The Secret Life of Super Mario
Post by Adam Redsell @ 12:33pm 09/11/12 | Comments
We take a look at the Secret Life of Nintendo's iconic Mario and his myriad jobs over the years, beyond saving the Princess...
Mario is renowned throughout the world as both a plumber and a rescuer of princesses. For folks like you and I, either one of these professions would be enough to keep us busy on a full-time basis. But not Mario. With over 210 million units sold and 200 games under his belt, Nintendo’s moustachioed mascot is easily the hardest working man in the videogame biz. We all know Mario as a kart racer, a golfer, a tennis player, and even a doctor (despite an apparent lack of medical qualifications). But cast all of that aside, and Mario’s résumé would still put even the most storied careers to shame. Let’s take a look at some of Mario’s more obscure vocations.
It’s well known that Donkey Kong (1981) was Mario’s first gig, albeit under the name of ‘Jumpman’. But did you know that the gig was carpentry? This makes complete sense considering the hammer power-ups – otherwise known as tsuchi – littered throughout each level, in addition to the countless ladders, girders and rivets that comprise them.
Lesser known is the fact that Donkey Kong was Mario’s pet ape. The story is that Donkey Kong escaped and kidnapped Mario’s lady friend after being mistreated by his master. This is further evidenced by Mario’s first and only appearance as a villain a year later, in Donkey Kong Jr. Having defeated DK in the previous game, Mario bound and caged the beast, guarding him from Junior with whip in hand. So either Mario was a zoo keeper or a circus ringmaster – in any event, his animal rights track record has been severely sullied.
1983 marked a busy year for Mr Mario, who, aside from his plumbing debut, went into business as a bottler and a concreter in the Game & Watch titles Mario Bros. and Mario’s Cement Factory respectively. He also joined the military in Mario’s Bombs Away, transporting bombs to his comrade on the other side of the screen. Unfortunately for Mario, his friend was a rather reckless and heavy smoker, casually tossing his cigarettes into the puddles of oil between them. To the surprise of no one, the resulting explosions did nothing to assist the war effort.
Mario’s wartime exploits may have inspired his career move as a demolition expert in 1985 with Wrecking Crew for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Either that or he got sick of punishing bricks with his head. The Brothers Mario returned to the wrecking biz 13 years later in Wrecking Crew ’98, as did their angry foreman, Spike. Strangely, Foreman Spike seemed more intent on sabotaging their efforts than assisting them. He even went on to inspire a new generation of Mario rivals: Wario and Waluigi.
In 1986, Mario took a break from his labours and took up sewing for I Am a Teacher: Super Mario Sweater. Developed in collaboration with Royal Industries, players could design their own Mario-themed sweaters on their Famicom. Send in the design on disk and the company would make the real thing for just ¥2,900 (around AUD$35 today). Mario’s hobby caught on with the folks at Nintendo, who were this close to releasing their own NES-powered sewing machine:
Mario (and Nintendo) returned to the knitting game in 2001 with Mario Family. This time the sewing machine would receive instructions from the Game Boy Color to embroider designs on to fabric.
Amidst accusations that he had gone soft, Mario compensated heavily with Famicom Grand Prix: F-1 Race later that year. There’s nothing like fast cars and Formula 1 to reaffirm one’s Mediterranean masculinity, apparently. And if that wasn’t enough, he was jumping into rally cars and monster trucks two years later in Famicom Grand Prix II: 3D Hot Rally. All of this pre-dated his karting career by a long shot.
The monster trucks the second time around were to make up for the bakery he ran with his brother in between races. I am of course referring to Mario Bros. II for the Commodore 64(!), the highly anticipated follow up to the Game & Watch version of Mario Bros. Now, when I say “bakery” I really mean “cake factory”; and when I say “cake factory”, I really mean the same bottle factory they worked in four years earlier. Repurposed. For cakes.
It would seem the thrill of monster truck driving was not nearly enough for Mario, who took to the reaches of space for his next vocation. Alleyway was essentially a Breakout clone for the Game Boy, but the cover art clearly shows Mario piloting a paddle-spaceship towards a large, speeding metal ball.
It took balls of a different kind to bring Mario back down to Earth – juggling balls – though it seems his thirst for danger returned with him. Not content to juggle generic balls like the rest of us, Mario the Juggler juggled hearts, stars, and bombs, much to the amusement of the Mushroom Kingdom.
Mario’s thrill-seeking urges finally subsided in 1991, when he became a typist and typing instructor (Mario Teaches Typing). That is, unless he was training people for the Typing of the Dead zombie apocalypse. Whatever he did, he must have enjoyed it enough to return to the gig in 1996 for Mario Teaches Typing 2.
They say a picture says a thousand words, and this colouring-in game says that Mario was busy in 1991. Super Mario Bros. & Friends: When I Grow Up clearly depicts Mario as an attorney, a business executive, a traffic policeman, and even a farmer. Make of that what you will.
Mario became a dancer in 1993 with Mario Unkurukai; a profession he would not return to until 2005 with Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix. It is also heavily rumoured that Mario dabbled in the black arts in 1993. While historians debate the veracity of this rumour, the cover of Super Mario All-Stars clearly shows Mario in a top hat wielding a wand.
Mario started teaching in 1994, releasing several edutainment titles including Mario’s Early Years! Fun with Numbers, Mario’s Early Years! Fun with Letters, and Mario’s Early Years! Preschool Fun. These edutainment games got a big fat ‘F’ for failing to educate or entertain children. Undoubtedly, this was the low point of Mario’s career.
Indeed, Mario has had his share of failures. His career as a Hollywood film star never really took off, with the cancellation of Mario Takes America (CD-i) in 1994. And with the cancellation of Super Mario Spikers, volleyball is one of the few sports Mario hasn’t played. But occasional failure is the hallmark of determination, and Mario’s many successes far outstrip those of his contemporaries. He was an artist, an archaeologist; he refereed boxing matches for Mike Tyson – people spend their entire lives dreaming about the things Mario accomplishes in a single year.
I think that’s why so many people identify with him. His early career earmarked him as a working class man, which put him in reach of nearly everyone. And every time he branched out, the message was clear: you don’t have to resign yourself to some dead-end job; your station in life is limited only by your imagination. By now he’s worked so many jobs, he’s become the quintessential Everyman – it’s almost impossible not to relate to him.
How quickly we forget that Mario is just a guy in overalls. His illustrious career blows yours and mine away, to be certain, but look at the cover of any given Mario game and you can see it in his face. He’s just as surprised to be doing these things as you are, but he’s getting out there and giving it a red hot go. Now go out and get ‘em, Tiger!
Adam Redsell is a freelance writer based in Brisbane. When he grows up, he would like to be an astronaut. Follow him on Twitter and check out his blog.