We all recognise him straight away – red hat, red t-shirt with blue dungarees with a moustache – yes, he’s Mario. He is potentially one of the most iconic game characters of all time. He was initially created by video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto, who worked for Nintendo. For a period, he also acted as the company’s unofficial mascot, and we would make his first video game appearance in 1981 in the game ‘Donkey Kong’. And although nearly everyone might recognise just who Mario is, that’s not what we’re going to be looking at today. Instead, we’re going to be looking at the influence he’s had both with the success of Nintendo and with video games in general. 

First and foremost, let’s get down to the numbers, over 606 million units of Mario themed games have sold worldwide, which makes it by far the most popular franchise of all time. The nearest to it is Pokémon which comes in at a modest 340 million-unit sales. On top of this, the Italian plumber has also appeared in over 200 separate video games – sometimes alongside other members of the franchise including Princess Peach and his brother Luigi. 

Now let’s have a look at the influence that Mario had on Nintendo as a company and how he saved them from a possible downfall back in the early ’80s. Back in 1983, Nintendo had released the NES or Nintendo Entertainment System. The console itself went on to be a huge success and breathed some life back into, what was, a dying industry. However, the first Super Mario Bros game released in 1985 would catapult Nintendo into the stratosphere. It was referred to as the ‘must-play’ game of the console. From this point on the game would hold the title of being the most-sold video game for nearly a quarter of a century having sold over 40 million copies. It wouldn’t be until 2009 that this record would be broke by Wii sports. 

Now that over three decades have passed since the inception of Mario let’s examine how he’s changed the video game industry in a much general way. Firstly, it catapulted the 2D platform genre to be the most popular, paving the way for demand to lead to games such as Sonic being created. Super Mario Bros was also one of the first games to implement ‘power-ups’ as an in-game mechanic. This added a whole new edge to the game and increased the competitiveness. 

Super Mario Kart is another game from the franchise that created itself a whole new genre. It was also one of the first times that a character from a franchise has appeared out of the original genre that it found itself in. Super Mario Kart is a 16-bit classic which inspired games such as Crash Bandicoot Racing, Wacky Racers and Sonic & Sega all-star racing. Racing wasn’t the only other genre that Mario dipped into; the Super Smash Bros also entered the fighting market and Mario has his own slot games.

Also, with the transition from 2D to 3D, we seen a lot of the former notable video game characters start to lose a lot of their prominence. However not Mario, instead he made the transition between the two seem seamless, as well as being a huge contributor to the 2D revolution he was equally as responsible for the 3D revolution. Mario himself has also established himself as a global cultural icon, with many lessons above and beyond the gaming side of things that can be taken from this. The reason why he is so popular, as such, is that he isn’t a superhero, but appears simply a down to earth average Italian plumber just like anyone else. This veered away from the typical comic book and superhero stereotype. 

This casual aspect of Mario also meant that he could be moulded and adapt to any situation or scenario, which has made is so easy for him to be included in so many different genres and on so many different platforms. There is also the background story with him and his other accompanying characters, for example, his fraternal brother Luigi, or the love of his life, Princess Peach. Having all these characters and their intertwining stories adds a sense of novelty to proceedings. This also adds to the reasoning that when you’re in a character selection screen on any Mario game, as you guessed, it will land by default on Mario. 

So the reason for his popularity as a cultural icon plain and simply comes to down his casual trait. We judge all of his fellow characters based off him, for example, Bowser would be ‘heavy’ thus meaning a lot heavier than Mario, and with Toad as ‘light’ so that just by these nicknames we can make them comparisons to Mario. There are also different versions of Mario, take, for example, Baby Mario, or Dr Mario, he’s a personality in himself that can be applied to many different roles. 

Hopefully today this has shed a bit of light on just how influential Mario has been not only on Nintendo and for the 80’s gaming culture, but on the video game industry in general. It is still clear by nearly 300 million units sold holding the record for being the most successful franchise of all time. On top of this, it shows no sign of stopping with Mario Kart for smartphones currently in the pipeline. This shows that Mario can keep on going and adapt to any platform he is on, and the fan base will be bigger than ever. It also seems that it could be another couple of decades at the very least when we begin to see another franchise even get near that of Mario. However, something is for sure, Mario hasn’t half had a huge influence on video games and video game culture over the past three decades and a lot of the developments that have brought to us where we stand today can be attributed for sure to the success of Mario and the wider Mario franchise.

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