The Origins & History Of Mario [Geek History Lessons]

Justin Pot 11-07-2012

mario gamesAn Italian plumber created by a Japanese artist somehow became one of the most recognizable characters on earth. Featured in over 100 games, it’s hard to imagine Nintendo or even video games without this mustachioed man in red. But where did he come from?


Our story begins in the early 1980’s with a struggling card and toy company – Nintendo – trying to break into a then-expanding market – arcade games. The company’s few attempts at making games were mixed at best, and a game called Radar Scope barely sold at all – leaving Nintendo with empty cabinets in need of a new game.

Looking to try something new, Nintendo President Hiroshi Yamauchi approached an artist named Shigeru Miyamoto – who until then worked on art for Nintendo’s games – and asked him to design a game for the cabinets. Miyamoto was not a programmer, and thought of a story before starting work on gameplay – perhaps the first time this has happened in the history of video games.

1981: Donkey Kong

mario games

The ultimate result was Donkey Kong, a love triangle between a man, his pet gorilla and his girlfriend.

The game, while probably not the first platformer, defined the platform genre with its main character: “Jump Man”. He could move left and right, climb ladders and jump – over obstacles or from one platform to the next. It was very different from major video games of the time.


So different, in fact, that when the game arrived at Nintendo’s American headquarters near Seattle, WA, the team didn’t really like it and though it wouldn’t catch on. They were wrong, of course: the game was a huge success.

While Nintendo of America was working on distributing the game, the owner of their warehouse headquarters showed up demanding the rent, which was late. That landlord’s name? Mario. The staff jokingly started calling Jumpman Mario, earning him a nickname. It eventually became his actual name.

As for Miyamoto – he went on to design most of your childhood. He created the Legend of Zelda series, Star Fox, Pikmin and Wii Sports/Play/Fit/etc, just to name a few.


1983: Mario Bros

Two years later Miyamoto, after working on a variety of games including two sequels to Donkey Kong, designed a two-play arcade game featuring Mario. The game, set in a the myriad of pipes beneath New York City, is the first to feature Mario’s brother, Luigi. It’s also the first game in which Mario cannot die by falling, the first of many super-human powers he would eventually acquire.

Even if you’ve never played this game you’re probably familiar with it. Its entirety is included in Super Mario Bros 3 and a few other games.

1985: Super Mario Brothers

mario brothers


You know this game. You’ve played this game. To this day its music is probably the most recognizable of any video game ever, and the first level was many people’s introduction to console gaming itself.

Looking at the Mario games that preceded this one, it’s not hard to understand what made Super Mario Bros the best selling video game of all time. There are 24 levels, each of them far larger than all of the spaces that made up Donkey Kong and Mario Bros combined. There are powerups. Mario can grow bigger with a mushroom and shoot fireballs with a flower. And there is the now-standard left-to-right side scrolling that defined platformers for a decade, and still defines many today.

Two Sequels

There were two direct sequels to this game, both named Super Mario Bros 2. The Japanese version – released in 1986 – was very similar to the first Super Mario Bros:

As you can tell, it was hard. So hard, in fact, Nintendo decided American gamers wouldn’t enjoy it (they didn’t even get a chance to play it until it was released as part of Super Mario All Stars in 1993).


The sequel released in America was based on another game – Doku Doku Panic – which itself was developed to be Super Mario Bros 2 before it was scrapped. It was very different than the first Super Mario, and released in 1988:

1988: Super Mario 3

mario games

Fans disappointed with Super Mario Bros 2 had no cause to worry – Super Mario Bros 3 featured controls similar to the original game. That’s not to say it was a copy. No, Super Mario Bros 3 was the first Mario game to feature a world map and inventory. It also added several new powerups.

The gameplay was non-linear, to an extent: some levels could be skipped if the player wanted, depending on the map layout. This game is considered by many (including this reporter) to be one of the greatest games of all time.

1990: Super Mario World

In 1990 Nintendo put out a new console, and also released the biggest Mario game yet – Super Mario World. This game introduced Yoshi, Mario’s beloved dinosaur friend, and for the first time included levels with multiple solutions.

It was a great showcase for what the Super Nintendo was capable of, yes, but it was also a great game in and of itself. It was also the last major console sidescroller to star Mario until New Super Mario Bros Wii came along in 2009 nearly 20 years later.

1995: Super Mario 64

The next generation of consoles called for a different sort of Mario game altogether, and Super Mario 64 delivered. This game was 3D, and that meant one thing – exploration. Unlike previous Mario games, largely a finish-the-level affair, Super Mario 64 offered many different tasks inside each level:

The game set the standards for the 3D era of platforming, both in terms of camera management and objectives.

Super Mario Galaxy, released 12 years later, is very similar to Super Mario 64 in many ways.

Other Games

This is, of course, only a piece of Mario’s history. I didn’t mention a single game for portable systems, Mario’s taken on a variety of different careers besides platforming – a doctor in puzzle game Dr. Mario, a race-car driver in Mario Kart, and a fighter in Super Smash Bros. He is the star of RPGs, the host of party games and an occasional athlete. It would be impossible to outline every Mario game in a single article, but the above Mario games all helped make Mario the memorable character he is today.

There are probably hundreds of fan-made Mario games out there at this point. Super Mario War Super Mario War: Multiplayer Chaos That's A Ton Of Fun Read More is my favorite, though the Portal-inspired Mari0 Experience The Perfect Combination Of Mario & Portal With Mari0 Do you ever see Nintendo and Valve getting together to create something beautiful? No? Me neither. Thankfully, the kind folks at Stabyourself manufactured this hypothetical gaming lovechild all on their own, and it has come... Read More and Super Mario Brothers X Super Mario Brothers X: The Best Fan-Made Mario Game Ever [Windows] Check out the ultimate in fan-created Mario goodness: Super Mario Brothers X. This game combines elements from every Mario game ever made into one, and the result is a lot of fun. While the level... Read More are both up there.

I grew up with Mario, to the point of obsession according to some of my family, so obviously I’d love to learn more about the character. Do you know any Mario history or trivia you’d like to share? Put it in the comments below, along with any memories you might have from these games.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

Whatsapp Pinterest

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. G.Shut
    December 13, 2016 at 5:16 am

    Cool article. Been playing Super Mario Bros all afternoon on the 3DS, a bit of retro fun.

  2. Hristomir
    October 1, 2016 at 6:58 am

    "The sequel released in America was based on another game – Doku Doku Panic – which itself was developed to be Super Mario Bros 2 before it was scrapped. It was very different than the first Super Mario, and released in 1988:"

    It's Doki Doki Panic, not Doku Doku

  3. Anonymous
    June 16, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Awesome article,I like too Mario games.

  4. Louise
    April 12, 2016 at 2:13 am

    This brings back a lot of childhood memories!

  5. Christian
    March 17, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Super Mario Bros 3 came out 1991, not 1988. That was Super Mario Bros 2

    • Christian
      March 17, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      Now I'm confused. I have done more research and have found several sites saying they came out in different years.

      • Justin Pot
        March 22, 2016 at 1:41 pm

        1988 in Japan, 1991 in North America!

        • Christian
          March 24, 2016 at 7:50 pm

          Thanks! That clears a lot of things up!

  6. Reece
    February 18, 2016 at 6:06 pm

    Love Mario and its history. I hate how people don't know about the original games!

    • i hate geeks
      May 18, 2016 at 1:47 pm

      shut up geek.

  7. Laura Martin
    January 17, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    What an awesome article! I spent all of the 80's and 90's playing these games and it brought back such wonderful memories. Now I was able to share these memories with my son, who is also very much into Super Mario. He wants to play the original Nintendo games which I played, I wish they were still available! Thank you for the article. :)

  8. Thomas
    January 7, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    I think that was a great article

    • Justin Pot
      January 7, 2016 at 5:09 pm

      Glad something I wrote so long ago is still interesting to people. :)

  9. ljbgi;
    March 18, 2015 at 7:26 pm

    im just a kid and more each day i grow some more im just expolring im cauoerjgnwruiobt

  10. Jason Williams
    July 29, 2012 at 3:40 pm

    this is great. always good to see what gaming today came from

    • Justin Pot
      July 29, 2012 at 9:12 pm

      It's fun to look into, too. I'm glad you liked it.

  11. Ben
    July 12, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    A good history lesson

  12. Mitesh Budhabhatti
    July 12, 2012 at 7:41 am

    Interesting.. this sent me in my childhood memories !! Thanks. Do you know about Contra?

    • Justin Pot
      July 13, 2012 at 1:58 am

      I've taken to Contra only recently...somehow managed to have a childhood without owning it. I might look into its history sometime, though.

  13. Seppe
    July 11, 2012 at 9:43 pm

    Great article.

    my favourite: Super Mario 64. The first time exploring the gardens outside the castle was my greatest moment in gaming ever. I climbed trees for hours :)

    • Justin Pot
      July 13, 2012 at 1:57 am

      The exploration was extremely liberating, especially when compared to other Mario games. Makes for great memories.

  14. thehoodnerd
    July 11, 2012 at 6:02 pm

    Great post ever!

    lol good job Justin

    • Justin Pot
      July 13, 2012 at 1:57 am

      I do what I can.