UPDATE: Click here to play the original Donkey Kong. It’s harder than it looks.
Mario has never looked so good. Today he’s all shiny and 3-D in the New Super Mario Bros for the Wii. It’s been a long road. Here’s how Mario started out, as Jumpman:
Jumpman (Mario) was designed by Japanese video game designer Shigeru Miyamoto. The game was Donkey Kong, and the year was 1981. The hardware of the day placed a lot of restrictions on what Miyamoto could do artistically. All of the iconic design aspects we associate with Mario were practical ways of getting around the issues of 8-bit graphic design. Mario wore red overalls and a blue shirt (originally appearing as a carpenter in this title) to provide contrast between him and the background. Wearing a hat meant that he did not have to be given hair. It would have been difficult not only to design, but to animate when he jumped. He has a large nose and mustache because that’s easier than drawing a mouth, and facial expression would be out of the question. Look at the size of the character compared to the game board on the screen. His shape, clothes and facial features allow him to look human. That’s all there was to it.
Donkey Kong Jr. came out the next year, and that’s when his first name was revealed as Mario. When Mario Brothers was released in 1983, his brother Luigi was introduced and the two were portrayed as plumbers. Super Mario Brothers (Nintendo) kept the character development this way, and it has been so ever since. He has also become perhaps the most recognized video game character in history. He looks good for his age. And it all started with a squaty little character busting barrels with a hammer.
(In the original concept, he couldn’t even jump. Miyamoto added that feature, explaining “if barrels were rolling at you, what would you do?”)