Welcome to Warped Pipes, a new series of articles I’ll be writing about the Super Mario video game franchise. In this series, I’ll be diving deep into the stories and lore of the Super Mario games with the goal of, at long last, creating a coherent canonical timeline for the franchise. Sound ridiculous? It will be.
In order to uncover the timeline of events, I will explore the Super Mario series one game at a time in the order they were released. I will discuss the story and world building of each game in an analytical tone and then try to place it into a timeline with the other games that I have already discussed.
Constructing a timeline of the Mario series is easier in some places than others. In order to build a coherent and logical timeline, I will try my best to follow these principles:
- The timeline should follow release order unless there is evidence to suggest otherwise.
- Subseries of games should cluster together in the timeline.
- Make as few assumptions as possible.
There will be exceptions to these principles but I think that generally following this methodology will lead to the most accurate timeline of events and help guide some tough calls.
There is also the question of how to best source information about the games’ often scarce stories. I will utilize the following hierarchy to determine “true” story and lore when multiple sources conflict:
- The events as seen in the game itself.
- Information from the Japanese game manual.
- Information from the English game manual.
- Statements coming from official Nintendo websites.
- Statements coming from the game’s creators.
What Counts As Canon?
Only Nintendo-published games will be considered canonical.
The various Mario cartoons and movie are strictly non-canon and contradict much of what is established by the games. This also includes the Mario educational games, which are set in the same continuity as the cartoons and are contradictory to the rest of the video game series.
Additionally, games must have some sort of a story, either in the game or in their manual, to be included in the timeline. Games such as Mario Kart and Mario Party have no real story. This isn’t to say that these events couldn’t have happened in the Mario universe, but they have no bearing on the overall story and aren’t worth considering as part of the canon.
Crossover titles such as Super Smash Bros. and Mario & Sonic At the Olympic Games will also be considered non-canon since they clearly take place in different universes from the main Super Mario series.
I will clearly state whenever I am skipping over a non-canonical title.
First Up: Donkey Kong (1981)
This is where it all started. In the arcade original, a character referred to only as Jumpman, seemingly a handyman working on the construction site the game takes place in, is tasked with saving a Lady from an escaped ape called Donkey Kong in a clear homage to King Kong.
In the promotional material and home console ports that followed, the male and female human characters are named as Mario and Pauline, respectively, and revealed to be in a relationship. From the NES game manual:
Can you save Pauline from the clutches of Donkey Kong? Help Mario scale the construction site to rescue his girlfriend, Pauline. Dodge the fireballs and barrels that Donkey Kong hurls down the ramps and ladders to thwart your efforts.
The 3DS virtual console release of the game expands on this slightly:
Donkey Kong has kidnapped Pauline, and it is up to Mario, the fearless carpenter, to come to her rescue. Throwing fate to the wind, Mario tries desperately to climb the labyrinth of structural beams from the top of which Donkey Kong taunts him. Help our hero ascend the metal structure by dodging an assortment of fireballs, steel beams, and exploding barrels the angry ape hurls at him. Prepare yourself for a never-ending adventure as Donkey Kong takes Pauline away to the next level every time Mario gets to the top.
In order to defeat Donkey Kong and save Pauline, Mario ascends the construction site, along the way having to avoid barrels, sentient fireballs, and wild springs or destroy them with the hammers he finds along the way. He also collects Pauline’s lost bag, parasol, and hat as he passes them.
Donkey Kong antagonizes Mario along the way, snatching Pauline and climbing higher whenever Mario gets close.
At the top of the construction site, 100 meters into the air, Mario confronts Donkey Kong and sends him plummeting back to the ground, saving Pauline.
All-in-all it’s a pretty simple story. Let’s see what it means for...
In addition to what we’ve learned about the three named characters, here’s what we’ve learned about this world writ large:
- It is industrialized
- It features: humans, at least one unusually-intelligent animal, and sentient fireballs.
Not a lot but enough to know that this is a fantasy world with it’s own set of rules and that the games are not set in our own universe.
The Timeline So Far
With only one game so far, the timeline remains unconvoluted. We will use Donkey Kong as our starting point moving forward.