Arguably, if there were a national anthem for video games, it would be it. Little did we know in 1985 that this unassuming little game, released for the Japanese-market Famicom game system (known to us as the Nintendo NES) would be a decades-spanning franchise.
It started with Donkey Kong
One of 1981’s most original games, back when you had to go to an arcade to play games with reasonably good graphics, was Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong (so named, it is rumored because of a typo: it was supposed to be called “Monkey Kong”) featured a simple premise. A King Kong type character kidnapped someone, and you had to rescue her. Along the way you climbed ladders and dodged barrels.
The character you controlled was originally prosaically called “Jumpman,” but by the time the game came to the US he had been christened “Mario.” For whatever reason, Mario’s backstory continued to develop. He was a plumber and had a brother named Luigi, who was the “Player 2” whenever you played with a buddy.
Enter Mario Bros.
Before it was a game cartridge, Mario Bros. was a console video game. Called Mario Bros. (not yet Super) the gameplay was recognizable to anyone who later owned the video cartridge or remembers having to clean one with an eraser. Mario and Luigi made their way through an endlessly scrolling world.
The game gained “Super” status for no particular reason when it was released as a game cartridge. For those who think it anything to do with the Super Nintendo, that system didn’t come out until 1990, five years after Super Mario Bros.
The power of the plumber
Adding to the improbably rich backstory of the Mario character, he took on a job as a plumber. He starred in game after game, becoming a genuine knight on a quest, a character in a movie which you should definitely not see, a cart driver, and for most of Nintendo’s history, its official mascot.
Mario just never goes away, and neither does his theme song. Introduced in Super Mario Bros. and used in every Mario game since, this ditty far exceeds its chip-music-esque origins. It became a seemingly acapella masterpiece, a techno theme, and lots more.
Take a look at this video, in which producer “Shromi” claims to have included all or part of every Mario theme in every game from 1985-2018. This video is ten minutes long which should tell you just about how many times this theme has been used.
The Mario Bros. theme became into a ringtone, back before everyone just kept their phones on vibrate. Inexplicably it gained some notoriety on a segment of Dancing with the Stars. It showed up as accompaniment for Mark Ballas and Sadie Robertson. I swear, I am not making this up:
I don’t know what it is about this theme that keeps going. It shouldn’t be that special. I’m beginning to suspect that it will long outlast not only this blog, but me. That’s a quite impressive achievement. Even more so, for a little song that accompanied a video game for kids.