From “Super Mario Bros” to the new “Mario Kart” in augmented reality, the 35th anniversary of a phenomenon that transcends generations

With a retro compilation and an augmented reality “Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit” to celebrate his 35th birthday, an animated film and soon an amusement park in his likeness, Super Mario never ceases to tickle the fiber. nostalgic for the older ones but also to seduce the little ones. Analysis of a success cut to last.

He will once again be one of the stars of Christmas for young and old alike. Super Mario is celebrating his 35th birthday at the end of the year and Nintendo threw him a big party for the occasion, with a series of new products bearing the image of his mustache mascot. Icon since the first video game to bear his name released in 1985, Mario has established himself over the years as the number 1 hero in the gaming world. According to a YouGov survey conducted for franceinfo (see infographic below), 75% of French people believe that the adventurer in red overalls is the most popular character in video games, far far ahead of another Nintendo baby, Pikachu (39%). Next are Lara Croft (36%), Pac-Man (32%), Sonic (31%), Princess Zelda (24%) and Donkey Kong (17%). A real plebiscite for the paunchy little guy.

“Mario is the undisputed video game superstar for 35 years, the most emblematic figure, confirms Florent Gorges, director of Omake Books and author of the series of books Nintendo’s history. In the world of fictional characters, he has far surpassed Mickey Mouse. Already in the 90s, American surveys measuring the marketing power of virtual heroes placed him beyond the Disney mouse to young people. Today, Mario is in the top 10 of the most bankable licenses in the world, along with Pokemon, Star Wars, Spider-Man and Frozen “, assures the author.


But how does this little mustache in overalls manage to cross the ages with his profile far removed from the archetype of the super hero full of powers? “His secret is precisely that Mario is a versatile character, continues Florent Gorges. He’s a bit of a mister, we can identify with him much more easily than a Sonic for example, who wants him to be cool, speedy, but who doesn’t have a human visual. When competitors show up, sexier like Lara Croft or irreverent like Crash Bandicoot, he can find himself left behind for a short period of time but it always comes back ahead. Popularity is a marathon, not a sprint. Mario, he’s not the cool guy in the class, he’s the good friend. He has never been “trendy” and it is ultimately a strength for him because trends do not age well. “

Mario has always been classic, a bit like James Bond, and that’s why they cross the generations.Florent GorgesVideo game historian

Since the first 2D game on NES that bears his name, there are a total of twenty so-called canonical episodes (see the video below) and no less than 200 appearances in various simulations (sports, puzzles, board games …), between 1985 to 2020. Previously, the character created by the famous Japanese producer Shigeru Miyamoto (now creative manager of Nintendo) was already appeared in an arcade game in 1981, in which he faced the giant monkey Donkey Kong, a character he still meets in his current adventures with Luigi, Toad, Bowser or Princess Peach. So it’s been almost four decades since he invited himself with his whole gang in living rooms and now on smartphones, in free games with in-app purchases like Super mario run or Mario Kart Tour.

And if each of the main adventures of the pioneer of platform games in 2D and then in 3D sell like hot cakes (40 million copies sold worldwide for the first Super mario bros and already 18 million for the youngest, Super Mario Odyssey on Switch), it is above all thanks to the quality of the titles always hailed by critics: “The games he is the hero of are all very good. He has never known big failures like Sonic, his great rival of the 90s. Nintendo makes sure to produce games that are sufficiently well calibrated to appeal to the whole family., says the author of Nintendo’s history. These are games that parents today always play willingly and trust for their children, we know that there will be no gratuitous violence, that it will be cute, funny, playable, fun. Mario never started the slightest controversy. “

Coming to titillate the nostalgic fiber of the 30-50 year-olds to better seduce the new generation is precisely what Nintendo is at stake in continuing to surf the Mario phenomenon. And to achieve this, the Japanese firm relies on recipes that have proven themselves, sometimes even relying a little too much on its achievements: to launch the festivities of the 35 years of its mascot, the Kyoto firm released at the start of the school year. a new compilation of which she has the secret, Super Mario 3D All-Stars, achieving the best adventures of the little mustachioed in a 3D universe. “We wanted to mark the occasion as we had done for the 25th anniversary on Wii with a compilation, says Clément Baelen, Nintendo France brand manager. It is both a game that celebrates the first three great 3D episodes of Mario, and also a way to introduce the new generation of great classics that marked their respective eras ”.

Without taking the slightest risk, “Big N” therefore combines cultism in the same game. Super Mario 64 (released on Nintendo 64 in 1997), the refreshing Super Mario Sunshine (Game Cube, 2002) and the poetic Super mario galaxy (Wii, 2007) in a Switch version with improved graphics and gameplay. A good fifty hours of play on the program and above all, a perfect plan to break the wall of generations: “Historical Mario fans today want to share their memories with their children, continues Clément Baelen. With this compilation, we meet this objective. The games are easy to learn, everyone can try them out and have fun, from beginners to advanced gamers. “

Sometimes we are a little surprised ourselves at the extent of its successClement BaelenBrand Manager at Nintendo France

Another driving force behind the success of the leaping hero is the Mario Kart license. Best-seller of the Switch since its release in 2017 with nearly 30 million copies sold worldwide, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is still in the top 5 sales in France in October. A phenomenon that Nintendo intends to perpetuate: its end-of-year “bomb”, Mario Kart Live Home Circuit just released and promises to wreak havoc. This augmented reality game for Nintendo Switch turns the house into a giant circuit to drive Mario in a remote-controlled kart. Thanks to the portable screen and the camera located just above the character’s cap, the player then embarks on a mad race against virtual characters in a very real universe, delimited by porticoes provided in the pack.

With Mario Kart Live Home Circuit, the Nintendo mascot brings out its most powerful car to be sure to be in pole position at the foot of the Christmas trees. (NINTENDO)

The augmented reality experience is striking and what might at first glance be considered a big gadget shines with the originality of its concept and its wide range of possibilities. Admittedly, the toy has a (sacred) price – count 100 euros for the connected vehicle and its four gantries – and it is preferable to benefit from a living space large enough to better enjoy it. But it perfectly embodies what the Japanese giant has done best for 35 years: creating fun and accessible games targeting the whole family. “Mario Kart is the multiplayer counterpart of the license, explains video game historian Florent Gorges. We play Super Mario alone, but when we have siblings or friends who play video games with us, we release Mario Kart. The license has viralized the popularity of the character, by spreading his universe to uninitiated people who have been tempted by a multiplayer game to share a moment of conviviality.

So there it is, Mario’s real strength: occupying all fields and adapting to all players. “We’re lucky to have developers who manage to exploit the hero in so many different ways., recognizes Clément Baelen, brand manager at Nintendo France. We knew him as a doctor, tennis player, golf player, adventurer, fighter … Mario can do anything. “ A versatility which allows the Japanese manufacturer to set no limits to its strategy of conquest. “Mario, it’s a great income for Nintendo. This ability to decline ad infinitum gives him enormous commercial power., Florent Gorges analysis. And it will be as popular as ever 35 years from now if Nintendo finds a way to continuously renew the public interest. The difficulty will be to seduce the next generation in 10-15 years: we will have to continue to offer concepts that are always funnier and more innovative “.

A track that Nintendo does not hesitate to follow now: two months before the Christmas holidays, Super Mario is flooding toy catalogs and advertising spots. In addition to a range of connected Lego reproducing the voices and sounds of video games, a Game and Watch – a true ancestor of the Game Boy – will be released on November 13 in a limited edition, including the very first Super Mario game to the delight of collectors. . An animated film capped by Nintendo and Universal is also in the works and an amusement park bearing the image of the hero is expected to open in Osaka next spring. What to establish a little more its status of icon of pop culture within the new generation.

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