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How did Mario become so famous?

And how did he do it without doing any plumbing?

With his cheery demeanour, podgy belly and luxuriant moustache, Mario is an unlikely candidate for the most enduring game character of all time.

Yet here we are, on the 25th anniversary of Super Mario Bros' Japanese release, and he's still the image most minds think of when confronted with the word 'videogame'.

Why has Mario gone the distance, while lesser mascots like *snort* Bubsy the Bobcat fell at the first hurdle? Mario isn't just popular; he's become part of the public consciousness, as internationally recognisable as Bart Simpson or Darth Vader (and, with his reinforced butt-stomp, he could probably take them both).

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We'll forgo the usual schtick about how he started life under the name Jumpman, and how his iconic appearance was more a product of necessity than anything else - the red cap came about so Nintendo didn't have to animate his hair, while smothering his face in a giant moustache meant they didn't have to bother with tricky facial expressions.

The incredible part is how such a haphazardly designed character managed to resonate with the entire world.

KONG BUT NOT FORGOTTEN
Mario's first role was in Donkey Kong, after the ape went mental and kidnapped his original sweetheart, Pauline. But Nintendo's mascot didn't truly take shape until the release of Super Mario Bros in 1985.

From then on, Mario's appearance was pretty much set in stone. Sure, his honking great nose got slightly smaller, and the muted, NES-enforced colour palette gradually brightened up, but the Mario here is the one you see hurtling through space in Galaxy 2.

Super Mario Bros was important in many ways. It was great, for one thing - an obvious point but one that bears repeating, especially if you've ever trawled through the primordial horrors of the NES section on Virtual Console.

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The game holds up today because it defined gaming today, kick-starting the platforming genre that would grow and mutate into half the games you've loved over the last quarter-century.

In large part the game also defined the NES, as its concept was perfectly tailored to the quirks and limitations of Nintendo's first stab at a home console.

Super Mario Bros was a game about running to the right and occasionally jumping on things' heads. It made great use of the two-button control pad, and of the 2D plane which the NES found easiest to render.

The game's accessibility and unforgettable characters and music resulted in Super Mario becoming Nintendo's flagship series, more important to the status and fortunes of the company than Kirby, Metroid or even Zelda.

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As Mario was its star he soon became a sensation, appearing in everything from a frighteningly bad series of cartoons to a frightening live-action movie.

This kind of saturation simply wouldn't happen with someone like Halo's Master Chief. As mad as it sounds, he's too complex a character, less easily summarised with a single visual or audio cue - in Mario's case, by his trademark hat or "It's a-me!".

Mario has thrived because his simplicity makes him readily adaptable to any environment, from his cameos in other Ninty titles to his more in-depth roles in RPGs such as Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story.

As his origins, home life and even surname have never been explored, they can be tweaked, expanded or removed as necessary.

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REALITY BITES
Not that Nintendo will let you use him any which way. Rumour has it that Shigeru Miyamoto doesn't like Mario being depicted as life size, and after witnessing the horror of that 'realistic Mario' image that did the rounds a few months back, we have to agree with Shigsy.

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