Mario has gone through three distinct phases of super popularity. One in the early 90's. One is seemingly just on the wane, born of the success of his games on the DS and Wii. The other, though, was in the mid-80's.
The fat plumber was so popular then that he didn't just have a best-selling video game series. He had Japan's best-selling book, too.
That book was called Super Mario Bros.: The Complete Strategy Guide (スーパーマリオブラザーズ完全攻略本), and as you can probably guess from the title, was nothing more than a strategy guide. Published by Tokuma, it was written by the company's Family Computer Magazine (Famicom) staff, and as outlined in a great report on Magweasel, was cannibalised from a combination of tips already published in the mag and new material written especially for the book.
Sounds boring, but being a mere strategy guide for what was then the biggest video game of all time does wonders for a book's sales. Released just over a month after the Famicom version of Super Mario Bros. hit shelves, on October 31, 1985, it sold over 600,000 copies in just two months to become the best-selling book (excluding manga) in Japan for the year.
Perhaps even more incredible is the fact that strong sales continued well into 1986, when Super Mario Bros.: The Complete Strategy Guide was again the top-selling book in Japan for the year.
This was GameFAQs, circa 1985
While these amazing sales are testament to Mario's popularity at the time - especially given another strategy guide, Super Mario Bros. Secret Tricks Collection (スーパーマリオブラザーズ裏ワザ大全集) was also in the top 10 books of 1985 - the Japanese public's appetite for video game guides wasn't restricted to Nintendo's mascot.
In 1986, there were seven Famicom game strategy guides in the list of the top 25 best-selling books in Japan, the above two Mario titles joined by works on Twinbee, The Goonies, Spelunker, Ghosts ‘n Goblins, and Portopia Renzoku Satsujin Jiken (The Portopia Serial Murder Case).
If you thought making it to the top of the best-sellers list was a big deal for the book's writers, though, think again. Naoto Yamamoto, who wrote much of Tokuma's smash hit guide, was paid nothing above his regular wage for the extra work he put into writing the books. He was once even rushed to hospital when he collapsed from exhaustion after working four days straight on a Pac-Man guide, which he had to begin as soon as the Mario guide was finished.
Indeed, the only "bonus" he would ever see from the book's colossal sales was a royalty cheque from the translated American version of the guide. Which was for $37.
(Images courtesy of kuniokun1977 | Yahoo)