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“Super Mario”, 35, untouchable Nintendo icon

By Florian Reynaud and Corentin Lamy

Posted today at 9:00 a.m.

At what age should a video game hero retire? The question does not arise every day. But we could legitimately ask Super Mario, the mascot of Nintendo, who officially celebrates, this September 13, the 35 years of the series of games of which he is the star: the first Super Mario Bros. was released for the Nintendo NES system in 1985.

Mario: a global pop culture icon, one of the oldest, and most recognizable in video games, who still displays indecent economic health. Mario is also one of the ten most profitable franchises in the world, not so far behind Star Wars, or Disney's Mickey, its gold standard. As of 2020, it remains one of the top-grossing in the industry, with 373 million games sold in total (“One game every three seconds »Since 1985, we are told at Nintendo).

To celebrate this anniversary, the Japanese gaming giant wants to prove that its best colt is still not out of date, after having managed to switch from 2D to 3D in the 1990s, and having been featured in games that have (almost) always have been commercial and critical successes. These 35 years are accompanied by the release of remastered versions of games on Switch Mario among the most famous, gathered in the compilations Super Mario All Stars and Super Mario 3D All Stars.

Rarely, Nintendo has also offered World to ask direct questions during the summer of 2020 of the creators behind the main Mario games, including the character's “dad”, Shigeru Miyamoto. Behind this celebration also looms the portrait of a Mario who has gradually become untouchable, and of a brand protected with great care.

An almost accidental mascot

This fate was not easy in the late 1970s, when the developer Shigeru Miyamoto is assigned character design at Nintendo. At the time, the company, which mainly developed arcade video games and was trying to break into the United States, was preparing a title to feature American cartoon hero Popeye. At the last moment, the use of the license was refused: the Japanese manufacturer had to review its copy, and invent characters for its future game, where a hero will have to climb levels while avoiding obstacles.

Miyamoto then imagines two of Nintendo's future icons: Donkey Kong and Mario – the latter initially being called “Jumpman”. The first game Donkey Kong, released in 1981 in arcades, united them, and became a commercial success.

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