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Nintendo's Super Mario Turns 30

The world's most famous plumber reached a milestone over the weekend as Nintendo's Super Mario Bros celebrated the 30th anniversary of its release Sunday.

The celebration came a day before the video game company named executive Tatsumi Kimishima as its new president.

The game was first distributed on the Japanese version of the Nintendo system, Famicom. It quickly became a global hit. The original version sold more than 40 million copies worldwide and established it as one of the most successful video games ever made.

At the time of its release, Super Mario Bros. provided some serious juice to an industry in serious need of a reboot, Fortune Magazine reports. It adds:

"When Super Mario Bros. hit shelves, video games were in dire straits. Revenues were down nearly 97% — from $3.2 billion in 1983 to $100 million in 1985. Atari, which not long before had been the fastest growing company in U.S. history at the time, had filed for bankruptcy. And mall arcades were moving past their heyday.

"But the emergence of the game featuring the spunky plumber on Sept. 13, 1985 captured people's interest — and Nintendo's NES became a hot seller."

Mario (right) and his brother Luigi, pictured before a college football game in 2014 in Florida, are the iconic characters from <em>Super Mario Bros.</em> video game franchise.
Jeff Daly / Invision for Nintendo
Invision for Nintendo
Mario (right) and his brother Luigi, pictured before a college football game in 2014 in Florida, are the iconic characters from Super Mario Bros. video game franchise.

The game's concept and graphics were simple. In single-player mode, Mario, the mustachioed, red overalls-wearing plumber would make a perilous journey through the Mushroom Kingdom. Why? To save a princess from the evil clutches of a dinosaur-like creature named Bowser, King of the Koopa, of course. If you had a buddy to try to conquer this 8-bit world, the second player would control Mario's brother, Luigi.

And as Yahoo Games reports, Mario made his debut in another Japanese video game Donkey Kong. The gameplay helped turn Nintendo into a household name. According to Yahoo:

"And it proved to have plenty of staying power. Taken together, the Super Mario games have accounted for over 310 million copies, making it the biggest franchise in video game history.

"Exemplifying the credo of easy to play, difficult to master, Super Mario Bros. had no instruction booklet. But anyone could pick up a controller and quickly figure out what to do.

"The game's first level — World 1-1 — isn't just instantly recognizable: it's also a study in smart design. To showcase elements of the game, [game designer Shigeru] Miyamoto and his crew tried to create a basic outline in its initial moments."

Over the years, Nintendo has updated the game every time it released a new system, from Game Boy to Nintendo 3DS.

Bloomberg.com reports that Nintendo currently is facing increase competition for gamers from Apple's Iphone and Ipad, Microsoft's Xbox and Sony's PlayStation:

"Kimishima faces challenges revitalizing Nintendo, where its business model has been undermined by competitors' free-to-play games on mobile devices and weak sales of its Wii U machine. Nintendo is set to release its first game service for smartphones this year and is preparing a new console code-named NX."

As we reported earlier this summer, Kimishima replaces the former head of Nintendo, Satoru Iwata, who was the face of the company for 13 years. He passed away in July at the age of 55.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.