How well do you really know Mario? Sure, he’s the most famous video game character on the planet, but since his debut in 1981’s arcade classic Donkey Kong he’s appeared in over 200 games, so there are bound to be a few weird facts that might have slipped your notice.
Here at Rice Digital we specialise in the weird and wonderful, so in celebration of March 10, Mario Day (MAR 10, geddit?), here are a few things you might not know about gaming’s most famous plumber.
His design was a fight against technology
Its tough to believe when you look at games today, but in the ’80s, developers were extremely limited by the technology of the time. Characters were made up of a handful of pixels that, if you squinted at them at the right angle under a crescent moon on a midsummer’s eve, could resemble the character on the box art.
Pretty much everything visible about Mario in his first appearance was a work around for the limitations of 1980s technology. His original blue shirt and red overalls were chosen to allow them to contrast against each other. His hat allowed them to avoid animating his hair. His moustache hid his mouth and made his face more distinctive with a few pixels.
His name was taken from Nintendo’s landlord
When Nintendo was trying to crack the still growing American arcade market with Donkey Kong, they set up a branch that would become Nintendo of America in Seattle where they rented a warehouse. Unfortunately, they ran a little bit late on the rent, causing their landlord to come in and shout at then-president Minoru Arakawa, demanding the months of back rent the company owed. The team managed to convince their landlord that the rent was coming and that he shouldn’t evict them, which turned out to be very fortunate for gaming history.
Oh, the landlord’s name? Mario Segale. After the encounter, Nintendo of America adopted the name for the character and the real estate developer become an unwitting part of video game history. Nintendo even confirmed this story to be true, which brings me such joy. I love the random happenings that make up our history.
Mario’s had the same voice actor since 1990
Voice acting is a tough profession. Even folks who land big gigs can be replaced at the drop of a hat, sometimes finding out via social media. So the fact that Mario’s voice actor hasn’t changed in more than two decades is something of a miracle. In 1990, Nintendo developed the technology to allow kids to interact directly with their iconic plumber at trade shows. The rig allowed an actor to see the kids from behind a camera and would capture his movements as well as his voice to appear on the screen. This was the 90s, so we were more easily amused at the time.
The actor behind the screen was Charles Martinet and he has provided the voice of Mario ever since. His first console appearance was 1996’s Super Mario 64. The character is not known for pontificating, but it says something about Nintendo that they have kept the same voice for him all these years. Those jumps and grunts and wa-a-a-a-a-as are part of Mario’s DNA, providing continuity as he goes off on his adventures in space or around the race track, and Martinet’s voice helps keep Mario feeling like Mario.
His actor hated the movie
Listen, I love the Super Mario Bros. movie for what it is, but that wasn’t the case for the star of the film, Bob Hoskins. He had already done a few kid movies at the time and didn’t want to end up being typecast for the rest of his life. However, he was eventually cast almost exclusively on his physical similarities to Mario.
However, the trouble began almost immediately on set, where the inexperience of the directors caused delays, injuries, and almost constant script rewrites. Hoskins has said that he didn’t even realise the movie was based on a video game until his son told him. He spent most of his time on set getting drunk with his co-star John Leguizamo, which actually kind of explains a lot about the finished film.
Here is hoping the new Mario film currently in production is a better experience, though I personally can’t imagine it being a better movie.
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