It’s a me, Mario!
The overachieving Italian plumber
who runs on mushrooms
We have to thank the XVI century Portuguese for the fact that Mario Bros exists.
Because they were the ones who introduced card decks to Japan during the Tenshō period (1573-92), they are, so to speak, the great great great grandfathers of Hanafuda (cards decks) in Japan. As they have always done, Japanese took the Portuguese deck and adapted it to their culture, creating the Tenshō Karuta, a deck of their own.
But times change and Lords come and go, and so when in 1633 the Tokugawa Shogun decided to ban Westerners from their lands, foreign playing cards were prohibited along with many other western costumes.
Prohibition and fruition
As you know, banning something makes it powerful: with prohibition comes desire, so clandestine card playing became widely popular. With it the need to keep card decks under the radar did too, so the Japanese started printing decks () with increasingly abstract minimalist designs.
In 1889, when Fusajiro Tamauchi founded Nintendo, he was focused on producing and selling hand-crafted hanafuda!
In 1949 Hiroshi Yamauchi took charge of the family business and started looking for ways to diversify to make the company grow. He ventured in different fields, and finally ended up manufacturing toys. By 1965, one of his toy designers was Gunpei Yokoy, called the Father of Toys. When Nintendo decided to make video games in 1974, he became one of its first game designers. And came up with the GameBoy, non the less.
By 1981 Yamauchi appointed Yokoi to supervise Donkey King, created by Shigeru Miyamoto, a product developer and artist who had the advantage of not being a programmer. Miyamoto focused on the story, not the hardware, and knew intuitively about “user experience”.
Jumpman, lava, ladders and barrels
Born in 1981 on a grainy screen as a trickle of colorful pixels, Mario is the son of the Hanufada esthetics and the creativity of Miyamoto. A jumper since the beginning of time, this character used to be called Jumpman.
Running, leaping and sometimes swimming, filled with giant mushrooms, Jumpman scrolled on the screen happy as a deer. He had to defeat Donkey Kong, rescue princess Peach while being chased, bark at, and spooked. And he used to be a carpenter, not a plumber!
Jumpman becomes Italian
Since Nintendo was going to be launched in the USA, Nintendo Japanese executives flew in to help things roll smoothly. The company rented a Warehouse in Seattle, WA, and the story goes that one day the landlord busted in to collect the rent. He was an Italian American guy called Mario Segale, had a moustache and left slamming the door as hard as he could. The Nintendo Team decided to immortalize him in the game, and so Jumpman acquired his Italian genes along with his Italian name, Mario, and his signature moustache.
But being Italian is much more than just having an Italian name, so they needed to find the right voice, which they did in Charles Martinet. And so Mario started “sounding” Italian. He even became a sleep talker, and also a gibberish mumbler in something that sounded like Italian.
Where did Koopalings get their names?
Dayvv Brooks was a music lover that worked for Nintendo and when Nintendo needed to “Americanize” the Japanese names of their game’s characters, he suggested the ones for Koopa Troopa:
Ludwig von Koopa : Ludwig van Beethoven
Roi Koopa: Roi Orbison
Wendy O Koopa: Wendy O Williams
Iggy Koopa: Iggy Pop
Morton Koopa Jr: Morton Downy Jr
Larry Koopa: just Larry Koopa
Lemmy Koopa: Lemmy Kilmister
So, from the mists of time of the Japanese Shogunate to the video game era of the 21st Century, Mario’s ancestry has come a very long way.
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