Nintendo is the company that is behind some of the most beloved characters in gaming and if you’re like me, some of your best childhood memories. Characters like Mario, Link and Pikachu are so well-known that even people who have never played a video game in their entire lives will know who they are. But how exactly were these characters created, and by what were they inspired? That is what we’d like to find out in this article.
We will start of the list with one of Nintendo’s oldest characters which is also the company mascot Mario. Mario was created by Shigeru Miyamoto, a name that you can expect to hear a few more times in this article, and first appeared in the Donkey Kong arcade game. Miyamoto had originally meant for the game to feature Popeye, but was unable to acquire the licensing rights and thus Mario was born.
Mario’s original name was Mr. Video in Japan and Jumpman in America. The name was changed to Mario however when Mario Segale, the landlord of Nintendo of America’s office at the time, came by for an angry visit when Nintendo fell behind on their rent payments.
The original design of the character featured a red overall and a blue shirt in order to give the character some visually contrasting colors. The character was given his signature red hat to avoid animating his hair while jumping. They also wanted to avoid animating facial features so they gave him large facial features like his big nose and moustache, which in turn humanized him. The character was made into an Italian plumber when he first appeared in Mario Bros. Italian due to his large moustache, and a plumber since he was underground a lot.
Since we have covered Mario, it would only be fair to move onto Mario’s original antagonist, the barrel throwing Donkey Kong. Donkey Kong, like Mario, first appeared in Donkey Kong, the game that was consequently named after him. Since Nintendo was unable to use Bluto, a character from Popeye, they settled on using the now famous monkey. He was inspired by Bluto from Popeye, as well as taking inspiration from King Kong.
Miyamoto named the character Donkey Kong, since he wanted to convey to American audiences that he was a stubborn ape, basically a donkey. Despite being laughed at when proposing the name, the name stuck with Nintendo of America and the character has been Donkey Kong ever since.
The Donkey Kong that we are used to seeing now is quite different from how he first appeared in the arcade game. The character was redesigned by Rare employee Kevin Bayliss when the company was working on the Super NES game Donkey Kong Country. When Bayliss presented the new look to Nintendo it was approved without any issues.
The silent protagonist from The Legend of Zelda series, Link is once again another creation of Miyamoto. Miyamoto wanted to create a character that players could identify with, and give the players the opportunity to feel like a true hero. Miyamoto said that he was inspired by his childhood memories, as well as book, movies and stories.
The name Link comes from quite an unexpected angle. Miyamoto has said that in the original concept for The Legend of Zelda, the triforce shards would be microchips, and that Link would travel between the past and the future. So they subsequently named him Link.
We have seen various iterations of the character, although his looks have largely remained the same. Despite shifting in appearances from child to adult and from cartoon to a more realistic style, he has always maintained his green tunic and adventurous hat, until Breath of the Wild came around of course. The only thing that changed between games is that the character would sometimes appear left handed, and other times right handed.
Finally, a character that was not created by Miyamoto. Pikachu, the official mascot of the Pokémon Company, was designed by Atsuko Nishida and later finalized by Ken Sugimori. The beloved rodent was inspired by a pika, which is a rodent like creature, as well as electricy, since pika is the sound that sparks make in Japanese. The chu part of the name was added since chu is the sound that mice make in Japanese, resulting in Pikachu. Junichi Masuda, a developer of Pokémon has stated that coming up with the name was a difficult task as they wanted the name to appeal to both Japanese and American audiences.
Although now the most famous Pokémon in the world, the character was originally not going to be the lead mascot for the Pokémon franchise. Instead of Game Freak, the producers of the anime came with the idea to make Pikachu the mascot. This was done to appeal to male and female fans alike. It is also said that it was done since Pikachu’s primary color is yellow, which is easy to spot and the only other famous yellow mascot at the time was Winnie the Pooh.
Everyone’s favorite bounty hunter, Samus Aran, is another big Nintendo character that was not created by Miyamoto. The character was designed by Hiroji Kiyotake and first appeared in the 1986 game Metroid. Samus typically sports her red and orange power suit although the colors are not the same in every game. The famous Morph Ball ability that Samus has was conceived in order to avoid creating a crawling animation.
Metroid co-creator Yoshio Sakamoto has stated that during the game’s development someone came up with the idea to turn her into a female, which the staff voted on and was ultimately accepted. Samus’ was mainly modeled after Sigourney Weaver’s portrayal of Ellen Ripley in Alien, which was also a big inspiration for the entire game. The Aran part of her name has been confirmed to come from soccer player Pelé’s name, Edson Arantes do Nascimento, while the Samus part has never been confirmed to have been inspired by anything.