The Design Evolution of Mario

Growing up I would draw my favorite cartoon characters all the time. I’d re-draw stuff from newspapers, cereal boxes, comic books … I would even record cartoons from television to pause on a certain frame to draw. Most of these characters were part of an established franchise, but one little guy stood out as we all watched him evolve from a blocky little hero to fully rendered 3D. Everyone’s favorite plumber: Mario.

I always cite Mario as one of my favorite character designs. Nintendo took great care in tuning his image from way back in 1981 when he first appeared in Donkey Kong, keeping all of his iconic elements intact. Cap, coveralls and mustache. All basic shapes. I’m sure marketing types came along who wanted to “re-design Mario to capture a new hipper audience”, but Nintendo stayed true to their little hero despite the advancements in technology and gameplay. I sure respect that.

So I put this post together as a point blank documentation of his design evolution. There are zillions of Mario games out there but I wanted to only show the main titles that advanced his design, so don’t get on me for omitting Paper Mario or the RPG, you nerds.

So this one is for you, Mario. Keep slinging those shells and bustin’ up those Goombas. “Letsa go!”







18 responses to “The Design Evolution of Mario”

  1. LucasG_Once Avatar

    In 2008, Mario learns how to throw a hadouken!

  2. Kev Gilmour Avatar
    Kev Gilmour

    Mario, and indeed video games, achieved perfection in 1994 with Super Mario World on the SNES. Still a game I go back to now. Everything that has come since is just gravy!

  3. james Avatar

    Lucas: “It’sa fatality!”

    Kev: Agreed.

  4. Mat MacQuarrie Avatar

    ninety-four for the win!

  5. Mike Mai Avatar

    love this! my fav is ’85 of course. :)

  6. David Avatar

    From 2002 those are not images from the game!

  7. james Avatar

    David, I know but they closely enough resemble what appeared onscreen. Figured cropping a screenshot would be splitting hairs at that point.

  8. Andre' Avatar

    Awesome post.. I agree with Mike, ’85 still the one.
    ’08 Mario clearly an Iron Man fan.

  9. Matthew Marshall Avatar

    It’s be interesting to see a side-by-side with Sonic as far as character design.

    Sega definitely meddled with the characters a lot more than Nintendo ever did.

  10. james Avatar

    “Sure, I’ll give it a try. Why is it lagging? It always does that? Huh? They made the game too fast for the Sega’s processors? Yeah, I get it but why would they do that if it impedes the … ?”

    *throws down controller and walks away forever*

    – me in 1991 after playing Sonic

  11. Matthew Marshall Avatar

    What I will say is that if Sega beat Nintendo at anything in that era, it was music.

  12. Morons Avatar

    You Failed at the last 3 marios, those are Renders or Box-art models, not in-game character design

  13. james Avatar

    Morons (your words, not mine), read the above comments. At that point the box renders were so close to the in-game character design it seemed silly to spend the time cropping screen captures.

  14. Dave Hardy Avatar

    1985 or 1990… hard to choose! Both games were pivotal in my childhood.

    Side note… my wife and I started playing Super Mario Brothers on SNES (in Mario All-Stars) and had to break out the NES system to play it instead… the updated graphics, applied to the 1985 Mario Brothers just just wasn’t right!

  15. Jason Stanley Avatar

    I still have my original Super Nintendo at home and when I can find the time I crack out Super Mario World and Mario All-Stars. Hours and hours of fantastic game-play that both my wife and I still enjoy.

    Sadly I sold my NES for around $15 when I was a kid thinking I’d never want to play it again after getting my SNES. *facepalm*

  16. Rob Imbs Avatar

    ’85 will always be Mario to me.

  17. Darryl Avatar

    2002 was from Super Mario Sunshine
    2007 is actually the cover art from Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010)
    2008 is Super Smash Bros. Mario.

    The “Evolution” of Mario lacks a lot; The updated graphics in Super Mario All Stars, the 25th Anniversary SMB All Stars, New SMB, New SMB2 – all of which show a progression in Mario’s true design.

  18. Christopher Dean Avatar

    Can you label each year with the game it came from?

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