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The enduring appeal of Mario30 years after Super Mario Bros. debuted on the NES, why does the world still adore Nintendo's moustachioed mascot? CNET goes in search of the secret of Mario's success.
Okay, do you recognize this chap? Yes, I do. Can you tell me his name? Mario. Mario. Definitely, it's Mario. I grew up with that guy. Mario. Mario. Yeah, it's Mario. [LAUGH] It's Mario indeed. Dungarees wearing gaming icon that's a decade Has endured as a mustachioed mascot for an entire industry. But how did the world's most recognizable plumber leap to such heady heights? And as video games grow up, how has Mario's cartoonish antics continue to represent the very best that the medium has to offer? Ha who. Ha ha. [SOUND] [MUSIC] Japan 1981, and an almost 100 year old company called Nintendo is expanding into the booming market for electronic entertainment with its latest arcade wonder Donkey Kong. The game's director [FOREIGN] had only a few pixels in which to animate his protagonist Mario. He was originally called Jump Man. In fact if you're wondering why Mario looks the way he does. It's really just a direct consequences of being only 16 pixels tall. Why does Mario have a mustache? Because it saves on animating a mouth. Why does he wear a hat? So you don't have to try and make hair out of only a few pixels. The colored overalls? They made Mario's limited running animations easier to see. The finished product was an endearing plucky little plumber, and Mario soon spread into other Nintendo games, including early Game and Watch titles, and Donkey Kong Jr. which featured Mario's only role as a bad guy. If getting drop kicked by a gorilla isn't the humble origin, I don't know what is. But Mario's fame grew, his cheery face becoming inextricably linked with a phenomenon that was changing the gaming industry. The rise of the home console. Mario's big break was the legendary Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo Entertainment system, a perfectly homed plat former this title set the tone for Mario's 2D adventures from the precision mechanics to the cutesy enemies. Power ups and insanely memorable theme music. The work of longtime Nintendo composer Koji Kondo. [MUSIC] The thing that always gets me excited about Mario is the music. It's so, it's really iconic and it's so catchy and everybody knows it. And you know, we can be sitting in the office and someone will just go da, da, da, da, da, da and everyone will join in. [MUSIC] It's this sort of touchstone that everybody has in their childhood. Everyone can join in. Everyone can sort of remember what it was like to play those games and it's just this really nice I think it's quite rare as well. You can't really say that about many games other than Mario. Super Mario Brothers have racked up sales of over 40 million propelling Mario to international fame. But the game did something much more significant. It helped save the gaming industry still reeling from a massive crash in 1983. The reason why the great industry crash happened is because so many companies Any. There are so many utterly terrible games. And these weren't just bad games as in like, Oh there's a bug in this room. It was like, I don't know if it's a game. I don't know what I'm doing here. Is this fun? And Nintendo came out with a console, home console that seemed to work very well. And a game that appeared to be good. Of all things, in fact very good. And I think that turned a lot of people's heads. It's like, Oh, people are now making fun games again. The fun games kept coming. Super Mario Brothers 2 was released in 1988 followed by Super Mario Land in 1989 which was set to be bundled with the Game Boy handheld until Nintendo decided to go with Tetris instead. The early 90s brought Super Mario Brothers 3 and Super Mario World. While the booming popularity of the brothers themselves saw the cast of regulars expand as well as spin off appearances including a somewhat ill judged movie in 1993 The entirely surreal Super Mario Bros supershow sitcom. Do the Mario! Swing your arms from side to side. Come on it's time to go do the Mario! Like Beanie Babies of the Macarena, Mario's time in the sun could easily have ended in the '90s, save for a single title that once more revolutionized the industry, and proved how far video games, as a medium, had yet to evolve.>> Yahoo! Released in 1996, Super Mario 64 was nothing short of a technical marvel. Putting Nintendo's 2D character into a vibrant fully explorable 3D world. One of gaming's first and still one of its' best. [MUSIC] If the processing power of the new Nintendo 64 console made the game technically possible, it was the ingenious camera system and flexible controls that made it a joy to play, successfully making the transition to 3D proof that Mario and Nintendo have real staying power. Sadly, that's something that not every video game icon of the '90s really managed. But Who knew what 3D gaming was going to be like? And N64 came out and everyone went, oh, it's going to be like this. And not only were these games very different from the Marios that we'd normally expect, they were very, very good. I think it allowed Nintendo to, Use the weight and the respect of the brand onto other games. So they then made Mario Tennis, Mario Party. Paper Mario, Mario Golf. The crucial thing is all those games are also brilliant. So if you're looking for a single reason for Mario's enduring success. It's that its face has become synonymous with a certain level of video gaming quality. That's down to Nintendo's cautious controlling approach when it comes to its stars. A mindset that's very much at odds with the broader entertainment history where pop culture is increasingly built out of heavily franchised multi-platform media empires. Nintendo owns some of the most beloved characters in the cultural pantheon. But so far it doesn't seem that fussed about branching out. You know if they're feeling quite frivolous they'll make a Mario amoeba toy thing. And that's as far as they'll go. And that's when they're letting their hair down. And Mario has now lasted thirty years. You don't stay relevant for 30 years if you start smearing your face on a lunchbox you know? They like to stick to games. They like to stick to a few releases. And they like to make it great. And I think that's why even though Nintendo may seem out of step that's actually why they're successful. With care and caution, Nintendo has managed to build Mario into more than just a symbol for platforming or its parent company, but into a figurehead for what games are at their best. Honest, uncomplicated fun. And the longer Nintendo Keeps churning out high quality Mario action, the more fond memories it creates and the stronger Mario becomes. There's a baseline of Mario-ness. Like that everyone can relate to. So, music, the game play, the aesthetic. All these games sort of hold on to what makes Mario special, but are also unique in their own way. So he's. Managed to stay relevant and not only that, popular, for 30 years.>> And, of course, it would hardly be fair not to mention Mario's often forgotten brother, Lu- [SOUND] But it looks like we're out of time. Here's to you, Mario, keep on entertaining us. And viewers let us know your fondest Mario moments or what you want to see the character do next. And stay tuned to CNet. [SOUND]