Mario & Luigi's Evolution 1981-2011

Mario has been featured in more games than any other character in video game history. That’s nothing to be taken lightly and Nintendo has a lot of attention on them to keep Mario games top quality. Over the past 30 years, Mario has gone through many changes to keep things fresh and his brother Luigi was no exception after he stepped into the spotlight. Today I would like to take a look at how various games through history changed and shifted Mario and Luigi both cosmetically and personally into being the world famous characters they are today and how the games came though to the gamers over the years.

It all began, of course, in 1981 with Shigeru Miyamoto’s arcade classic, Donkey Kong.


While Donkey Kong was in development, Miyamoto referred to the main character as “Mr. Video” and planned to use him in several games. This name didn’t pass into the release of the game however (though I would bet Miyamoto still thought of him as Mr. Video for some time). Mr. Video became Jumpman… after all, that’s all he could do. The game set fire to the world’s arcades and a new game was expected…

1982 introduced Donkey Kong Jr. to hungry arcade junkies.

Donkey Kong Jr

In this game, Mario -er I mean, Jumpman was not a playable character. In fact, he’s the villain! Wow, it’s crazy to think about that these days, but at the time, it was a clever choice. With Jumpman getting his girl, it only made sense that he would lock up that evil ape that started it all. So, it was up to DK jr. to step up and save the day. Still, there’s something unsettling about Mario with a whip.

In 1983, everything changed with the release of Mario Bros. Jumpman was now Mario and he had a brother! Yes, this was Luigi’s first appearance and you probably wont recognize either of them…

Mario Bros

There’s something interesting about the colors here. In previous games, Mario wears red overalls and a blue shirt, but here it’s inverted. Luigi is wearing green overalls and he is rarely ever seen like this ever again. Mario’s blue overalls are the norm today, but for some reason, he would go back to red in 1985…

Super Mario Bros

Super Mario Bros… Wow, what a game that was at the time. It blew people away and set the NES up for a great future. I still tilt my head in confusion when looking at both Mario and Luigi in this game though. Mario with the red overalls and greenish brown shirt which matches his hair and boots. Yes, I know there were color limits but that’s no explanation for Luigi. He’s got white overalls and a green shirt, boots and… hair.

Super Mario Bros 2 (also known as the Lost Levels) didn’t change anything with the look of the game, but look at the cover!

Lost Levels

Again with the red overalls. Maybe it’s just me but I can’t figure out why Mario wore blue for that very brief moment. The funny thing is that even though the two color layouts are opposite, they both look right when you don’t think about it.

What happened in 1988 was very odd. The Japanese game Yume Kojo Doki Doki Panic was released in North America as Super Mario Bros 2! In Japan, this version of the game would later be known as Super Mario Bros USA. Even though it was just a warped version of a game, it did something that has lasted to this day for the rest of the world…

Yume Kojo Doki Doki Panic

As you can see with Mario and Luigi next to their alter egos in Japan, Luigi took his place as the taller and thinner Mario brother. It’s funny how this random connection would continue through Mario history and keep Luigi as a unique looking character. It would still be a while before this look for Luigi would come back but, the seed was planted.

While still on the NES, Super Mario Bros 3 in 1990 really stepped up in terms of graphics.

Super Mario 3

You don’t see this much progress in systems these days. I mean, take a look back to the first Mario game on the NES and make a comparison. It’s a huge leap forward. But look what they did! What’s happening here? Mario is wearing black! Has anyone else ever really noticed this? Has he ever had these colors ever again? Well, yes in a way. In Super Mario Galaxy he wears black after getting the Red Star but in that case he has a black cap too. This game also marks the end of Mario and Luigi having dots for eyes (previously, only Mario Bros showed white with a pupil for their eyes). The dot eyes would return in a very unexpected way however.

Wow man, it’s 1992 and the SNES is flying off the shelves! It’s Super Mario in 16 bit perfection… Super Mario World.

Super Mario World

This game had it all and more. So much more in fact, most people had no idea what they were missing even after finishing the game on their first play-through! Mario in this game finally has his blue overalls and basically looks the same way he looks today. Sure, his head is just about as big as his body, but the flashy anime-like look to the game was the cherry on the top of this perfect game mechanic triple-chocolate dream of a game. Am I over-selling it? lol, naw I didn’t think so.

Let’s just skip Yoshi’s island which features Mario as a baby. The baby Mario thing is great, but Mario has also been a doctor, boxing ref, golfer, tennis player and ref, a kart racer, and even a pinball ball! It’s a matter of opinion and everyone is entitled to theirs, but Super Mario World 2 in my book doesn’t count. Anyone agree? Either way, feel free to comment 😛

The next big step for Mario came in 1996 with the N64. It was time for 3D graphics and Super Mario 64 didn’t disappoint.

Super Mario 64

When word of the “Ultra 64” was filling the pages of every gaming magazine around, people were trying to wrap their minds around the idea of playing a Mario game in 3D space. It was actually a success way beyond what anyone could know at the time. How many people here have played bad 3D platformers? They’re all over the place. To this day, Super Mario 64 is way better camera and physics-wise than over 90% of games made in the same style to date. Nintendo had it dead-on from day one! I find that very amazing and my hat’s off to them. But there’s one problem… where’s Luigi!? Many people asked this question on the release and thoughts of Luigi being phased out were on the minds of millions (Luigi did make a stylish return in Super Smash Bros as a secret character though).

Nintendo 64 also brought back the dot-eyes I mentioned earlier with Paper Mario.

Paper Mario

This would be where the old style of Mario’s features would find a home as several other Paper Mario titles would follow. Paper Mario was the continuation of the experimental Mario RPG on the SNES which strangely involved Squaresoft! They have all been great and I’m peronally looking forward to more.

The Gamecube was a brand new world for Nintendo. They made the change to using discs rather than cartridges and the compromise opened the doors to vast memory and graphic power (for the time). Oddly, the first Mario game was a.. uhh… Luigi game? Luigi’s Mansion was released in 2001.

Luigi's Mansion

Yeah, Luigi gets his own game (again)! Sure, you can finish the game in one sitting, but it looks great.

Over time Luigi was developing into a bit of a coward and very willing to live in Mario’s shadow. This game put the final nail in the coffin… Luigi became an official wimpy loser. Still, you have to admit that he has more personality than Mario. Mario is like Superman… all hero and no substance!… No?… C’mon, I can’t be the only one to think so lol.

The next year held the Gamecube release of the next Mario Game; Super Mario Sunshine.

Super Mario Sunshine

The game was… well… fun(?). It was okay but not up to the standards of previous games. I blame the semi-failure on the theme of the stages. I mean, in Mario 64 you have each level being a different theme. You have a water level, a desert level, a lava level, a sky level, and so on. Mario Sunshine was a beach resort… and that’s all. It was as if Nintendo got to tied up in water effects that they forgot the level themes. I say themes because the level design in Mario Sunshine was just fine.

Now we come to the Nintendo Wii… It’s the system we are playing today and it’s nearing it’s end. But, we have had a bunch of fantastic titles over the past few years.

In 2007 the 3D platforming Mario series made a huge comeback… Super Mario Galaxy.

Super Mario Galaxy

Using never before explored gravity physics, mind bending level settings and design, Mario Galaxy to this day stands as my favorite in the 3D series. I remember buying it and remembering the disappointment of Mario Sunshine… It honestly sat on my shelf sealed for three days before I played it! But wow, I was missing out on those few days. This game is great; no question. But take a look at the picture above… the Wii brought in a new change to Mario and Luigi’s look…

Smash Bros Brawl

The overalls now had the detailed look of real denim (Weee). I remember really noticing with the intro to Super Smash Bros Brawl. It’s a bold choice to go from cartoony flat blue to real-world denim, but it works perfectly.

Mario and Luigi have been through a lot over the past few decades and their character is a product of that. I expect, in time, the Mario Brothers will be prized classic characters on par with Superman, Batman, Spider-man, and so on. Characters of this magnitude go on and on and the Mario Bros are no exception.

There are two titles on the way for each of them on the Nintendo 3DS. Taking in how far they have come, let’s take a look at what is to come…

Super Mario 3DS

Luigi’s Mansion 2

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Mario & Luigi's Evolution 1981-2011

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