ClassicRadar: The many faces of Mario

This month marks the five-year anniversary of GamesRadar, and to celebrate, we’re bringing back some of our favorite features from the past. The following originally posted in early 2009, as we put our Mario knowledge to use in this short history on the plumber's ever-changing face.

It’s a frequently cited "fact" that Mario is more recognized worldwide than Mickey Mouse (whoever that is), meaning everyone everywhere should know what he looks like, even if his official look has matured over the years.

But in his near three decades of existing, not every official or officially licensed representation of the mild-mannered jumping guy has looked the same. History is rife with Mario drawings that are a little off, laughably bad or just plain wrong. Here's a trip down memory lane to see the Marios you’re supposed to forget.

Above: Just so we're on the same page, here's the official Mario with over 20 years of updates

The Donkey Kong Era

When Mario first appeared, he was simply known as Jumpman, who - believe it or not - jumped over things. Aside from the constants of a mustache, red hat, red pants and a big nose, all bets were off, though even that didn't always stick. Here was Nintendo’s first go at Jumpman, versus the updated version they want to make the truth now.

Here's two more akwardly different Marios from the same arcade cabinet as the above pic:

But just because he looked that way on the system in the arcade didn’t mean that's how he would stay; there were home versions to be made by outside companies with their concept of how Jumpman looked. For example, here's the shifty looking Mario from arcade fliers for DK, seemingly depicted telling DK he's gonna give him what for. Maybe he should open his eyes - it would certainly help him dodge barrels.

Above:  “I’ll save you with my eyes closed and my foot turned backwards, Pauline!” 

When it came time to make console versions of Donkey Kong, his portrayals range from oddly realistic:

to the acid hallucination:

And just recently we came across this amazingly weird French ad from the 80s:

With the wild, ape-like success of Donkey Kong, merchandising was sure to follow, marking Mario’s first appearances outside of games. It was also the first time that the dopes in charge of making the products took big design liberties, the start of a long tradition in Mario commodities. At least back in those days Jumpman’s look wasn’t clearly defined anyway.

That’s him in the short lived Saturday morning Donkey Kong cartoon. Poor guy is exasperated to even be seen like this.

And look at these vintage stickers we found on eBay. Though taking a page from the above flier, they barely kept that model correct, not even drawing the hammer the same way twice.

Our favorite bit from this time has to be the DK cereal. We don’t know how you kids eat today, but a trip to a 1980s grocery store wouldn’t pass without begging our mother to buy us some videogame cereal. The concept behind this breakfast treat is pretty strange; most had you eating marshmallow versions of the characters, but DK’s meal gives you a spoonful of barrels in every bite.

That image of Mario on the left is not from the box, but a cel from the surprisingly well-animated commercial for this part of a balanced breakfast. But the ad portrays Mario in a strange way; he seems far more interested in smashing barrels than saving Pauline, insanely so.

Above: “Barrels, barrels, RARGGG!!”


  • Revanjd - March 15, 2011 3:33 a.m.

    Good stuff!
  • nomnom52 - March 14, 2011 10:57 p.m.

    Holy shit. I actually remember reading this when it first released... GR, you guys are awesome, what with Pokemon Monday... and the FUCKING awesome articles... I love it all! (The reCaptcha's are getting out of control, though.)
  • megagiantsharktopus - March 14, 2011 9:34 p.m.

    I remember all of this stuff from when I was a kid. I guess I never really paid Nintendo Power #1 that much mind. Or maybe I was just a stupid kid, and thought that there was an alternate Mario costume or something. Great article!
  • Ariaka - March 14, 2011 7:12 p.m.

    Another Happy Birthday for GR. I remember when this first got posted XD
  • StealthEagle - March 14, 2011 4:23 p.m.

    That very first mario in black and white seen to have some resemblance to mickey mouse and the elastic style of cartoon characters. Is that chuck norris in realistic mario cover?
  • MikeT - March 14, 2011 1:33 p.m.

    "No it's a blue shirt and red coveralls! ahh forget it!"
  • jmcgrotty - March 14, 2011 10:53 a.m.

    You got this wrong. The cover of Nintendo Power #1 is the perfect example of what Mario needs to look like, and influenced every other version in any game ever. Even the games that came out before Nintendo Power 1
  • VvSch - March 14, 2011 10:27 a.m.

    Is that James Earl Jones doing the voice-over in that commercial? Imagine the following line in Vader's voice: "Now on your breakfast table, Donkey Kong brand cereal!"
  • PhantomDave - March 14, 2011 9:08 a.m.

    Seems whenever news in gaming takes a slow day there's always a "Many Faces of Mario" article to fill the gap....even old ones. LOL
  • AuthorityFigure - March 14, 2011 7:56 a.m.

    Before regulated artistic styling, any interpretation seemed welcome. It ain't like that no more.
  • Gnilres - March 14, 2011 2:45 a.m.

    I remember the first time I read this article. Great job, GamesRadar! Here's to another 5 years! (Or more, I hope)
  • MercurialForce - March 14, 2011 12:56 a.m.

    Articles like this are ones that make me wish I had been a kid in the eighties.
  • bugmenot - March 13, 2011 11:16 p.m.

    Mario's not holding the controller sideways, it's a very early Wiimote!
  • philipshaw - March 13, 2011 10:19 p.m.

    I can't believe this was posted so long ago, still good
  • bosox - March 13, 2011 9:52 p.m.

    ~FIRST~ MARIO!!!

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