Explainer: Super Mario's global appeal

Why Japanese prime minister turned up at the Olympics closing ceremonies to promote the 2020 Tokyo games dressed up as Mario?

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Take that, Pokemon. On Sunday, the Japanese prime minister turned up at the Olympics closing ceremonies to promote the 2020 Tokyo games dressed up as Mario, the eponymous hero of the popular video game series created in 1985.
Who is Mario and how did he come by his global appeal? Here's a closer look.


Japanese animation and game characters from Hello Kitty to Pac Man also made appearances in the closing ceremonies. But none of them may have the global reach of Super Mario, the game franchise that was a hit when Nintendo's video game system and Game Boy burst onto the scene in the 1980s.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's appearance as Super Mario was a crowd-pleasing reminder of how much the game helped spur on the videogame revolution in the U.S. and globally. Abe emerged from a green pipe in a big red Super Mario cap and costume, holding a glowing red ball kicked to him by famed manga soccer star Captain Tsubasa.


Tokyo 2020 organizers said in a statement that the Super Mario idea came up during a brainstorming session. Staff at Nintendo would say only that the government asked to borrow the character for the show.


The franchise began in 1981, when Donkey Kong debuted as an arcade game. Donkey Kong soon became the hottest selling arcade game in the business. In that game, a character called "Jumpman," similar to Mario, tried to save a damsel from a big ape. Super Mario came a long four years later, packaged with the Nintendo Entertainment System, popularizing the side-scrolling videogame format.
Mario's first job was carpentry, but later he became a plumber, and in many games he travels up and down in a world of underground pipes. In his book "Game Over: How Nintendo Conquered the World," David Sheff wrote that Mario was named after Nintendo's U.S. landlord, who was demanding back rent from the company's fledgling U.S. arm. Nintendo doesn't confirm or deny the story.


There are more than 100 games, for various gaming systems, ranging from Donkey Kong to Super Mario Kart, in which Mario is the primary character, and many more in which he makes appearances. Super Mario is the best-selling video franchise of all time, with more than 300 million units sold as of 2015, according to Nintendo.

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