Today is March 10 (MAR10), and that can only mean one thing: National Mario Day! To commemorate the day, along with some… we’ll say modest sales on the Switch eShop, Nintendo has announced a collaboration with LEGO. However, the onus of true celebration falls unto us, the fans. As a long-time fanatic of the iconic once-plumber, I’ve dabbled in nearly all of Mario’s outings, whether they be platformers, sports games, tactical strategy, kart racing or just trying to teach these absolutely useless kids how to type. Today provides an opportunity for me to continue to shill about Mario. I’d like to take a look back at several major releases over the last 30 years that feature Mario and friends and examine just what made Super Mario the highest grossing video game franchise of all time.
Super Mario Bros. (1985)
The year is 1985. Wham! is rocking the charts, everyone is talking about “Back to the Future”and how good the sequels will surely be, and you, a middle schooler, have just been gifted a Nintendo with the smash hit Super Mario Bros. You’ve never played a home video game before, and the concept is entirely foreign to you. I own this? You plug it in, sit down, and a small Italian plumber drops on to the screen. “Let’s a go!”
Super Mario Bros. is basically a fundamentals course in level design. This is not a knock to the game – it’s absolutely glowing praise for director Shigeru Miyamoto.The player drops onto a map. By using the left and right buttons, they can move in those respective directions. If the player chooses to go left, they meet an invisible wall. The player realizes there isn’t anything in that direction and continues on to the right. Immediately they’re met by the infamous Goomba, and it’s coming right at them! There’s nowhere to run to the left. They must face it head on. Faced with the impending collision, the player mashes the buttons to find they can jump. Most players will utilize this to jump over the Goomba’s head to safety, while others will unintentionally land on its head, crushing it. Most players will jump over the Goomba and right into one of the floating bricks or question blocks, popping items out of the top. This teaches the player that items are hidden in blocks and that they can be broken. A chasm awaits next, and with their newfound jumping abilities, the player will easily jump the gap. Three more Goombas await just a few feet away, and the player will very quickly find they can’t jump over all of them. This leads them to, despite their best efforts to avoid it, crush a Goomba. The player will learn how the game works, no matter how they play it. All of this is done wordlessly and in such a way that the player masters the basics of the game in just minutes. Flawless.
Super Mario World (1990)
Super Mario World is wonderful for many reasons, but far and away the most important thing it brought us was Yoshi. The little green dinosaur has, since his inception, been the poster boy for the happy, wholesome, carefree attitude that Nintendo has become known for. Yoshi has been a mount, a confidant, a tennis partner, and most importantly a true friend to Mario for the last 30 years. His own games are of varying quality, but when you hear the Yoshi’s Story 64 theme sung by a herd of delighted Yoshis, how can you not crack a smile? Look, Luigi is great and all, but Mario wouldn’t have made it out of World 1-1 without this fruit-loving fiend. Yoshi’s happy go-lucky attitude, cheerful disposition and dedication to making sure the sun keeps shining makes him an invaluable asset to both Nintendo and the Mushroom Kingdom.
Super Mario 64 (1996)
With its release as a launch title for the Nintendo 64, Super Mario 64 dragged the video game industry kicking and screaming into the third dimension. Sure, Doom had been rocking PC cafes and LAN Parties for a few years now, but this was something else entirely. True 3D. A sandbox world where a player controlled character could interact with a real world, a full world, all around them! The disconnect between player and character shrank tremendously that day, and many of us (myself included) still remember Super Mario 64 as our first-ever 3D game. Sometimes it takes a real powerhouse to pull the industry in the direction in which it is slowly creeping; I fully believe Half-Life: Alyx will do for virtual reality what Super Mario 64 did for 3D gaming.
Mario Party 4 (2002)
Mario Party has always been an absolute delight. Back when I was a kid, if we had friends coming over, I knew for a fact that the games we were going to play were Super Smash Bros. Melee (of course) and Mario Party 4. Mario Party puts players 1-4 on an even playing field, and everyone gets to play together. This may seem like a no-brainer now, but when the first Mario Party released, it was revolutionary. Everyone got to pick their favorite Mario character (unless your stupid friend got to Yoshi first) and play a bunch of insane, colorful and wildly different mini-games. Combine this with the RNG of the dice rolls, star-stealing Boos and the random star gifts at the end of the match that only go to the most undeserving players, and you’ve got a perfect formula that knocked it out of the park on the first try. The Mario Party formula has never had to change because it was so rock solid from the beginning. The perfect blend of randomness, tomfoolery, strategy, and targeting your least popular friend has led to game after game of perfect party buffoonery.
Mario Kart Wii (2008)
Mario Kart was a breakout hit right from the get-go. But when the Wii arrived, the world wasn’t sold on the idea of motion controls being good for anything other than Wii Bowling. Enter Mario Kart, the longstanding powerhouse franchise riding off the high of the incomparable Mario Kart: Double Dash. Mario Kart is perhaps the largest, most direct reason for the Wii’s success. After just a few years, the Wii found itself in over 100 million households worldwide. By the end of its life cycle, the Mario Kart Wii had sold over 37 million copies, far outpacing almost every other video game… ever. Every drunk college student, every suburban mom with her kids, every 10 year old’s birthday party became dependent on this game for about five years.
I still remember my freshman year of college, getting wasted with my friends and trying to play Mario Kart Wii with the Wiimotes plugged into Guitar Hero controllers. Then I’d go home for Christmas break and play the exact same game with my mom and brother at home. The Nintendo Wii, mostly off of Wii Sports and Mario Kart, used video games to bring people together like never before. Because this time, Nintendo went for the people who didn’t care for or even know about video games – and they hooked every one of them. Go dust off that dumb plastic wheel you still have sitting in your basement. I know it’s still there, so don’t try to hide it!
Super Mario 3D World (2013)
I’ll be the first to admit it – Mario, and by extension Nintendo, went through a bit of a lull during the late Wii and early Wii U years. His sports games weren’t hitting, the Olympics team-up with Sonic was selling well but critically panned, the Wii U Mario Party games were bombing and the 3DS entries of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi just weren’t quite cracking it. In 2013, to much cautious anticipation, Super Mario 3D World made its way onto the scene with one mantra in mind: classic Mario platforming in 3D is fun. As sad as I was to see the sandbox from Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine disappear, I invited two friends over to join my roommate and me on release weekend to test this four player, entirely co-op, mainline Mario game. How could this be any good?
It was good. It was very good because when made with passion, care, and in the pursuit of smiles, 3D Mario platforming is just fun. The best feature of this game was the crown – if you’ve played, you’ll know what I’m talking about. When playing co-op and completing a stage, the player with the highest number of points is awarded a large, golden crown to wear for the next stage. The crown can, however, be knocked off. The game will quickly devolve into you and your friends cursing each other as you brawl in front of a crowd of confused Goombas, desperate to be the one to cross the finish line with that beautiful headpiece. Many times we’d become so wrapped up in who had the crown that we’d run out the time limit into a game over. Super Mario 3D World, as a Wii U exclusive, is often overlooked. But it is so critical in the timeline because it proved that no matter what the Mario games tried, pure, uncut Colombian platforming would always and forever be fun.
Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle (2017)
When Ubisoft’s 2017 E3 press conference came around, everyone was braced for the worst — a Raving Rabbids game where Mario maybe farts on Luigi. What we were shown instead was incredible. A turn-based tactical strategy RPG starring Mario? This hadn’t been seen since the last time Nintendo rented out Mario to another studio (Square Enix in 1996 for Super Mario RPG) 20 years prior. And Shigeru Miyamoto is here? Mario’s father? Fans quickly ran out of reasons to be angry as the presentation continued. A tactical overhead strategy game with skill trees, weapon upgrades, status effects, party composition strategy and 16 completely different weapon types — no one had expected any of this. And people started to get hyped. And they were not disappointed. Mario + Rabbids proved that Mario still has uncharted territory to venture into. What will we see next? A stealth game? Bullet hell? Management sim? The sky is the limit with the Mario license. Shout out to the folks at Ubisoft who poured so much passion into bringing Mario to the world of tactics.
Luigi’s Mansion 3 (2019)
Luigi has long stood in the shadow of his red-capped brother, always Player Two, always the second choice. In Luigi’s Mansion (2001) for the GameCube, he was finally allowed to take center stage. Despite totally nailing it in the first entry, the franchise sat dormant until 2013, the ill-fated Year of Luigi, which became the worst financial year Nintendo had ever seen. The sequel, as well as Super Luigi U, received mixed reviews and went on to be largely forgotten. I bring Luigi’s Mansion 3 to you today to point out what an influence Luigi has had on both Nintendo and popular culture. Just as much as Luigi is defined by Mario, Mario is now defined by Luigi. When Super Mario Odyssey, a veritable masterpiece of a game, dropped, the first thing fans asked was “where’s Luigi?” Every frat bro on Halloween that is dressed as Mario has a friend dressed as Luigi. Every lunchbox, every fleece blanket, every action figure set is Mario and Luigi. The Super Mario Brothers. We didn’t notice it happening, but Luigi came into his own, growing up with the younger siblings who were always handed the GameCube controller with the broken C-stick. Luigi’s Mansion 3 solidified his status as a name that could move units, and the polish and passion that Luigi’s Mansion 3 positively reeks of led me to pick it as my personal game of the year for 2019. From a slightly recolored reskin to game of the year – not bad Luigi, not bad.
I’ve skipped over many, many amazing games in the Super Mario Series, not least of all my favorite (Super Mario Sunshine), but today is a day we honor the Super Mario bros and their friends for driving the game industry forward, becoming a commonality for people of all ages around the world, and for never forgetting the importance of putting smiles on faces.