You might well know by now that I’m fascinated by the idea of video games as modern-day fairy tales, and as in fairy tales, game protagonists often don’t know their parents. Sometimes they’re explicitly identified as orphans, as with the Light Warriors in Final Fantasy III (which I’m playing now), but other times it’s just ambiguous. Such is certainly the case for Nintendo’s two main heroes, Link and Mario.
This entry on the ZeldaWiki details what little we know about Link’s family. Of course, there are several different Links, but it seems to be pretty consistent among them that their parents are either dead or unknown. Ocarina of Time specifically mentions Link’s mother dying to defend her son. Often, Link is being raised by another relative, like an uncle in A Link to the Past, a grandmother in The Wind Waker, and a grandfather in The Minish Cap. Interestingly, comics based on the Zelda games have given some more information in this respect, although of course it’s of doubtful authenticity. The Valiant comics, published back when there were only two Zelda games, identified the parents of the hero as Arn and Medilia.
They are still alive, and living in the Kingdom of Calatia, to the west of Hyrule. And in the comic based on Link to the Past that ran in Nintendo Power, the Link of that game meets the spirits of his late parents.
Mario and Luigi are an interesting case because, as Italian stereotypes, you’d expect them to come from a large family. The games themselves give little to no information in this respect, but non-canonical sources do seem to have picked up on this. Their mother, played by Lou Albano in drag, showed up at least once on the live-action bits of the Super Mario Bros. Super Show.
Other relatives showed up from time to time as well, and still more were occasionally referenced in the cartoons and the Nintendo Adventure Books. One relative who never appears to be mentioned, however, is Mario and Luigi’s father, leading me to believe that Mama Mario is probably a widow. I once made a semi-joking suggestion that the father was an agent of the United States government investigating the Mushroom Kingdom, which would allow the brothers to be American citizens born in the Mushroom World. Oddly enough, I don’t think there’s any indication that Wario and Waluigi are related to the heroes, despite their similar appearances. Maybe they were created when fun house mirror images of Mario and Luigi somehow became animated.