In Depth

The birth of Super Mario – plus nine more Nintendo milestones

Nintendo marks 30 years of the world's favourite plumber – but how did he get his name?

Mario

This weekend marked the 30th anniversary of the original release of Super Mario Bros, one of the most influential games of all time.

Nintendo has sold more than 310 million units featuring the world's favourite plumber since Super Mario Bros was released on 13 September 1985.

On his most celebrated adventures, Mario and his brother Luigi travel through the Mushroom Kingdom to rescue Princess Peach from the evil Bowser. But he has also been known to dabble in karting, golf and football.

While Nintendo is well known for bringing Mario into the world, it was actually established 70 years before the first video game was invented. Here are the ten milestones in Nintendo's transformation from a 19th-century playing-card manufacturer to a video game giant:

1 In the beginning... there were playing cards

In 1889, Japanese artist Fusajiro Yamauchi began manufacturing 'Hanafuda' playing cards in Kyoto. Hanafuda, which translates as 'flower cards', displayed images instead of numbers to get around Japan's strict laws on gambling. They were already on the market but not particularly lucrative. It was Yamauchi's designs that reinvigorated the country's playing card industry, proving popular in Japan as well as the rest of the world. Years later, in 1933, Yamauchi Nintendo & Co was established and later evolved into the Nintendo Co. Ltd that we know today.

2 Bringing electronic games to Japan

During the 20th century, Nintendo began manufacturing games in addition to playing cards. In 1970, it introduced electronic technology to the toy industry for the first time in Japan with its "Beam Gun" series – a toy gun that emitted a beam of light, which players had to aim at photoelectric targets.

3 Home-use video games

Later in the 1970s, Nintendo began making and exporting arcade machines to the US and Europe before developing video games that could be played in the home. In March 1978, it released Computer Othello, a simple arcade table game based on the two-player board game Othello. Instead of black and white pieces, Computer Othello used square and plus symbols. It had no joystick, only ten coloured buttons per player.

4 Donkey Kong and the birth of Mario

In 1980, Nintendo artist Shigeru Miyamoto created the game Donkey Kong, starring a carpenter called Jumpman racing to save his girlfriend Pauline from an angry gorilla with an ever-lasting supply of treacherous barrels. After Nintendo's US headquarters were established, Jumpman was renamed Mario because of the character's resemblance to the American team's office landlord, Mario Segali. This marked the birth of the gaming world's most famous character – the red-capped Italian plumber with his "It'sa me, Mario!" catchphrase.  

5 Nintendo Entertainment System

Two years after the 1983 video game industry crash, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) was introduced. Previously known as Famicom in Japan, the NES was credited for revitalising the industry and positioned Nintendo to dominate the home video game market for the remainder of the 1980s. Games such as Excitebike, Metroid, The Legend of Zelda and Punch-Out! were eagerly played in homes for the first time. But it was Super Mario Bros that proved the most popular, selling more than 40 million copies over the next three decades.

6 Gameboy

In 1989 came the Game Boy, the first portable game system with changeable game cartridges. The first version came in grey and included a Tetris game cartridge. By 1990, Nintendo had a virtual monopoly on the industry with popular games such as Donkey Kong and Super Mario. But Nintendo Magazine says it was the addictive stacking puzzle Tetris that "made the Game Boy brand a true gaming giant". The 1980s also saw the birth of Nintendo Game & Watch, a series of handheld electronic games created by Gunpei Yokoi. Each one featured a single game played on an LCD screen, with popular games including Fire, Popeye and Snoopy Tennis.

7 Nintendo 64

The Nintendo 64 launched in Japan in 1996, with thousands of people queuing up to experience the world's first 64-bit home video game system. Half a million systems were sold on the first day, with Super Mario 64 winning several Game of the Year titles. Super Mario 64 – in which Mario jumps into paintings scattered around Peach's castle to collect power stars and save the princess from the villainous Bowser – continues to be the best-selling Nintendo 64 game of all time.

8 Pokemon

In 1999, Nintendo released Pokemon throughout Europe. Players, acting as Pokemon trainers, were able to collect Pokemon species and train them to compete against teams owned by other trainers. Pokemon has since become the second-most successful video game franchise in the world (behind only Nintendo's own Mario franchise), reports the International Business Times, and continues to be a worldwide phenomenon, with comics, trading cards, toys, books and its own television series.

9 Nintendo DS

In January 2004, Nintendo revealed the DS, a dual-screened handheld system with touch screen technology. It swiftly became the most popular portable console as new games were launched to appeal to wider audiences, including Dr Kawashima's Brain Training, which became a huge hit even among people who had never played before.

10 Wii

The Wii was born in 2006 – a new home console with wireless motion-sensitive remote controls. Its success was bolstered with titles such as Wii Sports and The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess. Like the DS, it attracted new audiences that had not previously played video games. Two years later, the Wii Fit, Mario Kart Wii and the Wii Wheel accessory also proved successful – with the Wii becoming the best-selling seventh-generation video game console, beating the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in worldwide sales.

What next for Super Mario and Nintendo?

To mark the 30-year anniversary of Super Mario Bros, Nintendo has released 'Super Mario Maker' on the WiiU console in Japan, allowing players to create their own worlds for the plumber. The company is also looking to open up the iconic character to mobile devices. Following better-than-expected results in July, analysts are predicting a further tailwind for Nintendo as it teams up with Japanese mobile gaming company DeNA to move on from its traditional consoles-only strategy.

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