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A little over 25 years ago, in 1981, the video game company Nintendo created a game that introduced a character named Jumpman to the arcade world. Jumpman had to climb large steel structures and jump over barrels to reach his nemesis, Donkey Kong, who had the honor of having the game named after him. In 1982, Jumpman was renamed “Mario” and used in a sequel game called Donkey Kong Jr., where the young monkey Donkey Kong Jr. had to release his father from Mario’s cage.
Next, in 1983, Mario was given a profession, plumbing, and was placed in a new game featuring his own name, Mario Bros. In the game, Mario and his brother Luigi are assigned the job of clearing out the creatures that infest the pipes beneath New York. As different creatures walked across the platforms between pipes, hitting the platform underneath the creatures would flip them and allow the player to kick them off the screen safely. One of the creatures was a turtle that resembled the Koopas, enemies that would later be used in many future Super Mario Games.
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Super Mario Bros.
In 1985, Nintendo gave Mario his first side-scrolling platform adventure and named it Super Mario Bros., releasing it for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game had many elements that became important Mario symbols and traditions. The first enemy appearing in the game, called a Goomba, showed up in some form in almost all Super Mario games. Blocks could be hit from beneath to find coins or reveal power-ups. The red mushroom made Mario taller, the flower gave Mario the ability to throw fireballs ahead of him, the star made him invincible, and the green 1-up mushroom would give him an extra life. From here on, Mario’s contentions with Donkey Kong had disappeared, but a new villain, Bowser, had been introduced.
Bowser, the leader of the turtle-like creatures called Koopas had kidnapped Princess Toadstool (named Princess Peach in later games). After playing through the levels, Mario would confront Bowser in a short but challenging fight, and if victorious would rescue Princess Toadstool, thus winning the game. The theme of many later games would also feature Bowser capturing the Princess, with Mario coming to the rescue while playing through the game.
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Super Mario Bros. 2
Super Mario Bros. 2, in Japan, strongly resembled the first Super Mario Bros. game. The game’s production in the west was rejected because the gameplay was said to be frustratingly difficult and looked too much like the previous game. Nintendo decided to rework another game, called Doki Doki Panic, into the western version of Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1988. The game already featured a few familiar Mario ideas, like the invincibility star, POW blocks and warps, but Doki Doki Panic’s four playable characters were replaced with Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad. Each of the characters had different strengths and weaknesses. Luigi kept the high, fluttery jump of his character’s predecessor. Toad could dig fast but made small, quick jumps. Peach could hover for a few seconds midair after jumping, and Mario was the most well rounded of the four characters, with very average jumping height and digging speed.
Instead of Bowser, the main villain was a amphibian named Wart who Mario and his friends had to defeat to free the land of Subcon. Subcon turned out to be a pun explained when Mario awakens at the end of the game to realize that the adventure was a dream. One of the main features of the game was the plants scattered around the levels. The characters could pull the plants out of the ground and throw them at enemies to defeat them. Most enemies could be picked up as well. The most common enemy, the Shy Guys, appeared in future Mario games, along with the mini boss Birdo.
Screenshots, pictures and references: Screenshots from Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 2 respectively. References from Wikipedia and author's own experience.