When it comes to job diversification, few can claim to be as adaptable as Mario. He's a plumber by trade, but the dungaree-wearing hero has often stepped out of his comfort-zone and explored worlds filled with treasure and peril without a water-leak in sight. Mario is the star of many of the greatest video games of all-time, and has become a true household icon (even with a moustache).
My adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom By Ben Bulbeck
Although he made his first appearance in the 1981 game Donkey Kong, and subsequently gained his first title role in 1983 (Mario Bros), it wasn't until the release of Super Mario 64 in 1996 that I myself first experienced playing a Mario game. Yes, the Nintendo NES and SNES eras had completely bypassed me while I was pressing rubber keys on my ZX Spectrum and wrenching a Zipstik on the Commodore Amiga. While "those in the know" were arguing over who was better: Nintendo or Sega, my classroom arguments were purely based on Spectrum or C64. Atari or Amiga. My first games console was a Commodore CD32.
Looking back now, I can't specifically remember why I felt compelled to buy a Nintendo 64. I think it may have been Goldeneye that enticed me; but it was Super Mario 64 that showed me just what I had been missing, and secured a love for Nintendo that ensured I bought every home console that they have released since.
My treasured Super Mario 64 cartridge for the N64.My memory is hazy, but I think I bought it at a Virgin store. For £49.99
Super Mario 64 was unlike anything I had ever played before. Such freedom of exploration, fluid controls, and wealth of imaginative design were integral to my subsequent love of all-things Nintendo: no one can do Nintendo like Nintendo do. Each game in the Mario canon is able to gather resources from such an eclectic mix of supporting characters, that even new releases like Super Mario Odyssey are able to cash-in on the nostalgia factor by throwing in some Goombas or Chain Chomps.
I was experiencing all these classic characters - and the gaming mechanics of Mario - for the first time on the N64 in 1996. Nintendo was an alien world to me: I'd made the leap from British 8-bit computers and American 16-bit computers and had well and truly landed with my feet firmly in the Mushroom Kingdom. Who can resist a smile when finding a Power Star in one of Mario's worlds? The magic of Nintendo's design is that each level/world/kingdom of a Mario game offers its own unique challenges to master, and then gives you the feeling of satisfaction when you realise the particular manoeuvre that is required to navigate to a new area, or gain one of those lovely Power Stars.
Revisiting Mario's 2D games from the 80s, it is apparent that they are a lot trickier than the gentler learning-curve of recent releases (including the infinite lives of Super Mario Odyssey). I can confess that I find Super Mario World to be a pretty tricky game once you've reached World 2 on the map; precision jumping is definitely a requirement for the plumber to complete his shift. I'm also not overly keen on the fact that the early Mario games have you play against a timer; I prefer my platform games to give me plenty of time to explore (it's the main reason I enjoy Yoshi's Island more than Super Mario World).
Then again, maybe I was just too used to the ambling platform games on the Commodore Amiga. At the time, I thought games like Zool and Robocod were brilliant, but it has since become apparent that the tight level design of a Nintendo game far surpasses them. (Going off on a tangent here, my favourite Amiga platform games are Rainbow Islands and Rodland: it's no coincidence that they - like the Mario series - are both from Japanese video game developers.) Despite the lack of Mario in my life in the 8-bit and 16-bit days, I can certainly see how revolutionary the Mario World games were at the time of release. Even from World 1-1 of Super Mario World, there is so much to enchant amongst those enemies, power-ups and blocks.
My 2D Mario platform game collection on Gameboy Advance. Controversially perhaps, Yoshi's Island is my favourite
On the Nintendo Wii, Super Mario Galaxy and its sequel are a natural progression to Super Mario 64.Familiar concepts and enemies are presented in a shiny new intergalactic setting, and again there are many hours to potentially lose searching for Power Stars. Nintendo always seem to manage to get the right balance of collectables in their Mario games. There's not an overwhelming amount of hidden coins/stars/etc to find, but there is enough to reward exploration.
The moment a new Mario game was announced for the Nintendo Switch, I knew I would succumb to buying the console. Super Mario Odyssey is a truly marvellous game: not only is it a creative and technical progression of the Mario platform game genre, it is also a nostalgic love-letter to Nintendo itself. There are homages to all the things that video gamers have loved from Mario over the years. Only Nintendo would have thought of adding 2D retro-themed sections to the play areas of a 3D video game, but these moments of nostalgia work brilliantly, right down to the in-game music converting to an 8-bit sound as you guide a pixelated Mario on his way. In Super Mario Odyssey, Nintendo have created a wonderful game filled with little sandbox areas for Mario to explore - the plumber is at his least-confined, and he's loving it.
Artwork from Every Day Is Play, published by Game Paused Limited
In fact, it's not just Mario that enjoys his latest adventures - my five-year-old son and daughter both enjoy watching me play the game (OK, I do let them take the controls too...) to the extent that my son has occasionally woken in the morning and the first thing he's said to me is, "We really must get that power moon that's frozen in the ice today, Daddy" or "Can we go back to the Sand Kingdom?" or "That was so funny when we controlled all those Goombas!"
If my children grow up having a love for Nintendo, then at least I know I've pointed them in the right direction in the world of video gaming.
By Ben Bulbeck