. at the time, asked staff artist Shigeru Miyamoto to design a new game based on his own ideas. The result was Donkey Kong, starring "Jumpman," a portly carpenter clad in red and blue.

"Jumpman" did not have his name for very long, however. When NOA was preparing the game for an American release, they renamed Jumpman to "Mario" after Mario Segale, the landlord of their warehouse. (For more about how Mario got his name, please see part two of this special, The History of Mario's Name.)

The look

For the most part, Mario looks the way he does today because of 1981's immature graphics technology.

To avoid the difficulty of having Mario's hair move realistically, Miyamoto gave Mario a hat. Also, in Game Over, Miyamoto admits, "I cannot come up with hairstyles so good."

Miyamoto gave Mario a moustache and oversized nose to make Mario's nose more noticeable.

Mario's overalls make his arms and arm movements more visible. Mario started out with a blue shirt and red overalls outfit in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr., but the color scheme was switched to a red shirt and blue overalls when Mario Bros. hit the arcades. When Super Mario Bros. came out for the Nintendo Entertainment System, Mario had his original red overalls, but a brownish shirt. In Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario went back to his second color scheme—red shirt, blue overalls—and has not changed since.

The names

Virtually all Nintendo fans know how Mario got his name (see The birth), but what about some of the other characters? Fortunately, Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto has revealed more name origins during interviews.

Donkey Kong
Simply put, "Donkey Kong" means "stupid gorilla," so forget the silly rumors. Miyamoto stated in an interview with Nintendo Online Magazine that he got "donkey" from looking up manuke (Japanese for "stupid") in an English dictionary. He picked "Kong" because the character was a gorilla.

Mario's first damsel in distress was named after Polly James, wife of Nintendo of America employee Don James.

The American team provided the name "Luigi" as something to go along with "Mario." Afterwards, the Japanese team noticed a happy coincidence: Ruigi means "analogous."

The "Koopa" clan comes from "Kuppa," Bowser's Japanese name. In this interview, Miyamoto explained that they were considering naming Bowser either Kuppa (gukbap), Yukke (yukhoe), or Bibinba (bibimbap), all Korean dishes.

Wario's name is a combination of Mario and warui, which means "bad" in Japanese.

Nintendo Power magazine Vol. 135 (August 2000 issue) enlightened us with the fact that Waluigi's name "comes from a rearrangement of the word [ijiwaru]—Japanese for 'someone who's bad.'"

For more info on Japanese names, refer to our Mario in Japan section.

The games

Of course, Mario stars in many more games, but the list below highlights the more important appearances.

1981: Donkey Kong (Arcade)
Mario (or technically, "Jumpman") the carpenter battles through crazy construction sites to save Pauline from the clutches of a giant monkey named Donkey Kong.

1982: Donkey Kong Jr. (Arcade)
This was Mario's second appearance, and first appearance as an enemy. Mario sics enemies at D.K. Jr., who is trying to free his caged father.

1983: Mario Bros. (Arcade)
Mario, now a plumber, teams up with (or fights against) brother Luigi (in 2-Player mode) to kill an infinite supply of turtles, crabs, and flies that travel through pipes.

1985: Super Mario Bros. (NES)
Mario explores The Mushroom Kingdom in search of Bowser, who has kidnapped Princess Toadstool. Mario mania grasps the nation.

1986: Donkey Kong (NES) and Mario Bros. (NES)
The NES versions of the two arcade games are released, exposing the greatness of these games to players who may have missed the arcade versions. Because of limited space on early NES Game Paks, the fourth level (A.K.A. "Pie Factory") of Donkey Kong was omitted.

1988: Super Mario Bros. 2 (NES; USA version)
Nintendo takes a game developed and released in Japan called Doki Doki Panic and replaces the four heroes with Mario characters, resulting in perhaps the most unique game of the Mario series.

1989: Super Mario Land (GB)
Mario's first appearance on the Game Boy takes place in Sarasaland, where Princess Daisy is abducted by the evil spaceman Tatanga.

1989: Super Mario Bros. 3 (NES)
The best-selling game of all time. Mario searches the Mushroom World for Bowser who has kidnapped Princess Toadstool, again.

1991: Super Mario World (SNES)
Mario's first appearance on the Super NES. Bowser has kidnapped Princess Toadstool (sound familiar?) and Mario travels through Dinosaur Land to rescue her. Super Mario World introduces us to Yoshi, spawning spin-off games riding on his popularity.

1993: Super Mario All-Stars (SNES)
SMB, SMB2, and SMB3 receive 16-bit updates as part of this compilation cartridge. The other game included, Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, is the first North American release of Super Mario Bros. 2 (Japanese version), originally released for the Famicom Disk System in 1986. It, too, received the 16-bit treatment for All-Stars.

1995: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island (SNES)
This game takes place in Mario's past. A gang of Yoshis helps baby Mario find his brother Luigi, who was kidnapped by Baby Bowser's henchmen. Powered by the FX² chip, this was arguably the best 2-D platform game ever made.

1996: Super Mario 64 (N64)
Mario frolics through various 3-D worlds to save the kidnapped Princess Peach Toadstool.

2002: Super Mario Sunshine (GCN)
Mario and Yoshi reunite to clean up Isle Delfino and rescue Peach once again.

2007: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (Wii/NDS)
Opposing mascots Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog finally go head-to-head... at the Beijing Olympics.

2007: Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)
This time, Bowser takes Peach away into outer space, forcing Mario to explore planets big and small. Galaxy's innovative gravity system was one factor behind its critical acclaim.

Next Generation magazine vol. 4, issues 46 and 47
Nintendo's Mario Mania Player's Guide
Game Over by David Sheff
Famitsu.com interview
Nintendo Online Magazine #18
Iwata Asks: New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Year of the Monkey (1up.com)