Mario Games - Retro and New
I recall my addiction to my first Mario arcade game with fondness. It was the during the early eighties and located in the foyer of my local sports centre, where I attended a local roller skating club. In fact this platform game was not called Mario at all, but Donkey Kong Jr, though it does feature the well-known character Mario as an opponent. Donkey Kong Jr was released in 1982, a year before was Donkey Kong which was the first ever game to feature Mario. Basically, Donkey Kong Jr must rescue his father from the cage at the top, which is guarded by Mario himself. It was a well-loved and very popular game, and always had a crowd of kids surrounding it. Such was the draw of this game that I indulged in my newfound addiction after every skating session. I was only around 11 years old, and new to the concept of computer games. At that time, we did not even own a home computer - few people did - though just a year later my parents purchased one of the old, simple contraptions - an Amstrad 64 - which would now look more at home in a museum.
But back to the game. There was just something about moving this little character up to the top to rescue Donkey Kong Senior that fascinated both myself and a lot of other young people. This game was not fast moving with numerous features, as computer games are today. Donkey Kong Jr was actually quite hard and there was no room for error. You did not acquire numerous lives, or the chance to store all your progress and continue. In fact, even clearing the first few levels was quite the challenge. Yet games featuring Mario (who later branched out and was given games of his own - Mario Bros was released as an arcade game in 1983, followed by Super Mario Bros in 1985) were incredibly popular.....as they still are today.
During the mid eighties, I also acquired one of the early pocket handheld computer games - again, Donkey Kong Jr (pictured further below). Nowadays, if it was around, this simplistic game of limited color would probably be included as a free gift in a Happy Meal. But more than twenty years ago, it was an exciting new invention. But back to Mario.
Retro Mario Games - whilst rare new copies are expensive, there are also low-priced used copies available
Mario's Changing Character
Mario, the character, has changed over time. As already mentioned, first game he ever appeared in was Donkey Kong, in which he was a carpenter mistreating an ape - Donkey Kong himself. In that game he was actually named Jumpman and had a girlfriend - Donkey Kong escapes and kidnaps the girlfriend because of Jumpman's mistreatment, and players must take on the role of Jumpman in rescuing his girlfriend. This action is played out briefly before the game commences. In the sequel, Donkey Kong Jr, he was unscrupulously guarding Donkey Kong's cage - a sort of former bad boy life, and his name had changed to Mario. But later, when he acquired his own set of games, he became the lovable good guy Mario, clad in blue dungarees and a red top. He now had a brother called Luigi, who still features in modern Mario games. Originally, the two of them were plumbers, traveling up and down sewer pipes. Luigi was the character controlled by Player Two, if required.
Retro Nintendo Entertainment Systems
Mario on Home Consoles and Hand Held Games
Home games consoles are constantly evolving - now we have Playstation 3, XBox and Wii, yet Mario first appeared on games for some of the earliest consoles. In fact, although a Nintendo game, Mario Bros was released for the Atari 2600 in 1983. However, the overly simplistic graphics - little more than lines and blocks - did not do justice to the game.
The Nintendo Entertainment System was a popular console during the mid eighties, and Super Mario Bros was released for the NES in 1985, closely followed by Mario Bros in 1986. There were many additional games featuring Mario released for the Nintendo Entertainment System, including Tennis and Golf, and the subsequent games of Super Mario 2 and Super Mario 3.
But even with the home consoles that began to pop up in the eighties, surely the handheld Nintendo Game and Watch series should not go unmentioned. These games were so much fun in their day, and I remember how they kept kids amused and entertained on bus trips, in cars and in bedrooms with friends. I remember being totally hooked - I mean, this introduction into the world of gaming technology was a whole new concept for children of that generation. It was fun and exciting and everybody wanted one.
Game and Watch produced a whole list of Mario games in short succession - between 1982 and 1986 came Donkey Kong, Donkey Kong Jr, Donkey Kong II, Mario Bros, Mario's Cement Factory, Mario's Bomb's Away, Donkey Kong 3 and Super Mario Bros. In 1991 and 1994 came Mario the Juggler and Manhole, respectively.
During the 1990s, a whole list of Mario games were released for the Nintendo GameBoy, and later the Nintendo GameBoy Advance in the early 2000's, followed by the Nintendo DS.
Staying Power - And The Best Selling Game Of All Time
Mario must certainly be at the top of the chart when it comes to a computer gaming character with staying power. More than two decades on, and Mario is still going strong. Every new game is a success, whilst other characters have fallen by the wayside. Games are more complicated now, yet still the colourful screen and various worlds appeal to children of all ages, plus adults too. For Mario games are family games, to be enjoyed by anyone. Is Mario the most popular animated gaming character ever invented, then? Perhaps so, as his popularity shows no signs of decline. And in fact, Super Mario Bros is the best-selling game of all time, with over 40 million copies sold worldwide, as detailed in the Guinness Book Of Records. Recent huge successes include Mario Kart, New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Galaxy 2. Mario games are timeless, really, and even older games have retained their playing value.
Into the 21st Century
I must admit right now that my own addiction Mario (and in fact to all computer games) has since waned. As a busy working parent, somehow the time and inclination to while away precious hours moving a small character around a screen has disappeared (perhaps sensibly). However, nostalgia suddenly enveloped with old memories a couple of weeks ago, when my home city put on two retro gaming exhibitions. My sons wanted to attend these free-of-charge trips down memory lane (due to curiosity rather than nostalgia), but I must admit I fancied a look too.
The room was an old-time arcade, with games from the mid-seventies to the current day and everything in-between. I was delighted to see Donkey Kong Jr, my old childhood game, and took my chances at rescuing Donkey Kong's father.. I did badly, getting only as far as the second screen, yet was told by the management that I was the only one to have reached that stage! I could tell my oldest son was impressed! And in fact, since seeing a picture of the old Game and Watch Donkey Kong Nintendo Game that I had as a child, he has been on at me to get him one - my own game has been lost over the years, either broken or sold at a sale.
Nowadays I only occasionally fit in the odd lap on Mario Kart, but somehow I always lose against the children. However, my own sons are now enthusiastic advocates of the Mario Phenomena. We have Mario Strikers, an unconventional football game, and when my oldest son was given New Super Mario Bros Wii last Christmas, both he and his friends spent many fun hours attempting to complete the game. The beauty of the Wii version is that up to four players can join in at any one time, providing you have enough Wii controllers. I tried my luck but was utterly hopeless. I don't know what it is - perhaps your reflexes diminish once you become a 'grown up'...or maybe it's just that gaming has evolved so much that video games in the modern day are barely recognizable when compared with the simple graphics of the 'old school'. He's after the new Super Mario Galaxy 2 now, but I'm happy to leave it to the kids - happy, however, that Mario has survived more than two decades and stepped into a new century with just as much zest as ever.