There’s no getting around it: Mario is an icon. With his trademark red cap and rotund belly, the portly plumber has become instantly recognizable the world over. From those earliest bounces in the arcades where he was originally known as “Jump Man” to his hat-throwing, dinosaur-possessing antics in the upcoming Super Mario Odyssey, Mario has been enthralling gamers for more than 30 years. And with his Switch outing shaping up to be an all-time classic, he isn’t going anywhere.
On the surface, Mario doesn’t seem to have changed all that much over the years. Sure, his character model has been given an extra polygon or two from generation to generation, and the Mushroom Kingdom has become home to a cast of ever-increasingly colourful characters. But the basic tenets of a Super Mario game remain pretty simple. Namely, run left-to-right, jumping on/over enemies in a bid to save the princess.
Or so it would seem. Yes, it doesn’t feel like a huge lot has changed since Mario first graced the games industry, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find a whole host of under-the-hood changes and refinements which have all contributed to the Super Mario we know and love. Whether it be technical tweaks such as improved camera controls or full-blown palette swaps, Mario has changed in a myriad of subtle ways. There’s a lot to choose from, but here are our top 15 ways Super Mario has changes which you probably haven’t noticed.
15 Mario’s Clothes Change
Let’s get this biggie out the way first. Mario’s blue overalls and red shirt may be emblematic, but his colours haven’t always been the same. In Mario’s first appearance in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong, Mario was given a blue shirt and red overalls, which are effectively opposite to the Mario we all know and love today. 1983's arcade Mario Bros saw Mario get his familiar blue overalls, but he also sported a blue hat, which just looks odd today.
In fact, it wasn’t until 1988 when Nintendo finally nailed down Mario’s final colours, when the slightly-oddball Super Mario Bros. 2 was released (in-game at least, the box art still depicted Mario in red overalls). The game also went someway to defining Mario’s physical appearance, giving him a rounded face and rather rotund tummy – traits that would live on to this very day.
14 Did Yoshi Always Have Arms?
Don’t believe us on this one? Go back to Super Mario World now and check. Tongue? Yup. Saddle? Fine. But arms? Not as you remember them.
Judging from his depiction on the box art, Nintendo obviously intended Yoshi to have a full set of green limbs (or indeed at least the same colour as his body). Something seems to have gotten lost in the coding though, and when Yoshi spawns from an egg, his bold, orange-coloured limbs are plain to see as he opens and closes his mouth in what is presumably shrieks of distress. Are the orange limbs a genetic defect, or was the flesh burnt from his bones when Mario jumped off his back to leave him to drown in lava? Who knows. What we do know is that Nintendo clearly noticed the problem, and from Yoshi’s Island onward Yoshi’s orange arms were no more.
13 Which One Is Evil?
You may not know this, but before Mario was a household name, he wasn’t always the Goomba-stompng, Bowser defeating hero we all love. In fact, back in the1982 arcade release Donkey Kong Jr, he was the villain of the piece. Set after the events of the original Donkey Kong, Mario wants revenge on the titular ape for stealing his girlfriend, and so captures the ape inside a big cage. It is then up to Donkey Kong’s son Donkey Kong Jr to rescue his father through climbing vines, collective keys and avoiding obstacles.
The premise of Mario being the bad guy is strange enough, but what is really shocking is to see Mario maliciously holding a whip, which he presumably flogs his prisoner with. Nintendo wisely choose to ditch Mario’s cruelty-to-animals tendencies as he became more popular, but let it never be sad Mario has always been good.
12 Toad’s Voice Became Raspy
Love him or hate him, Toad has been an integral part of the Mario universe ever since the NES. In terms of design, Toad hasn’t changed much over the last two decades, remaining as diminutive and chubby as ever. One area though that for better or worse has seen change is his voice.
As with Mario, Toad was silent in his formative years on the NES and SNES. Toad finally found his voice on the N64, and once he started, he wouldn’t shut up. From Mario Kart to Mario Party, Toad had a loud, childlike voice that was somehow simultaneously enthusiastic and annoying. Mario Tennis, however, marked a change, with his voice acquiring a raspy quality like he has smoked too many cigarettes. In reality, the rasp was due to a change in voice artist, but in any case, the voice has stuck, and has been controversial ever since.
11 Mario’s Height Is Inconsistent
Mario has never had pretentions of being tall. Despite this though, ever since Super Mario Bros. 2, we’re seen that a full-sized Mario (aka Super Mario), although being a little shorter than Peach, is still decently proportioned.
We’re not quite sure what happened between then and Super Mario 64, but along with acquiring a new voice, Mario’s N64 outing seemed to see him losing several feet of height. The most telling moment is right at the end, where Peach had to bend down just to land a kiss on Mario’s nose. The counter argument is that Mario isn’t Super Mario in this game, but the problem with that is that Mario is still head and shoulders above the toads, implying he is at least as tall as he was when he rescued them in the original NES game. Whatever the reason, Mario hasn’t gained any of that height back in later adventures.
10 Shy Guys Are New
Shy guys, bob-bombs, Birdo and pokeys – where would the Mario universe be without them? These iconic enemies have been an integral part of both Mario’s platform adventures and his spin off adventures. But believe it or not, all these bad guys were introduced in Super Mario Bros. 2.
Super Mario Bros. 2 is known as being somewhat of the black sheep of the Mario Bros franchise. Originally developed as a new IP called Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic, Nintendo decided the title originally intended to be Super Mario Bros 2 (later rereleased under the new title “The Lost Levels”) was too difficult for an American audience, and so repackaged Doki Doki as a Mario game. From locked door puzzles to a giant frog final boss with an allergy to turnips, the game looked and played so different from any Mario game before or after. Despite this though, certain aspects did have a big impact on the Mario universe – including the introduction of the above enemies.
9 Mario And Luigi Were Given Second Names
Out of the many qualities Mario shares with Cher (and there are many), it is often assumed that his lack of a second name is one of the most prominent. It may surprise you though that both Mario and Luigi do have a second name, the origin of which comes from the spectacularly bad 1993 Mario Bros. movie.
“I’m Mario Mario. This is my brother, Luigi Mario” declares a hairy-lipped Bob Hoskins. All at once, jaws across the world dropped. The name “Mario Bros” suddenly makes sense – the two brothers are literally the Mario brothers. Doubters do question the legitimacy of the claim, as it is never mentioned in the games, and the Mario Bros movie can’t exactly be treated as canon. Nevertheless, Nintendo have never suggested otherwise, and Shigeru Miyamoto and Eiji Aonuma even once joked that Link’s second name is indeed ‘Link,’ suggesting approval at the naming convention.
8 Birdo Used To Be A Guy
Birdo has always been a bit of a strange one. A giant, pink, egg-spewing monster who has a rather delicate, feminine character. One thing you may not know though is that she in fact used to be a he.
Birdo’s gender is usually conveyed via her hair ribbon, which goes back as far as the SNES remake of Super Mario Bros. 2. Go back to the original NES version, however, and you’ll see that Birdo’s ribbon is not there. Going to the game’s instruction booklet, her bio reads thus: “He thinks he is a girl and he spits eggs from his mouth. He’d rather be called Birdetta.” Whether the modern day Birdo is a brand new character, or the NES Birdo who has realized her dreams, who knows. All we know is that Birdo has undergone one of the most interesting transformations of any Nintendo character.
7 Super Mario Sunshine’s Twitchy Handling
From the hated blue coins to Bowser’s lacklustre voice acting, it’s become somewhat of a cliché to hate on Mario’s GameCube outing. But out of all Super Mario Sunshine’s problems, one issue people rarely talk about are the controls. And we’re not talking about the controversial FLUDD either, but rather just how uncomfortable the simple act of moving is. The control stick is way too sensitive, turning Mario into a jittering mess when you’re trying to navigate tight platforms or line up the perfect jump.
When Super Mario Galaxy came along, the switch in style, gameplay, and overall quality took centre stage. But compare the two side-by-side and you’ll notice a small degree of inertia added to Mario’s movements, taking away from the twitchiness and making him much smoother to control. It’s a small change, and one that largely went unnoticed, but it was an important change nonetheless.
6 Donkey Kong Was Originally Donkey Kong Jr.
While we are on the subject of Donkey Kong Jr., those of you of a certain age will remember a time when the character was in everything from the original Super Mario Kart to the N64’s Mario Tennis. But did you ever wonder where he disappeared to in later years?
Well according to Nintendo UK’s official website, “1994's Donkey Kong is actually 1982's Donkey Kong Jr., all grown up”. So as it turns out, the Donkey Kong you know and love from Donkey Kong Country onwards is actually Donkey Kong Jr himself, all grown up and turned hero of his own platformer. That in itself is a heck of a revelation, but as well as this it also turns out Cranky Kong is actually the aged version of Donkey Kong from the arcades. Whether this chronology was introduced by Rare or Nintendo themselves, it yet to be seen. But in any case. Mind. Blown.
5 Super Mario World’s Sophisticated Camera
On the surface, Super Mario World doesn’t look a whole lot different to the Super Mario Bros. series. Sure, the graphics look a whole lot nicer, but in terms of being a side-scrolling platformer, the basic mechanics seem the same.
Dive under the hood however and you’ll notice a whole host of tweaks and changes to how Mario plays, particularly with regards to the camera. The game plays so organically it is easy to forget just how sophisticated the camera is, but Nintendo have employed all sorts of techniques to make sure the player always knows what is going on. For example, the camera never moves left or right unless Mario moves more than 16 pixels, allowing the player to perfectly line up jumps without the camera twitching around. The camera is also tailored to the particularities of each level, locking to the ground, platforms, and ceiling when needed, and even unlocking completely in certain underwater segments. Super Mario Sunshine take note: this is how to make a platformer camera work.
4 Nintendo Gave Luigi His Own Character
You gotta love Luigi. While Mario takes the form of your standard hero (albeit a bit shorter and podgier), Luigi is an altogether more complex creation. Cowardly, nervous, and clumsy, Luigi is one of the most memorable, comedic and downright relatable characters in the whole of the Mario universe.
What is surprising though is just how recently Luigi’s character was fleshed out. Luigi’s history stretches far back to the Mario Bros arcade original, where he took the form of a simple palette swap of Mario for the second player to control. It wasn’t until Super Mario Bros. 2 where Luigi was given his own unique abilities – namely being slightly taller, slower, and able to jump higher. In terms of his actual character, we’d have to wait until 2001’s Luigi’s Mansion until we saw what a loveable buffoon the green-shirted plumber really is. It’s been a slow transformation, but one that’s made a huge difference to the Mario universe.
3 Bowser Is No Longer A Sorcerer
The plots in Mario games aren’t exactly War and Peace. Bowser kidnaps peach, Mario embarks on an epic adventure to rescue her, yada yada. But that hasn’t always been the case.
If you read the instruction booklet for the original Mario Bros., you’ll find that Bowser is known as the ‘sorcerer king,' able to wield powerful “black magic.” If this wasn’t enough, the evil wizard had apparently turned the inhabitants of the peaceful Mushroom Kingdom into objects, including “stones, bricks, and even field horse-hair plants” – which we’re sure you’ll agree is much more impressive than merely kidnapping a princess. Rather than just being the passive damsel in distress, the only person who can reverse the spell is Princess Toadstool herself, which is the reason Mario needs to save her. It’s all pretty epic stuff, so it’s a shame Nintendo decided to downgrade Bowser to a sinister turtle-thing.
2 Mario Got A Voice
You can’t underestimate the importance of a voice. Throughout the NES and SNES era, Mario was a completely silent protagonist, content with his little blips and pings as he collected coins and jumped. Sure, he had a voice in the animated TV show, but were those gruff Brooklyn tones the true voice of our portly plumber?
“It’s-a-me, Mario” sang the answer from one of the most famous title screens ever made. Super Mario 64 was a sensation for so many reasons, one of them being Mario finally got his own voice. And what a voice it was! Although voice artist Charles Martinet only auditioned for the role at the last minute, his high-pitched, enthusiastic tones instantly captured the fun and energy that makes Mario games such fun to play. Whether you were yahooing through long jumps or grunting after diving into a wall, Mario’s voice was the icing on the top of a superbly realized 3D Mario game.
1 It Hasn’t Always Been Peach Who Has Been Captured
A man as chivalrous as Mario you’d hope would only have eyes for one lady. Not so it seems, as Mario has been bouncing over enemies and chasing after bad guys for at least three different dames.
In the original Donkey Kong, Peach isn’t to be seen at all, and it is rather a lady named Pauline who is captured. Pauline has remained rather elusive ever since, only appearing in the GameBoy version of Donkey Kong, as well as in the Mario Vs. Donkey Kong series. In Super Mario Land, Mario again strays from his beloved Peach by rushing off to save Princess Daisy, whose origins have never been made clear. Even Princess Peach herself went by a different name for the first decade of her life, calling herself “Princess Toadstool” until Super Mario 64. Nintendo nowadays have decided it is Peach and Peach alone who will be the captured princess, but we’ll never forget the various other ladies in Mario’s life - the dirty dog.