The Mario franchise includes any media starring the Nintendo mascot Mario. It has spawned two films, seven television shows, several comics and over 200 video games. It is the best-selling video game franchise of all time.

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Primary video game series contained within the franchise

  • Super Mario
  • Mario Kart
  • Mario Party
  • Mario Sports
  • Paper Mario
  • Mario & Luigi
  • Doctor Mario

Other related game series

ESRB Ratings

The following are the ratings for the most recently released games in each series. To see more ratings, click here.

Super Mario

E for Everyone

Mario Kart

Mario Kart 7 ESRB

Mario Party

Mario Party 9

Mario Sports

Mario Tennis Open ESRB

Paper Mario

Paper Mario Sticker Star ESRB

Mario & Luigi

Mario & Luigi Dream Team ESRB

Sex, Drugs, & Rock n’ Roll

Violence: You won’t see any blood, but almost every Mario game relies on light cartoon violence as a main component of gameplay. In Super Mario, you jump on mushroom-like villains and spin evil turtles around by their tails. In Mario Kart, you throw spiked turtle shells at other players. The closest the games come to gun violence are giant, slow-moving bullets, which are more like canon balls.

Player Interaction: The games in the Super Mario series are usually single player, but most of the other Mario series have both single and multiplayer settings. A few of the newer games use Wii Wifi to provide players the option of playing with strangers; however, there is no verbal communication. Mario Party, which is fashioned after a board game, is often comically regarded as an ender of friendships because of the high level of competition and the plentiful opportunities for betrayal.


The character Mario first appeared in the 1981 arcade classic Donkey Kong. At the time, his name was Jump Man, and he was rescuing his girlfriend Pauline from the evil gorilla Donkey Kong. The name “Mario” was first coined in the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros. This game introduced Mario’s brother Luigi and established the two as Italian plumbers.

Donkey Kong

Source: Donkey Kong, Nintendo, Inc.

Story & Themes

Each game has its own plot, but a few things remain consistent. Mario Mario and Luigi Mario (yes, their last name is Mario) are two Italian plumber brothers with hero complexes. They’re almost always rescuing Mario’s romantic interest Princess Peach (originally named Princess Toadstool), who has a knack for getting kidnapped by Bowser, the evil Koopa King. Peach is the ruler of the magical Mushroom Kingdom, and her subjects are tiny mushroom-shaped people. Her most important advisor is named Toad, and is playable in a number of the spinoff games. Yoshi is a friendly dinosaur who can jump great heights. Donkey Kong was originally an antagonist, but after becoming the star of his own franchise he is often written as a tenuous ally.

Mario represents goodness and courage, Bowser represents evilness and greed.

Source: Nintendo, Inc.

Source: Nintendo, Inc.

The Creators

Donkey Kong, the first game in the franchise and Nintendo’s first video game to reach success in North America, was invented by Nintendo icon Shigeru Miyamoto, who is also the creator of other successful franchises such as The Legend of Zelda, Starfox, and Pikmin. Hiroshi Yamauchi was president of Nintendo at the time, and is responsible for the company’s expansion into the video gaming industry. Donkey Kong’s wild success led Nintendo to install Mario as its mascot. His face can be found on almost all of Nintendo’s branding material, as well as occasionally hidden within other Nintendo games as Easter eggs.


Feminism: Creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s seemingly innocent use of the Damsel in Distress trope in nearly every Mario game has brought him criticism from the female and feminist gaming community. Princess Peach has a very flat personality, and almost never shows any attempt to rescue herself. In other words, the only female lead is used almost exclusively as an objective or goal for the real main character, rather than as a character in her own right.

The immense popularity of the Mario franchise, and the fact that it was one of the first successful video game franchises ever, means that each new Mario game commands a lot of media attention. As a result, Miyamoto’s decision to use a Damsel in Distress plot line over and over continues to influence the development of countless other games. To learn more, check out Anita Sarkeesian’s Damsel in Distress: Tropes vs Women in Video Games informational video series.

Animal Rights: Mario came under fire from PETA (People for Ethical Treatment of Animals) after it was announced that the game Super Mario 3D World would feature Mario wearing a tanuki costume. Tanuki, also known as Japanese raccoon dogs, have played a significant role in Japanese folklore. PETA claims that Mario’s new getup is encouraging hunters to continue killing these animals for their furs, and in retaliation they made a short, playable game on their website in which you are a skinned tanuki attempting to take your skin back from the evil Mario. Nintendo officially released a statement reminding PETA that Mario often takes the form of animals, and elaborating that “the different forms that Mario takes make no statement beyond the games themselves.”

Super Tanooki Skin PETA


Conversation Starters

A few questions you can bring up with your kids:

  • Why is Princess Peach always being kidnapped?
  • How did you figure out how to solve that puzzle?
  • What makes Bowser a bad guy?
  • Would the game be more interesting if the characters were more fleshed out?  If you were writing a Mario game, how would you make the plot more complex?


Coins: Collecting coins restores Mario’s health, and sometimes can bring other rewards such as lives or stars.

Stars: In most Mario games, stars are units of achievement. In Super Mario 64, Mario must collect a minimum of 70 stars in order to reach the final boss battle with Bowser and rescue Princess Peach. Stars are awarded for completing game missions such as racing giant penguins or collecting eight hidden red coins. In Mario Kart, stars give the racer temporary immortality and increased speed.

One-Up: A green mushroom that gives the player an extra life.

Koopa Troopers: Also called simply “Koopa,” these are tortoise-like people who inhabit the Mario universe. They are usually antagonists. The main antagonist Bowser is the king of the Koopas.

Lightning: In Mario Kart, use of the item lightning causes all other drivers to become temporarily tiny. This makes them slower and more vulnerable to attack.

Fun Facts

  • Mario was named after Nintendo’s landlord, Mario Segale.
  • Donkey Kong, Jr. (1983) is the only official game to depict Mario as a villain.
  • The character Wario was designed to be an evil version of Mario. His name is a portmanteau of Mario and “warui,” which means “bad” in Japanese. The character Waluigi was added later as an evil counterpart for Luigi, and his name was created the same way.

This article was written by

Courtney is Pixelkin's Associate Managing Editor. While working with the Girl Scouts of Northern California, she mentored young girls in teamwork, leadership, personal responsibility, and safety. Today, she spends her time studying adolescent development and using literary analysis techniques to examine video games.