'Super Mario' stays in demand, even after 35 years

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Since its launch in 1985, Super Mario has helped mold the modern-day video game industry. Photo by giochi Android iPhone/CC BY 2.0

Thirty-five years have passed since “Super Mario” jumped into the world of gaming. Since its 1985 debut, games developer Nintendo has released 19 different "Mario" games, and its title character has appeared in more than 200. The series made video gaming history — it was the first to tell a narrative story and the first to introduce 3D.

KCRW speaks with Washington Post reporter Gene Park about the mustachioed plumber’s legacy.

Park says “Super Mario” was the first video game with a fully fleshed out story, even if it was simple in comparison to today’s standards. 

“A princess is captured and Mario had to go rescue her from the big evil turtle Bowser,” he says. “Very simple, but we all have to start somewhere.”

He says part of the game’s allure is how it made people feel smart.

“You're set up with a problem, and then the player has to overcome it. And then there's a slightly more complicated problem,” Park says. “[It challenges] you to take all the lessons you just learned and try to beat the level. And that kind of gradual progression of reward really, really addicted people.”

The design of “Super Mario” is also unique. According to Park, co-creator Shigeru Miyamoto aimed to recreate childhood. 

“Parents saw ‘Super Mario’ and they’re like, ‘This seems wonderful!’ It was very much geared towards the entire family,” Park says. 

It’s that same intergenerational appeal that Park attributes to the game’s staying power.

“Which is why 30-year-old guys like me can still get extremely, extremely excited for new ‘Mario.’ … It just taps into a part of themselves that we don't want to let go because it's about play. It's about fun.”

Influence on other video games and industries

According to Park, “Super Mario” inspired many games, including Sega’s “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

“He was meant to be a polar opposite in terms of attitude: more aggressive, faster and everything,” Park says of the blue speedster.

Recently, “Super Mario” even inspired “Super Bernie Bros.,” a fan-created, NES-style game directly based on the series. The 12-level game stars Senator Bernie Sanders, who hops over MAGA-hat wearing villains.   

The blue-overalled protagonist is also credited with helping launch new video game series, such as “Super Mario Kart” and “Super Smash Brothers.” 

Also, the way the character moves in the game has effects beyond entertainment. 

“That was due to the analog control. These controls are also used by the military to control drones and tanks, unmanned. So the impacts of ‘Mario’ go far beyond even just video games,” Park says. “And that's why Mario continues to be just a landmark property in terms of how technology evolves.” 

— Written by Danielle Chiriguayo, produced by Angie Perrin

Credits

Guest:
Gene Park - games reporter for Washington Post

Host:
Madeleine Brand

Producers:
Sarah Sweeney, Michell Eloy, Amy Ta, Rosalie Atkinson, Brian Hardzinski, Angie Perrin