76. Super Mario Bros.

The Mario games are weird.

There’s simply no way around it. Mario is the most recognizable character in the video game industry. His games are typically superb, whether he happens to be rescuing princesses, driving go-karts, playing sports or moonlighting as a medical doctor. He has moved far, far beyond his platforming roots and conquered almost every other video game genre in existence: puzzle games, racing games, sports games, roleplaying games, sucking-up-ghosts-with-a-vacuum-cleaner games—you name it, he’s probably done it.

The weird thing? Mario, the paragon of the video game industry, is a pudgy Italian plumber in a world populated by anthropomorphic mushrooms and fire-breathing turtles.

While one expects the rampageous strangeness of the Mario games to have some whimsical origin, most of it can be traced back to mundane things like gameplay mechanics and graphical limitations.

Mario’s trademark appearance owes everything to limited graphics. His hat was easier to animate than hair. His mustache was easier to animate than a mouth. Those stylish white gloves kept his hands from blending in with his overalls.

The other bizarre conventions of the Mario universe, from power-up mushrooms to warp pipes, all have logical explanations.

Mind you, that doesn’t make them any less weird.

Despite their oddities, the Mario games are usually excellent. There’s never much of a story—the bad guy kidnaps the princess, the princess is rescued by Mario, Mario gets a kiss from the princess—but the games make up for the lack of plot with ingenious gameplay and catchy music.

Even the oddness of the Mario games gives them a quirky sort of charm. A player can never be too sure of what will happen next. Mario grabs a mushroom and grows huge, or nabs a leaf and sprouts a raccoon tail, or gets a helicopter helmet and takes to the skies.

The world of Mario is a fanciful, lighthearted, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland sort of place. Anything can happen—and pretty much everything does.

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