It’s finally that time of year: it’s March 10, also known affectionately as Mario Day by Nintendo fans the world over. Thanks to a funny typographical nuance of the way some Americans abbreviate the date as “MAR10,” the date can resemble the storied platforming plumber’s name.
Mario first appeared (sort of) in the arcade hit “Donkey Kong” in 1981. In that title, he is addressed only as “Jumpman,” though he would later be named Mario Mario for Nintendo’s next big arcade hit, Mario Bros.
Over his long career in the limelight, Mario has become a household name, starring in dozens of games that have sold over 600 million units worldwide. The Mario franchise is the best-selling video game series of all time, and many consider the character to be a Nintendo company mascot on par with the likes of Mickey Mouse.
Mario Saves Nintendo
The release of Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 was a crystalizing moment for Nintendo. The company, which had focused mainly on toys and arcade cabinets, suddenly found itself strapped to a rocket with the runaway popularity of their platforming title and their revolutionary home console.
The company swiftly released a slew of sequels to Super Mario Bros, with the second and third games also landing on the NES. In the early 90s, to coincide with the release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, they bundled in Super Mario World, a game that is widely regarded as one of the best games of all time.
Super Mario World set the bar for platforming for an entire generation. Many contend that the title is the high-water mark for 2D platforming as a whole. However, the company’s follow-up would catapult gaming into a new dimension.
The Flagship 3D Platformer
The 1996 release of Super Mario 64 saw the character finally make the leap to the third dimension. The free-form exploration and creative, varied worlds made the game an instant hit. Many game reviewers noted that the sheer joy of controlling Mario in a 3D space is enough to captivate players for hours before even tackling one of the game’s levels.
This release reshaped the face of modern gaming, with a sudden burst of imitators and wannabes hitting the scene just after. Everything from Spyro the Dragon to Banjo Kazooie to Jak and Daxter were made in much the vein of Mario 64, each of them becoming legendary titles in their own right.
Since the release of Mario 64, Mario’s biggest titles have been his 3D platforming outings, of which he usually gets around one per console generation. The sun-kissed Super Mario Sunshine in 2001 defined the GameCube era as an aquatic one, while the Wii’s cosmic adventure Super Mario Galaxy utilized the motion controls of that console to an interesting degree.
Galaxy became the rare 3D Mario game to get a direct, numbered sequel: the unmatched excellence that is Super Mario Galaxy 2. Many fans swear by Galaxy 2 being one of the finest Mario titles due to the seemingly boundless creativity on display, with each level exploring new mechanics and new ways to challenge the player. The next title in the series, Super Mario 3D World, was released on the Wii U, a console that sold well under expectations and was met with a more lukewarm reception than the other titles in the franchise.
The most recent entry in the behemoth franchise, Super Mario Odyssey, is the first to bring a mainline 3D Mario title to a handheld device. The stylish, gorgeous, and expansive Odyssey has been heralded as one of the Switch’s best games and is regarded by many as the proper return of old-school style 3D platforming exploration.
What’s Next for Mario?
Mario’s got one heck of a career behind him and even more great things in front of him. Nintendo has plans for a Super Mario-themed amusement park to open within Universal Studios Japan in the next few months, and there are plans to open similar parks in other Universal Studios locations.
Meanwhile, the Super Mario movie is coming along smoothly and will soon bring the beloved plumber to the big screen for the second time. After the questionable results of the 1993 Super Mario Bros film, Nintendo is likely excited to have a proper representation of their legendary mascot in theaters!