The most popular gaming franchises always have iconic characters that are instantly recognisable, even to those with only a passing interest in gaming. Lara Croft, Pikachu, Sonic the Hedgehog, Zelda: these characters are synonymous with their gaming worlds, have appeared in different genres of game, and serve as inspiration for cosplayers on every continent.

However, if those characters are akin to some of Disney’s most beloved creations then Mario is the equivalent to Mickey Mouse. No gaming character has had a cultural impact on the same scale as Mario. The use of symbols by Mario’s creator Shigeru Miyamoto and subsequent Nintendo developers has ensured that characters and gameplay elements can command immediate recognition.

Iconic symbols across gaming

When a language barrier gets in the way, symbols can help gamers hurdle that obstacle to understand what the game is expecting of them. Before we explore the success of the Mario series, here is a look at three iconic gaming symbols from other genres.

Poké Ball – While some people may struggle to keep track of the various generations of new Pokémon and the changes to gameplay, the Poké Ball remains a constant. The ball’s simple form can be easily altered, whether to show upgraded versions of the balls or to be included in the design of buildings or characters.

The cherry – Early developers of slot machines spiced up their design by adding fruit symbols on the reels. The cherry is perhaps the most memorable of those symbols and its legacy remains present in the most modern form of iGaming, with online slot provider Cherry Casino paying tribute to the famous symbol with both its name and its games.

Tetris blocks – These blocks may not have been designed with their symbolic potential in mind, but the global popularity of the game makes these shapes easy to recognise. Even outside of the context of the game, any colourful group of four blocks instantly evokes thoughts of Tetris.

M for Mario

The Mario series has provided the most memorable symbols of all, helped by the quantity and quality of Mario games. The titular character himself is a collection of distinctive features, from his moustache to his colour scheme, but the ‘M’ symbol that adorns his hat is the most important symbol of all. Its simplicity is extremely effective, working in the same way that the ‘S’ symbol does for Superman. It is not just a plain ‘M’ in a circle – it is an ‘M’ that is always distinguishable as the Mario ‘M’.

The ‘Super Mushroom’

This symbol is also one of the most effective designs in gaming history. Even though the symbol itself bears no similarity to the series’ protagonist Mario, everyone can see a ‘Super Mushroom’ and know that it links to Mario. First-time players will know what to do when they see a mushroom, with the symbol providing a recurring thread that ties together the different Mario games.

Mario symbols also support the idiosyncrasies of the different characters. Emblems are used throughout the Mario series, whether to represent a character or to add design elements. For example, emblems may be emblazoned on karts in Mario Kart to make it easier to see who you are about to overtake. Mario, Wario and Luigi are all represented by letter-based symbols, while Yoshi’s egg and Princess Peach’s crown are two more iconic emblems.

The use of symbols in shaping character design and gameplay has helped the Mario series to enjoy such longevity, and the series is showing no signs of slowing down.

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