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25 things you (probably) didn't know about Mario

Some great facts about the iconic video game character.

25 things you (probably) didn't know about Mario
10 March 2023

The first Mario game came out way back in 1985, which makes the character some 37 years old now. That's more than three decades and a half of pipes, jumps and Kooper crushing.

Super Mario Bros. the game may be old enough now to have kids, be divorced and looking towards a mid-life crisis, but there's still plenty some don't know about this iconic gaming hero.

And with a new Super Mario Bros Movie soon to be released - you can watch the final trailer - there has never been a better time to get to know the Italian plumber.

From his Italian roots to his original theme song, here are 25 things you probably didn't know about Mario, his brother Luigi and one of the greatest video game franchises ever created...

1. Mario's Original Name

Game designer Shigeru Miyamoto nearly called his famed character 'Mr Video', speculating it would be a name he'd return to with each and every title. In his first appearance in 1981's Donkey Kong, he was known only as 'Jumpman', given his ability to jump over barrels.

2. The Emergence Of Mario

Mario didn't gain his famed name until Nintendo of America began marketing the Donkey Kong title for US audiences. Don James (executive VP of operations, Nintendo Of America) claims that they named the central character after the landlord for the company's warehouse - Mario Segale.

"We thought it would be funny to name the game character ‘Mario’ and quickly agreed it sounded great. So we informed our parent company and that’s how Mario got his name."

3. A Many Of Many Trades

Mario didn't start out as a plumber, but as a carpenter. For his first appearance in Donkey Kong it was decided that a manual labour job would make him a more appealing character.

It wasn't until 1983's Mario Bros. that Mario would be depicted as a plumber, given the game's underground location.

In his 35 years of gaming Mario has also been depicted as a bottler (Mario Bros Game & Watch), a loader (Mario's Cement Factory), a soldier (Mario's Bombs Away), a wrecker (Wrecking Crew), a referee (Mike Tyson's Punch-Out) and a doctor (Doctor Mario).

4. Not So Loveable?

5. The cause of that iconic outfit

There's a deeper purpose behind Mario's look, as Shigeru Miyamoto told ShortList: "...when you designed characters, you had a space that was 16 squares by 16, so creating a normally proportioned person just wasn’t fun. So I started with a really big face, and then decided to fill in the body. I couldn’t really design a mouth, so I made the nose big and covered it with a moustache. And we couldn’t really depict hair, which is why I put a hat on him."

The overalls also helped, allowing Mario's arms to be a different colour to the rest of his body, and thus make it easier to distinguish their movement.

6. The Italian Job

Mario's Italian background didn't solidify until the release of Mario Bros. in 1983.

As the game had a multiplayer aspect, it was decided that Mario should have an Italian brother, sharing a similar name - literally. "Because Mario’s name was there, we asked the American team to come up with some Italian names and Luigi was one of the candidates," explains Miyamoto. "In Japan, Luigi is a familiar name, but it also happens to have the same sound as the Japanese word meaning ‘similar’, so it was perfect."

The game was set in New York's sewer system, where the Italian plumbers battled against all manner of strange creatures invading its pipes.

8. The Princess and the Peach

While the Japanese have always known Princess Peach by the same name, she's had a several different identities for Western audiences.

Marketed as Princess Toadstool when Super Mario Bros. first arrived in Europe and America, she only gained her 'Peach' title when the English translation of Yoshi's Safari arrived in 1993.

9. The Hero That Never Was

Before setting about creating Donkey Kong, Shigeru Miyamoto was looking to create a title around the character Popeye.

Nintendo and King Features Syndicate - owners of the Popeye brand - were working on a deal, but an agreement was never reached. Miyamoto tweaked his ideas, casting a gorilla in the role of Bluto, Pauline as Olive Oyl and Jumpman/Mario as Popeye.

10. Mutant Turtles

Bowser is a turtle, not a dragon (despite breathing fire and living in a castle).

However, Miyamoto's first drawings of Mario's foe had him cast as an ox. Nintendo designer Takashi Tezuka pointed out that Miyamoto's drawings were more like a turtle than an ox, and the two set about redesigning him.

11. Write the theme, sing the theme tune

This might come as a surprise, but there are actually lyrics to the Super Mario Bros. theme tune.

Takashi Tezuka (Super Mario Bros designer) came up with lyrics for Koji Kondo's iconic music. There was a discussion about putting them in the video game's manual, but they never appeared. Here's a sample of them...

Today, full of energy, Mario is still running, running
Go save Princess Peach! Go!
Today, full of energy, Mario runs
Today, full of energy, jumping!
Today, full of energy, searching for coins
Today, keep going, Mario!

Get a mushroom - it's Super Mario!
Get a flower - it's Fire Mario!

Goomba! Troopa! Buzzy Beetle! Beat them all!
Mario is always full of energy and strong!

You can hear it sung in full here. It's weird.

12. The Face Lift

Super Mario Bros. 2 didn't start life as a Mario game. The Japanese sequel to Super Mario Bros. - The Lost Levels - was deemed too difficult for Western players. As such, Nintendo borrowed the mechanics and design of Doki Doki Panic - a Fuji Television game they had a licencing deal with.

The characters were altered to give Mario, Luigi, Toad and Peach roles in the game, along with several graphical changes. The game was later re-released to a Japanese audience as Super Mario USA.

13. The Taller Brother

In their first appearances, Mario and Luigi were identical in size - Luigi being distinguished by a different colour pallet.

He was only made taller than Mario due to Super Mario Bros. 2 borrowing Doki Doki Panic's character designs: Luigi replaced the character Maa, who was taller than Mario's base character Imajin.

Confusingly, Luigi reverted back to Mario's height for Super Mario Bros. 3.

14. The Dark History Of The Chain Chomp

The inspiration behind these tethered foe harks back to an episode from Miyamoto's childhood, when a neighbour's dog chased the young designer before it was yanked back by its chain.

15. A grand farewell

While many Western gamers will be familiar with Super Mario Bros. as a NES launch title, the game was actually set to be a final chapter in the console's history.

The cartridge-based Nintendo Entertainment System had been out in Japan for nearly two-and-a-half years before Super Mario Bros. was launched, and Nintendo was looking to replace the console with a new disk system. The game became the console's most successful title, helping it establish a foothold in the US and European markets.

16. A Play Within A Play

Prepare for your mind to be blown. Super Mario Bros. 3 isn't a game at all. It's a play - a stage performance, with Mario in no real peril at all. Miyamato confirmed that the game's curtain, hanging stage blocks and flat worlds are actually all pointing toward the game being a "stage performance".

We don't know what to believe any more.

17. Press 'up' to jump

Those well-timed A button moments were a late edition to the build of Super Mario Bros.

Initial designs had Mario wielding more weaponry (even a beam rifle at one point), and the A button was given over to an "attack" function, while up was for jumping

Mercifully, the game became more of a platformer and less of a scrolling action shooter.

18. Head In The Bushes

The clouds and bushes of Super Mario Bros. actually use the same 'sprite' design - they just use different colour pallets. The bushes appear more plant-like thanks to hiding their lower section out of sight.

19. Passive-Aggressive Ghost

The inspiration behind Boo is actually a touch... mean? Miyamoto told Nintendo Power Magazine that the character was actually based on animator Osamu Tezuka's wife: "Mr. Tezuka got an idea about putting his wife in the game. His wife is very quiet normally, but one day she exploded, maddened by all the time he spent at work. In the game, there is now a character who shrinks when Mario looks at it, but when Mario turns away, it will grow large and menacing."

20. Sound familiar?

The Game, A Thousand Men and a Baby, The Californians - these are just some of the films that Charles Martinet, Mario's voice actor, has appeared in.

Martinet has lent his vocal skills to Mario's appearance since 1995, also voicing Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, Toadsworth, Baby Mario, Baby Luigi, Donkey Kong.

21. Better Than All The Rest

The most successful Mario title of all time? 1985's Super Mario Bros. - which has shipped some 40.24 million copies to date.

While this was helped by the game being bundled with the NES console, it's still a long way clear of the next best-selling title, 2010's New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which sold 29.09 million.

22. Better late than never

Shigeru Miyamoto had wanted to include an animal companion for Mario for a NES game, but Nintendo’s programmers couldn't get the concept to function with the NES’ limited capabilities.

Yoshi was originally going to be a Koopa, but a dinosaur design was later settled one. His first appearance was in 1990's Super Mario World.

23. It's His Fist

Right - this video from Miyamoto settles one of the longest-running debates in Mario lore: Mario has always broken bricks with is fist not his head. Just like Maradona against England in 1986.

Now drop it.

24. The Ultimate Addiction

The original testers of Super Mario Bros. were more than a little impressed with the game.

"It went down well with th internal testers," said Miyamoto. "It was a different feeling than the one we experienced with Donkey Kong – the testers who were playing Super Mario Bros. just didn’t go home. They stayed really late into the night just to play it."

25. Dawn Of 3D

Along with racer F-Zero, the original Super Mario Kart helped pave the way toward 3D video games.

The game used a system called Mode 7 graphics, which allowed the flat backgrounds to be rotated around a single point and scaled, making the game appear to be three dimensional.