Time to feel old, fellow nerds. It has been a quarter of a century since those little plumbers burst onto the Famicom (you know it as the Nintendo Entertainment System) in Japan. Mario, and to a lesser extent Luigi, are still the most recognizable figures in video games, and still a commanding presence so many years later. Can Sonic the Hedgehog say as much? I don’t think so.
More than the flagship, more than the face, Mario is the embodiment of Nintendo. And he gets better with every passing year. When Nintendo first hit, it was Super Mario Bros the kids played. I can remember playing the NES at my cousin’s house, he had the duel cartridge that played both Mario and Duckhunt. And while the light gun is always a treat, we played Mario Bros for hours, hours, until we were forced away from it.
The sequels each have their own story. The second game allowed you to play as Toad and Peach, and each character had a special ability. Super Mario Bros. 3 is still the highest selling NES game and the only one I can think of that got an entire feature length commercial complete with Fred Savage. It’s also the Mario that introduced us to the myriad costume changes that would become a mainstay of the character.
Super Mario World is still the most fun you can have on a Super NES system, a game so full of life that it spills off the screen, transmitting its joy to the world in a way few games do. For example: I once spent some afternoons in a nun’s chapel that my father was renovating. The nun’s all lived there and in their game room was an SNES and all the nun’s played Super Mario World. Swear to God.
When NES moved into a 3 dimensional world with the Nintendo 64, Mario was there running and climbing, flying around in his pixelated glory. Even when Mario Sunshine came off a little to eco-friendly and the series shifted back to a side scrolling maze of death, it was still the best kind of nostalgic return to form that every great character sees at some point.
But the best may be the latest. In the Mario Galaxy series on the Wii, the plumbers get to reach for the stars and traverse some of their greatest challenges yet. I haven’t played the latest, but the first Mario Galaxy was a blast and I can’t wait to get my mitts around Galaxy 2.
Yes it’s hard not to think of the Super Mario Bros. without that twinge of youthful joy pulling at your heart. But don’t take my word for it. Just watch this 25th Anniversary video and try not to smile. Long live the Mario Brothers!