Everyone knows Mario – literally! A survey of American children in the 1990s found the mustached plumber was more recognizable than even Mickey Mouse, and easily the most recognized figure in the gaming industry. But like all great celebrities, Mario has a few skeletons in his closet. Below are a few things you didn’t know about the Nintendo icon!
He was originally named Jumpman
Back in 1981, Nintendo released Donkey Kong, the brainchild of brand new game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. Miyamoto wanted to create a game based on the Popeye cartoons, starring Popeye, Olive Oyl, and brute Bluto, but the license was difficult and expensive to acquire for such a small unknown company.
To compensate, three all new characters were created: Donkey Kong himself, the damsel-in-distress Pauline, and the playable hero, Jumpman –so named because he could jump, which wasn’t the most common mechanic in games back then!
The name “Mario” was meant to calm NoA’s unpaid landlord
As Nintendo of America was localizing this new game called Donkey Kong, they were having some pretty dire cash flow problems – so much that the landlord of a warehouse they leased, Mario Segale, stormed up to the company to demand payment. A furious argument erupted, and by the end, then-president of NoA Minoru Arakawa had managed to convince Segale that they would make good on the back rent. Perhaps in an attempt to calm him, or perhaps just as a tribute, they decided to name the new character in Donkey Kong “Mario” after the landlord. When word got back to Japan, the name stuck.
He was originally a carpenter
Since Donkey Kong takes place on a bunch of half-built girders and skyscrapers, Miyamoto wanted to give him a profession appropriate for that area. So, Jumpman was made a carpenter. At one point a colleague of Miyamoto jokingly suggested the portly-looking character more closely resembled a plumber, prompting the development of the original Mario Bros. arcade game (not Super Mario Bros.; that came later!). Mario Bros. takes place in underground sewers with pipes strewn about, and led to the Mario character not only becoming a plumber, but also an Italian immigrant to New York.
The Clouds and Bushes in Super Mario Bros. are the same
You’d never believe it until someone mentions it and shows you a picture: the clouds and the bushes in Super Mario Bros. look exactly the same, except one is white the other green. Oh the tricks they used to save money back then!
His design is almost entirely for technical reasons
Think quickly of Mario’s trademarks: mustache, overalls, hat, big nose. The mustache came about because with the small pixilated sprites of the Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. days, it was difficult to draw a mouth and facial expressions. The overalls were because Miyamoto wanted to show Mario’s arms moving prominently when he jumped, and it was easier to do that if the arm color was different than the main body. The hat let him avoid drawing a hairstyle or animating the hair during the jumps. The big nose helped give his face some character and, like the mustache, helped to avoid drawing a more detailed face!
Super Mario Bros. 2 was not originally a Mario game
Super Mario Bros. 2 is very different from any other Mario game, but some American fans may not know why. The game we know as Super Mario Bros. 2 was originally released in Japan as Doki Doki Panic, which featured characters totally unrelated to the Mario franchise. The Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 was almost exactly the same as the first game in appearance and gameplay, but with new, much more difficult levels. Nintendo worried it would be too difficult for American audiences, so they repackaged Doki Doki Panic instead.
Despite its unconventional origins, SMB2 added a ton to the Mario universe, including classic enemies like Shy Guys and Bob-ombs. It was so successful that the American SMB2 was released in Japan as “Super Mario Bros. USA” not much later.
Mario found his voice in a game no one has heard of
Many players, understandably so, think Mario first started vocalizing in Nintendo 64 launch title Super Mario 64. But Mario’s voice actor, Charles Martinet, first appeared in a game called Mario’s Game Gallery, released one year earlier for Macintosh and PC. The game is a pretty simple collection of five board games (checkers, Go Fish, dominoes, backgammon, and a version of Yahtzee) where players square off against Mario and the game pieces are Mario themed. It’s also one of the rarest Mario games out there!