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Both Donkey Kong and the Super Mario Bros. franchise are heavily based on Popeye. Many of the design choices early on make much more sense in that context, and the influence continues today. Nintendo (and Shigeru Miyamoto) developed a Popeye arcade game released in 1982, which is not dissimilar to Donkey Kong, but for the 1981 game they had briefly lost the rights to Popeye and Miyamoto subbed in new characters. It's not hard to imagine Popeye, Olive Oyl and Brutus or Bluto in place of Mario, Pauline and Donkey Kong.
Indeed the actual sprite of Pauline in the game is designed almost identically to the Olive Oyl sprite in Popeye, wearing the same style of dress and footwear. To an extent this even survives in the design of Princess Peach.
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Pauline was never drawn to resemble Olive Oyl in the promo art, however. Instead she was designed to look like Fay Wray, star of King Kong:
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But in all the Donkey Kong promo art, Mario resembles Popeye, much more than he would later on.
It's not hard to imagine an animated Fleischer-style treatment of Donkey Kong, in the style of the early Popeye cartoons, set on a construction site with oil flames which suddenly come alive, Fleischer style, and other hazards that Mario has to avoid. But Mario suddenly becomes invincible when he gets the hammer - not unlike Popeye and his spinach, and the first of many such powerups in a Mario game.
Pauline was later given dark hair to differentiate her from Princess Peach, star of the Super Mario Bros games. But are they really different characters? To this day Bowser, king of the Koopas, keeps kidnapping Peach, and it's basically the same dynamic that Mario had with Donkey Kong and Pauline - a dynamic inspired by Popeye, Brutus (or Bluto) and Olive Oyl.
Since we didn't see Peach get kidnapped the first time round, this dynamic isn't as clear onscreen in the original 1985 Super Mario Bros as it was in the 1981 Donkey Kong, but it's very clear in more recent installments. It's also clear in the original Super Mario Bros box art, by Miyamoto himself:
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This is an iconic image of Mario, used in the US for the release of Super Mario Bros 2. It shows that Mario was no longer intended to resemble Popeye, but that this Popeye-like dynamic of rescuing Peach from the brutish Bowser would continue in the franchise to this day.