It’s taken for granted that Mario and Luigi are household names, a staple of our culture. But every legend has a beginning, and the beginning of this plumbing family was back in 1983. Let’s take a look at the Mario game that defined how we see this pudgy carpent– er, I mean plumber.
That’s right. After dispatching with his poor pet ape, Mario was presumably traumatized and quickly dumped Pauline, then changed careers from carpenter to plumber. You know, because this is a child-friendly game, and nothing illustrates that better than PTSD. Of course, I’m inserting a serious interpretation into a story, so don’t take my explanation as canonical. I’m sure there are many other interpretations of Mario’s actions, one of which even suggests that Mario was arrested by the Toad police and chose to reform himself. Of course, if that were the case, I’m sure he would have shaved off his sinister moustache.
So anyway, Mario decided to ditch the girders and lofty steel beams for the cold subterranean pipes. The only problem is: Koopas and crabs and all manner of beastie is trying to kill him! It’s easy to see why he mistreated Donkey Kong now…. Yes, the sewers are infested with all sorts of creatures and it’s up to the Mario Bros. to clean them out. Oh, did I forget to mention? Yeah, there’s a Bro. now. Aside from introducing the idea of Mario jumping on enemies to kill them, Mario Bros. also introduced a new character. As the title of the game can tell you, this character is Mario’s brother, Luigi. Luigi’s name has a double meaning to it. Not only is there an Italian name Luigi, which compliments the Italian name Mario, but Nintendo chose that name specifically because the Japanese word 類似 (ruiji), means “similarity” or “resemblance.” Luigi’s character sprite, after all, is just a palette swap of Mario’s.
The enemies are defeated first by knocking them onto their backs from below, then jumping on their exposed stomachs to crush them to death (again, we’re going for family-friendly here). The game can be played by either one or two players, with Player 2 (read: the younger sibling) controlling Luigi. Mario Bros. was influential on the medium for years to come and enthralled Americans even as the video game crash of 1983 brought the industry to a near-halt. Sadly, the actual gameplay of the original is lacking, though. The Mario Bros. handle like a couple of wet sponges and trying to jump is always an adventure in misery. Fortunately, Nintendo created a remake on the Game Boy Advance called Super Mario Advance. This cartridge contains the remake of Mario Bros. as well as a remake of Super Mario Bros. 2. This version is a joy to play–see for yourself:
Sorry for the low framerate.
Visual Boy Advance doesn’t like Bandicam.
Needless to say, Mario Bros. became a hit and further cemented the status of Nintendo, already loved for its hit Donkey Kong, as a major player in the industry. Mario’s second game catapulted him into stardom and ports were seen everywhere! I really like this early commercial showing Luigi as a scaredy-cat, a full 18 years before Luigi’s Mansion.
Atari must have been pleased with themselves for this ad, because they also comic-ified it for magazine usage. I find it somewhat annoying that I can actually hear Luigi’s actor singing that song in my head while I read. Mariooo, where aaaaaare yoouuuuuu? Ugh.