“Super Mario is equivalent to the Big Bang of our gaming universe. If it were not for this blindingly spectacular creation, digital entertainment as we know it today would not exist.”
The Mario franchise is a media franchise consisting of video games published and produced by the Japanese company Nintendo. The title character is a fictional Italian-American plumber who serves as the hero of a realm called the Mushroom Kingdom. The franchise was created by game designer Shigeru Miyamoto and its first installment was the arcade game Donkey Kong, released on July 9, 1981. The games are primarily published and/or developed by Nintendo itself, with some games in the franchise being developed by other companies under Nintendo's supervision, such as Hudson Soft, Camelot Software Planning, Intelligent Systems, and AlphaDream. Most Mario games have been released for Nintendo's various video game consoles and handhelds, from the third generation onwards.
The main series in the franchise is the Super Mario series, consisting of platform games that typically involve Mario and his brother Luigi working to save the Mushroom Kingdom and its ruler, Princess Peach, from the villainous Bowser and his Koopa Troop. The two brothers use their trademark jumping ability to help them progress through levels, while also making use of power-ups of various kinds. Mario games of other genres include the Mario Kart racing series, sports games such as Mario Tennis and Mario Golf, role-playing games such as the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series, and several educational games. In total, over 200 video games are included in the franchise, which combined have sold over 500 million copies. The franchise has also been licensed into other media, such as television series, comics, children's books, and a critically lampooned feature film. Mario has gained massive critical acclaim and recognition throughout the world, and is the best-selling video game franchise of all time.
Plot, themes, and characters
The franchise revolves around the adventures of an extensive cast of recurring characters. The main protagonist of the franchise, the titular Mario, is a fictional Italian-American plumber who is portrayed as the hero of a realm called the Mushroom Kingdom, which he endeavors to defend by traversing his way through stages filled with obstacles and enemies. His arch-nemesis is Bowser, the king of the Koopas, a race of evil-driven anthropomorphic turtles. Bowser is responsible for most, if not all, of the Mushroom Kingdom's invasions, and almost always appears as the final boss, who constantly and consistently attempts to put an end to Mario and his friends. Mario's younger but taller brother, Luigi, often participates in his adventures alongside him; in early games, he was only playable in the two-player mode. The Mushroom Kingdom's ruler, Princess Peach, is Mario's love interest and recurring damsel in distress; she repeatedly falls victim to Bowser's kidnappings and has to be rescued by Mario, but occasionally serves as a protagonist herself. Another prominent sidekick of Mario's is Yoshi, a dinosaur-like creature who serves as a riding mount to Mario, and has a long tongue which he uses to eat food and enemies; this character became so popular after his debut that he was spun off into his own sub-series. Mario also has a greedy, hot-tempered doppelganger rival named Wario, who has antagonized Mario on various occasions, and also serves as an anti-hero with his own adventures which generally involve money grubbing and treasure hunting. Donkey Kong, a muscular and somewhat dim-witted ape, originally served as Mario's first rival in his arcade debut, but eventually became the main protagonist of his own series. Other significant recurring characters in the franchise include the Toads, inhabitants of the Mushroom Kingdom and servants to Peach, who often support Mario during his adventures; Princess Daisy, the tomboyish ruler of a mysterious kingdom called Sarasaland; Wario's partner in crime Waluigi; Professor Elvin Gadd, an aging scientist and inventor; and Rosalina, a very powerful figure who watches over the cosmos.
Throughout his adventures, Mario faces a wide variety of enemies that make attempts to hinder his progress. The Goombas, mushroom-like creatures that betrayed the Mushroom Kingdom, are extremely weak to the extent that a single stomp is enough to defeat them. Koopa Troopas, foot soldiers of Bowser, retract in their shells if stomped on, after which they can be used to attack other foes. Many different subspecies of Koopa exist, including the aerial Koopa Paratroopas, the projectile-wielding Hammer Bros., the hard-shelled Buzzy Beetles, the cloud-riding Lakitus and their pets the Spinies, the skeletal Dry Bones, and the sorcerous Magikoopas. Other recurring enemies of Mario include the Boos, timid ghosts that cover their faces whenever the hero stares at them; Piranha Plants, man-eating flora that dwell within pipes; Bullet Bills, projectiles that are shot out of cannons called "blasters"; Bob-ombs, anthropomorphic bombs with short tempers leading to inevitable explosions; Chain Chomps, tethered ball-and-chain creatures that lunge at Mario when in close proximity; Bloopers, squids that like to corner and close in on their prey; Cheep Cheeps, fish with wing-like fins and the ability to attack above the surface of the water; Thwomps, rectangular rock creatures that flatten whoever passes below them using their own weight; and Lava Bubbles (also known as "Podoboos"), living fireballs that inhabit lava pits and attack by leaping upward out of the lava. Major individualized minions of Bowser include his son Bowser Jr.; a seven-member clan called the Koopalings; Kamek, a high-ranking Magikoopa who often serves as one of Bowser's top acolytes; and Boom Boom, a powerhouse that attacks by flailing his arms.
The central location of the Mario universe is the Mushroom Kingdom, which Peach rules over and Bowser regularly invades. The kingdom has a diverse landscape that includes forests, deserts, snowlands, beaches, mountains, and plains. When Bowser invades the kingdom and kidnaps Peach, he takes her to his castle, usually situated in a volcanic world, and Mario and his friends have to travel there and defeat some of Bowser's most powerful minions, as well as Bowser himself, in order to get the princess back. Some games have been set in locations other than the Mushroom Kingdom, such as the island where Yoshi and his dinosaur friends live, and Isle Delfino, a large dolphin-shaped tropical resort.
In the main Super Mario series, Mario traverses his way through the games' various levels by defeating enemies, collecting coins, and solving puzzles. Since his earliest games, Mario has been defined by his trademark jumping ability, which he commonly uses to help him progress through the playfield and defeat the majority of his enemies. This ability has seen numerous evolutions throughout the series, including the Spin Jump from Super Mario World; and the Triple Jump, Wall Kick, and Long Jump, all introduced in Super Mario 64. In the 2D platformers, Mario must reach a single-exit objective (marked by a flagpole or other object) within a set time limit to get to the next sequential level; the 3D games' levels, however, are more linear and allow Mario to walk around freely and gather special objects, like Power Stars and Shine Sprites, that allow him to progress further into the game.
Another integral element of Mario franchise gameplay is the use of items, which Mario can use to power himself up. Often these items can be found in special item blocks, labeled with a question mark (?), which alternatively can also yield coins.
Many power-ups in the Mario games are mushrooms. The most iconic of this category of power-ups is the Super Mushroom, which increases Mario's size and allows him to break brick blocks. When hit by an enemy, Mario reverts to his smaller size instead of losing a life. While Mario is already in Super form, most blocks that would contain a Super Mushroom instead offer a more powerful power-up. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 introduced the Poison Mushroom, which behaves more like an enemy, shrinking or killing Mario whenever he comes in direct contact with it. The New Super Mario Bros. series introduced two additional mushroom power-ups: the Mini Mushroom, which shrinks Mario into miniature size, allowing him to access areas he normally cannot; and the Mega Mushroom, which grows Mario into a towering, invulnerable giant who destroys enemies and the environment by running through them.
Certain items exist that grant Mario an extra life. The most recurring and significant is the 1-Up Mushroom, which appears similar to the Super Mushroom but is green instead of red. It is sometimes hidden in invisible item blocks, and in the 3D games, it sometimes appears when Mario walks in a particular area. Although the 1-Up Mushroom is the most common extra life-granting item in the franchise, there are other items that serve the same or a similar function, such as the 3-Up Moon introduced in Super Mario World, which grants three extra lives instead of one.
There are also power-ups taking the form of flowers, which allow Mario to shoot projectiles of various kinds. The first and most significant is the Fire Flower, which turns Mario into his fire form, in which he is able to sling bouncing fireballs at incoming enemies. Mario's fireballs instantly kill most enemies on contact, except for certain enemies which are fire-resistant, like the Buzzy Beetle. Later games introduced alternate variants of this item, such as the Ice Flower, which allows Mario to shoot balls of ice that can also freeze enemies in ice blocks to be used as platforms or projectiles; and the Gold Flower from New Super Mario Bros. 2, which turns Mario into gold and allows him to turn bricks into coins and earn bonus coins for defeating enemies.
Another prominent item in the series is the Super Star (also called the Starman), a flashing anthropomorphic star which grants Mario temporary invincibility, allowing him to kill virtually any enemy upon making contact with it. Some games feature substitutes for this item, like Super Mario 64, where Mario can resist harm using the Metal and Vanish Caps; and Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel, where invincibility is provided by the "Rainbow Star," which also progressively increases Mario's speed, to the point where he becomes almost uncontrollable as his power wears off, and allows him to break through certain objects.
Coins are a common element in Mario game design, traditionally incorporated as puzzles and rewards. Most Super Mario games award the player an extra life once a certain amount of coins are collected, commonly 50 or 100. There are also special variants of Coins, such as Dragon Coins in Super Mario World, Red Coins in Super Mario 64 and a number of games afterwards; and Star Coins in the New Super Mario Bros. games. In Super Mario 64, Sunshine, and the Galaxy games, coins replenish health (and air, when Mario is underwater). In RPGs, Coins can be used to purchase items and other useful things.
One of the Mario franchise's most common modes of transportation is the Warp Pipe, a drain pipe-like structure which comes in a number of different colors (the most common being green). Warp Pipes provide access to secret underground areas that often host mass amounts of Coins, and can also function as platforms that allow Mario to traverse from one area to another; some pipes even launch the hero into the air. Special well-hidden areas in early games, known as "Warp Zones," contain pipes that allow players to skip several levels and even entire worlds at once. Most 3D games in the series feature cannons that allow Mario to progress through levels and reach otherwise inaccessible areas; to use them, he jumps into the barrel, aims himself and is fired at his target.
Cancelled games and tech demos
The Mario series is the largest video game franchise in existence, and has had a lifespan of over thirty years. It is often considered to be the greatest video game series of all time, receiving many high-scoring reviews on their various games. It is also the best-selling video game franchise in history; the games in the core series, alone, have sold a combined total of over 262 million copies. In the series, many games have been considered to be the best of their time by players. However, the series has been considered to have some games of lower quality. An example is the Mario Party sub-series; after the release of Mario Party 3, the series is considered to have lost its flair, as the games often contain the same mechanics. Super Mario Bros. was declared to be the greatest video game of all time twice: once by GamesRadar in 2000, and another time by IGN in 2003.
The Mario cartoons also were shown to have received favorable reviews. Though each of the series were short-lived, they were considered to be highly popular, attracting an audience of children to each episode.
Even with the success of the games and cartoons in the series, there was still a large production that attracted a lot of negative reviews. The Super Mario Bros. film is often considered to be a great failure. The film took over a $20 million gross loss in profits. Bob Hoskins, who played the role of Mario in the film, was recorded saying that the movie was a "nightmare". In the May 2006 issue of Nintendo Power, an interviewer from the magazine had said, "Yes, it happened. Let us speak no more of it." The video game Hotel Mario has often been cited as one of the worst games ever.
The Mario series has been referenced many ways throughout the years. From animation to music, and from the internet to other video games, the Mario series has culturally impacted many people.
The Mario series is highly popular on the internet. Many websites have dedicated themselves to the series in some way, while others poke fun at the series. On YouTube, there are thousands of videos poking fun at one of the greatest blunders of the Mario series, Hotel Mario. The popular website, Newgrounds, has many fan-made games and videos, like the popular Super Mario Bros. Z, Super Smash Bros. ST and The 1-up Pursuit, that are Mario-themed in some way.
Many comics and books have also referenced the Mario series, or are completely centered around them.
The Mario series has been referenced more times in video games than in any other form of publication. Many games created by Nintendo, such as Animal Crossing make very notable references to the Mario series. Even games on non-Nintendo consoles, such as Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, have referenced the Mario series in some way.