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Overview of an Icon: Mario

Something big is coming, and it's coming very soon. GameCube owners everywhere are sweating with anticipation, they're having trouble sleeping at night and every waking moment is filled with thoughts of what is soon to come. What could possibly have so many people on the edge of their seats? Ask any long time Nintendo fan and you'll find the answer you seek: Super Mario Sunshine.

It's true; a new Mario game is just around the corner. On August 27, all the waiting will come to an abrupt end, and much gaming will ensue. Mario has become a household name, literally synonymous with video games, and every Super Mario title has been bigger and better than anyone could have imagined at the time. Super Mario games have a charm all their own, and players are immediately captivated by the vast, colorful worlds and stylish gameplay. It seems that with each new incarnation, Nintendo manages to come up with something to set that title apart from the rest, and that special something gives each game a warm spot in the hearts of all who play it.

In light of the upcoming Super Mario Sunshine, I'd like to take a trip down memory lane and just take a brief look at Mario's biggest console adventures. After all, I think it's only right to remember where this humble plumber came from, and how he became the star that he is today. For that, we need to go back to an era of funky pop music and neon biker shorts� the 1980's!

Donkey Kong

Released in the arcades in 1981, and for several gaming systems in the years to follow, Donkey Kong is where Mario got his start. While Mario's name didn't make it into the title of the game, he was the character that players controlled as they thwarted the dumb ape's evil, princess-snatching plan. At this point in time, I'm quite sure that no one knew what the future held for the modest little hero, but rest assured, his time would come.

Mario Bros.

A 1983 arcade release that later came to the NES in good old '86, Mario Bros. finally put Mario's name in the title, and also gave him a companion who could be controlled by a second player. This new character, Luigi, was unknown at the time, but now he has managed to garner a strong following of fans, and even landed his own game on the Nintendo GameCube with Luigi's Mansion. The two brothers would see much bigger adventures in the coming years, and yes, much bigger sales as well!

Super Mario Bros.

Ah, yes, Super Mario Bros� the 1985 NES smash hit. Super Mario Bros. belongs in the video game hall of fame as without it, we likely wouldn't even have the gaming industry that we have today. All was on the brink of collapse until Mario took to the stage, and saved the world of gaming from certain death. But how had he managed to do this? Well, Mario's awesome side-scrolling adventure featured one critical element that seemed to be lost in most other games of the time: it was fun to play. Super Mario Bros. perfected the side-scrolling/platforming genre and ran away with it. With inventive new power ups, thirty-two worlds, dozens of enemies, addictive gameplay and state of the art graphics (at the time) the game managed to capture audiences all over the world. Gamers could breathe a collective sigh of relief; our hobby had been saved.

Super Mario Bros. 2

The huge success of Super Mario Bros. demanded a sequel, and while Japan saw one in 1986, the United States would have to wait until '88 for the plumber to make his return. When the fateful year arrived, fans got their sequel, but it wasn't what anyone was expecting. The game was something very different from SMB, and allowed players to take control of the Princess and Toad for the very first time. The game still featured colorful worlds and multiple enemies, but foes could no longer be defeated by merely stomping on their heads. In SMB 2 players could toss a variety of items at enemies to defeat them, and they could even pick up the enemy characters and use them as weaponry.

The game also did away with the Mushroom Kingdom and Bowser. SMB 2 took place in Subcon, the land of dreams. This time, the King of the Koopa was not to blame for all the troubles of the world. Instead, Mario found a new nemesis in the rather grotesque Wart; an enemy I'd very much like to see make a return to the series.

Super Mario Land

Before the NES would see another Mario adventure, the little plumber took some time to give owners of Nintendo's Game Boy a taste of the fun. This was only the beginning of Mario's Game Boy adventures; more would follow in the years to come, and while this game was certainly successful, it was nothing compared to what Mario had in store for his next NES adventure�

Super Mario Bros. 3

Who doesn't remember playing this game? Super Mario Bros. 3 absolutely dominated the sales charts for years, and brought the Mario experience to new audiences. This is, without a doubt, one of the series' high points. SMB 3 was bigger and better than anyone expected. In fact, it is the only game that I know of that received its debut in a movie. Yes, The Wizard was a movie about a young kid who had some serious gaming skills. Towards the end of the film, the kid is in some kind of video game championship, and boo-yah, Super Mario Bros. 3 makes its first appearance to the public.

The game featured a ton of new goodies, including the ability to fly. The worlds were larger, more varied and more numerous than before. Players explored eight different regions, each with several levels to play through. In all, there were over eighty worlds for gamers to enjoy. This game also introduced the Koopa Kids. At the end of each region, gamers would fight their way through a battleship of sorts and square off against one of these little monsters to restore the land's king back to his original self. At the end of the game, Bowser once again awaited our hero, and once again, he was defeated by gamers around the globe; this was Mario's last adventure on the Nintendo Entertainment System.

Super Mario World

With the release of the Super NES, Nintendo debuted a new Mario title, Super Mario World. Super Mario World introduced many things to the Mario universe, including series' mainstay, Yoshi. With his faithful dinosaur companion, Mario trounced the Koopa Troop yet again. In true Mario tradition, the game featured a ton of areas to explore, new enemies and even a secret world known as Star Road. Being Mario's first game on a new system Super Mario World was another huge milestone in the saga of Mario, and while there was a sequel, it was based more on Yoshi than Mario and didn't do nearly as well as Mario titles of the past.

Super Mario Land 2: The 6 Golden Coins

Mario's second Game Boy adventure was an astounding success. Players searched the virtual world for six mysterious golden coins and also faced a new enemy. This was the game that introduced Wario to the Mario series. The success of The 6 Golden Coins would lead to a third Super Mario Land game on Nintendo's handheld, but the star of Super Mario Land 3 was, oddly enough, Wario. Since then, Wario has gone on to star in several games of his own.

Super Mario All Stars

Released on the SNES in 1993, Super Mario All Stars was every Mario fan's dream come true. A complete collection of all the NES classics with a graphical overhaul, and it even included the Japanese version of Super Mario Brothers 2, known locally as The Lost Levels. This was the first time The Lost Levels were playable to a North American audience, and with all the other games included, who wouldn't want to buy this nugget of gaming gold?

Super Mario RPG: The Legend of the Seven Stars

Today, it doesn't even seem possible: Squaresoft developing a Mario title? Well, back in 1995, this actually took place, and with fantastic results, I might add. Super Mario RPG was Mario's first role playing game, and as such, it featured a very involved storyline about an adversary named Smithy who had crushed Star Road. Along the way, players met up with many familiar faces from past Mario games, and also a few new ones as well. One of the game's highlights was that players finally had a chance to work with Bowser instead of against him. After Smithy took over Bowser's palace, he was left with no choice but to join with Mario and help the group of adventurers defeat Smithy and restore Star Road. The game's humor and charm were enough to win over almost all who played it, and it became an instant classic.

Super Mario 64

Nintendo once again heralded the arrival of a new machine with a new Mario game, and this one was truly a masterpiece. Super Mario 64 took advantage of the N64 hardware and, for the first time, brought Mario into a fully realized 3D world. The game left a huge impression on all who played it, and spawned numerous copy cats from other developers trying to cash in on this new formula, but none could even come close to the greatness that was Super Mario 64. Huge, 3 dimensional worlds sprawled for as far as the eye could see, and moving Mario around in these environments was a joy in itself.

In each world, Mario had to find the hidden stars to unlock new doors in the castle and work his way up to fight Bowser behind the final door. In all, there were 120 stars to collect, though only eighty were needed to complete the game, finding all of them unlocked a secret and players could once again say hello to Yoshi. The little green dino wasn't playable, but he did give Mario a boost in the number extra lives, and it was just plain cool to see him in the game. Super Mario 64 was the last Mario adventure game released, and is considered by many to be the pinnacle of the series' success.

Paper Mario

An odd title, no doubt, but that fits perfectly with the game's unique storybook graphical style. The characters in the game are paper-thin 2D cutouts, but roam an equally cartoonish looking 3D world. This game in not your standard Mario title, and is actually another Mario RPG title. The game managed to do just fine without Square's RPG gurus on board, but many still consider Mario's first RPG adventure to be the better of the two. However, Nintendo's strong characters and addictive gameplay proved to be enough to make the game a success.

What's Next???

The list above is but a brief compilation of some of Mario's best games to date; it is in no way a complete list of games that have featured Nintendo's mascot. There were many, many games in which Mario made cameos, and of course, several spin offs of the series as well, and the list of Mario games will only continue to grow as we enter this new era of gaming.

The release of Nintendo's GameCube brought us several quality titles, but as any Nintendo fan knows, the best is yet to come. In just a few short days, Super Mario Sunshine will be released in North America, and from the looks of things, we'll be able to add one more incredible game to Mario's legendary list. I think I speak for us all when I say that August 27 is still too far away.

By Ryan Schaefer - 08/21/02

Screenshots for Overview of an Icon: Mario

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