For nearly 30 years, actor Charles Martinet was the voice of Nintendo’s most iconic character: Mario. He also lent vocals to Luigi, Wario, and others. When Nintendo confirmed in August that Martinet had essentially retired from that role, fans became fixated on who would voice the “mama mia”s in the franchise’s next game, Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
For any other game, that level of interest in one character’s voice would be outsized, but for this one it meant fans pored over a one-second clip ahead of the game’s release, saying “Wonder” in an effort to suss out Martinet’s involvement.
Mario and Martinet have been intrinsically intertwined since his first role in an offshoot educational game, Mario Teaches Typing, in 1994, and the more widely known Super Mario 64 in 1996. For older fans, Martinet is the voice of their childhood. He’s as much a champion for the character as he is a paid actor; he’s been the focus of countless press features, panels, and interviews about what has become the role of his lifetime—one he would have gladly continued doing until, by his own words, he dropped dead. When the news came that he was leaving Mario behind, two questions emerged: Why dismantle a relationship that has clearly been beneficial to both parties? And who could replace an actor so much loved by fans?
At the time, Nintendo had no intention of answering that question, declining to provide specifics even as outlets like IGN devoted entire investigations to hashing out who gets to call themselves the beloved plumber now. According to Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser, the company wanted players to “discover and be surprised” with Mario’s new voice in Wonder. Some couldn’t wait; data miners leaked the credits (hardly a hot catch with most games) after getting their hands on a demo.
On October 13, fans got their answer. “Incredibly proud to have voiced Mario and Luigi in Super Mario Bros. Wonder,” voice actor Kevin Afghani posted unceremoniously on X. “Thanks to Nintendo for inviting me into the Flower Kingdom!” Afghani is no newcomer, with credits like Genshin Impact and Dragon Ball R&R, but his household recognition hardly matches that of Martinet’s—or Chris Pratt, who voiced Mario in this year’s animated film.
Afghani’s smaller profile could explain the lack of a red carpet rollout, but perhaps the greatest mystery was not who the new Mario would be but why Nintendo was so quiet about it. In Wonder, Mario sticks to the usual exclamations—“Wahoo!”—so it's not like it's a new voice and he's calling for a revolt in the streets. Why the secrecy?
“We want people to enjoy the gameplay experience, and if they enjoyed the voice behind the gameplay experience, that’s what's most important to us, not necessarily highlighting [Mario’s actor],” Bowser told WIRED last week.
Still, Afghani isn’t just a voice, but the voice of the character Nintendo has chosen to put forward as its mascot, leading movies and filling theme parks. His move into the role is a momentous occasion.
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Martinet, of course, was the exception. Nintendo created a new role specifically for him, as Mario ambassador, that will allow him to continue to travel and meet fans—his final role as the first, and perhaps the last, face of Mario.