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Fans of the Mario franchise are acquainted with its oddities. It’s a Japanese series about an Italian plumber who travels to a mystical land to eat mushrooms, throw fire, and stomp on turtles. We’ve all come to accept that. Despite our love of its wackiness, we still had some burning questions about the Mushroom Kingdom and its most famous inhabitant. When we sat down with series creator Shigeru Miyamoto and developer Takashi Tezuka, we wanted answers.
Some people claim that Mario and Luigi's last name is "Mario." Are their names officially Mario Mario and Luigi Mario?
Shigeru Miyamoto: This is an old story, but Hollywood did a film version of the Mario Bros. many years back. There was a scene in the script where they needed a last name for the characters. Somebody suggested that, because they were the Mario Bros., their last name should be Mario. So, they made him "Mario Mario." I heard this and laughed rather loudly. Of course, this was ultimately included in the film. Based on the film, that's [how] their names ended up. But, just like Mickey Mouse doesn't really have a last name, Mario is really just Mario and Luigi is really just Luigi.
Time and again, Bowser kidnaps Peach. Why do Mario and Peach still race go-karts and play tennis with him?
SM: If you're familiar with things like Popeye and some of the old comic characters, you would oftentimes see this cast of characters that takes on different roles depending on the comic or cartoon. They might be businessman in one [cartoon] or a pirate in another. Depending on the story that was being told, they would change roles. So, to a certain degree, I look at our characters in a similar way and feel that they can take on different roles in different games. It's more like they're one big family, or maybe a troupe of actors.
In Super Mario Bros. 3, the Koopalings were supposed to be Bowser's children. But there's also Bowser Jr. Are they all his kids, and are they all from different mothers? Is Bowser Jr. a Koopaling?
SM: Our current story is that the seven Koopalings are not Bowser's children. Bowser's only child is Bowser Jr., and we do not know who the mother is.
Here in the States, Yoshi’s Island was referred to as Super Mario World 2. Despite the title, many gamers don’t consider it part of the core series. Do you consider it part of the classic canon of Mario platformers or is it a spin-off in your mind since the player controls Yoshi?
SM: When we first made Yoshi's Island, we considered it part of the Mario series. After that, the Yoshi series continued on its own. As developers, do we consider it to be part of the core Mario series? The answer is yes.
In Super Mario World, the enemy Chargin' Chuck dresses like a football player but often throws baseballs. Why does he do that?
Miyamoto: He didn't throw a football?
There were some that kicked footballs, but most of them threw baseballs.
Takashi Tezuka: Well, at the time, one of the things we were trying to do with the resources we had was to introduce some variation. So we made the decision that this might be kind of weird, but let's go ahead and have some of these guys throw baseballs.
Miyamoto: I think that maybe the ones that threw baseballs were a little bit more fun, so we used a lot of them.
Mario's mustache and eyebrows are black, but his hair is brown. Does he dye his hair, is that natural, or is that a toupee?
TT: He's naturally brown-haired.
SM: This goes into [a] technical explanation of the number of colors that you could use in the early days. Mario was originally red, blue, white, and black. Maybe it was around the time of Super Mario Bros. 3 that we changed his hair to a different color. What really happened was that, when drawing the character, it became much easier to draw the mustache as an extension of the outline of his nose. Using that same color of black, we drew the mustache. But then we felt bad for Mario that he didn't have a distinct hair color, so we gave him brown hair.
Mario has been a boxing referee, a doctor, an Olympian, and a carpenter. Are all these official careers in Mario lore? If he has a medical degree, why does he continue his plumbing business?
SM: There's really only one rule in terms of the things that Mario does. Generally, it's that he's more on the blue-collar side. He's hard-working, and certainly much more physical in nature. So, I think that a doctor is sort of an unexpected and perhaps unbelievable role for Mario. Perhaps the Dr. Mario you're thinking of was maybe, in some way, not necessarily legitimate.
Note: This interview originally ran in Game Informer issue 234