Super Mario’s Arcade Origins & History

arcadehero October 8, 2022 0
Super Mario’s Arcade Origins & History

When Nintendo revealed the movie trailer for the Super Mario Bros. movie this week, they prefaced it by having some brief introductions from the actors. In that, Mario voice actor Chris Pratt brought up that the first time he encountered Nintendo’s working man mascot character was at the arcade. While it wasn’t clear which exact game he played (sounds like it might have been Vs. Super Mario Bros.), the fact is that the character really got his start in arcades so let’s take a look at that origin and take a trip down memory lane to see where else the character has starred in an arcade game.

#1 – Donkey Kong

Nintendo had been creating arcade games in the 1970s but nothing really caught on until Shigeru Miyamoto’s Donkey Kong. It makes sense as to why – previous games lacked the personality that comes with animated characters and by introducing “Jumpman” up against the villainous King Kong-like character Donkey Kong, this game oozed such drama and became a hit not just in Japan but overseas too. It also helped that this introduced various elements to gaming, such as being able to jump over objects and completely different stages. This game was also among the first to bring the “save the damsel in distress” gameplay that would be popular in the 80s, with Mario working to rescue Pauline from the Kong’s clutches.

#2 – Donkey Kong Junior (1982)

This sequel turned the DK formula on its head by putting Mario in the role of the villain, capturing Donkey Kong as revenge for what he did to Pauline. You don’t control Mario in this one but he is there. Mario would not reappear in Donkey Kong 3, hence the lack of that title being on the list.

#3 – Mario Bros. (1983)

This arcade game is where the “lore” behind the character really started to take shape, with Mario switching careers to a plumber instead of a carpenter and being joined by his green brother, Luigi (Luigi wouldn’t be defined as being taller & skinnier until the Super Mario Bros. TV show). The pair works together to clear out the sewers of nasty creatures, particularly turtles and crabs, among others. Also designed by Shigeru Miyamoto, this game was inspired by Williams’ Joust.

Mario Bros. flyer

It’s worth noting that Donkey Kong, DKJr. and Mario Bros. did grace non-Nintendo consoles through ports, particularly to the Atari 2600 & 7800; There was also a DK/DKJr./MB arcade machine released by Namco back in 2004. Nintendo also released the NES version of this game to arcades via the PlayChoice-10 system.

#4 – Vs. Wrecking Crew (1984)

Nintendo’s Vs. hardware brought the NES to US arcades – before you could buy the console in stores. As a result, it allowed Nintendo to sell and promote many Famicom/NES converted titles by using arcades as a stage, which would include SMB as I’ll cover in a moment. Mario & Luigi stayed in the arcade spotlight thanks to this “new and very exciting” game:

Vs. Wrecking crew flyer

#5 – Super Mario Bros. (PlayChoice-10, 1985)

As the pack-in game for the NES, Mario would lead that console to dominate the home gaming scene in the late 80s. This would spell a declined interest in arcades on Nintendo’s part but they still found value in our industry as a way to help promote their console. Like the VS. system, the PlayChoice system brought the NES to the arcade, but expanded the capability by allowing 10 games to be installed at once. Naturally, their mega-hit of SMB would be available, as would several other Mario titles down the road.

Playchoice 10 flyer

#6 – Vs. Super Mario Bros (1986)

Also known as Mario’s Adventure, this more difficult variation of SMB served as a “dedicated” version of the game in arcades, coming with it’s own marquee and cabinet. I wonder if Chris Pratt played this or the PC-10 version at the arcades he mentioned…

#7 & #8 – Super Mario Bros. 2 & 3 (PlayChoice-10, 1988)

Thanks to the PlayChoice-10, both SMB2 and the widely lauded 3 found their way to arcades.

#9 – Dr. Mario & Vs. Dr. Mario (PlayChoice-10/Nintendo Vs.; 1990)

This puzzle game found it’s way to both the PC-10 and the Vs. platform, it being the final official Vs. release.

#10 – Mario’s Open Golf (PlayChoice-10, 1991)

Mario’s final outing for the PC-10 would be this converted golf game, although I imagine it would have played better with a trackball 😛

#11 – Super Mario World (Nintendo Super System, 1991)

Where the PlayChoice had been a great success for driving interest towards the NES (and keeping the Nintendo name around in arcades), Nintendo had hoped to achieve a similar synergy with the Super Nintendo via the Nintendo Super System, a coin-operated arcade SNES. Since the SNES came with Super Mario World, it made sense for SMW to show up here although those goofy controllers really didn’t help. Arcade History has a listing for Super Mario All-Stars on the NSS, however, I don’t believe this one ever was released.

Nintendo Super System

The NSS was the last time where Nintendo themselves would produce an arcade machine; From here on out, the other Mario games would be licensed.

#12 – Super Mario Bros. pinball (Gottlieb, 1992)

One of two pinball outings for the super brothers, this title took inspiration from the various SMB cartoons that were popular in the late 80s/early 90s. This particular game is notable in that it was Gottlieb’s first title to use a dot-matrix display (DMD) and it is also the first time where noted Mario voice actor Charles Martinet would voice Mario, although he was never given proper credit for the role. 

#13 – Super Mario Bros. Mushroom World (Gottlieb, 1992)

Just two months after the release of the pinball machine above, Gottlieb released another Super Mario themed game although this one was a little bit of an oddball. Designed for kids and redemption play, it came in a cabinet where the dimensions were slightly off from a regular pibnall machine, although the redemption feature could be shut off if the operator desired (as I’ve told pinball fans before, redemption has been tried with pins many times and it seems to fail no matter the theme)

I believe that both of these games are found at the Pinball Hall of Fame in Las Vegas (at least, they were there when I visited their older site back in 2019).

#14 – Mario Undoukai (Banpresto, 1993)

There isn’t much info on this one out there because it’s a Japan-only card vending arcade game but there’s this video that shows how it works. It used a footpad five years before DDR would come along but it might have ultimately inspired the controls used in the Mario & Sonic Olympics arcade games we’ll discuss later:

#15 – Mario Kart Arcade GP (Namco, 2005)

Excepting the DK/DKJr./MB machine released in 2004, Mario would see a long hiatus in arcades since Nintendo focused entirely on home products. The drought would come to an end in 2005 when Namco joined forces with Nintendo to bring the wildly popular Mario Kart to arcades. Each entry has been exclusive to arcades; As far as I am aware (but I could be wrong), none of the tracks made for this have ever appeared in a home model. This game also would stand out by offering many more items to use than in the console versions, the NamCam avatar system where your photo could look like one of the characters, and you could play as Pac-Man.

Both this and the immediate sequel ran off of Sega’s TRIFORCE hardware, which was a modified GameCube console.

#16 – Mario Kart Arcade GP2 (Bandai Namco, 2007)

Building on the success of the first outing, this version added more tracks, characters, NamCam frames and “live” voice commentary of the gameplay.

#17 – Mario Kart Arcade GP DX (Bandai Namco, 2013)

2013 saw the 3rd Mario Kart hit arcades and it’s a game that has done so well for Bandai Namco that they are still producing and selling machines to this day. This makes it one of the longest production runs in arcade history, although I think GlobalVR’s Aliens Extermination still holds that record(having been produced from 2006-2019). MKGPDX initially required an online connection+fee, which was meant for content updates, but they eventually removed that and once it became an offline game, sales exploded. This one continued to build on the content, including a crazy amount of new items, offered new game modes and more.

#18 – Mario & Sonic At The Rio 2016 Olympic Games Arcade Edition (Sega, 2016)

Once Sega got out of the console business, relations between them and Nintendo warmed up and they’ve collaborated on a number of projects, particularly Olympic sport crossover titles. This arcade version of the game employed the use of unique, oversized joysticks and a foot pad, which players would use to compete in a variety of events – as Mario or one of their other preferred Nintendo/Sega characters.

#19 – Mario & Sonic At The Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games Arcade Edition (Sega, 2020)

One issue with MASRIO2016AC was the joysticks. While unique, arcade techs saw them as cursed, since they would often break as players love to “GO BEYOND PLUS ULTRA!!!!!’ on any arcade control that deigns to cross their path. To resolve this in the sequel, Sega removed the sticks and replaced them with more durable arcade buttons. The only issue with this one is that it launched in February 2020, which was very bad timing for any game; It was also made available as a conversion kit on 2016 models.

Honorable Mentions

Mario Roulette (Konami, 1991)

This looks like a gambling game and not an arcade one, but it’s been emulated in MAME so there’s that, I guess. There’s probably other official Mario gambling games out there but I won’t bother to research all those.

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade (Sega, 2015)

Mario doesn’t appear in his brother’s signature game hence the honorable mention, but Luigi got his start in arcades too so might as well mention this one.

Mario Party Challenge World (Capcom/Raw Thrills, 2017, never released)

A medal version of this did see a release in Japan back in 2016 but a US adaptation of this was tested by Raw Thrills in 2017, saw some changes but it ultimately never saw the light of day. Here’s video of the first model; The test models reduced the number of players to three:

Mario Kart VR (Bandai Namco, 2017)

The VR version of Mario Kart did see operations in Japan, the UK and the USA at the end of the last decade, however, Namco never did a wide release of this one. I’m unsure if any are still operating out there but according to those who have played the game, it was quite good. A motion sensor would detect your hand which could be used to throw items like shells, while otherwise you used an arcade-like steering wheel and pedals to control your kart.

Whew, that’s a lot of games! Granted, not quite as many Mario outings as he has on consoles, but still a good amount. Which one of the above is your favorite?

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