So, in a couple months Super Mario Odyssey will release on the Nintendo Switch. Now, at the start of this year, the game was revealed at an event all about the Nintendo Switch. Now I’m not sold on the Switch personally. I just don’t feel like buying a system for a couple exclusives. The portability is exciting but I wish I could play my current library on the Switch, not work at building a new one. However, that’s neither here nor there.
Anyway, the game was revealed with this trailer. Then at E3, this trailer was released. Now, as the Internet tends to do, this spawned quite a few sleuths and theorists who think they have the whole thing figured out. Despite my derision for them, I’m not out to prove them wrong or insist that I’m right. In fact, this piece is a deliberate attempt to be wrong in my speculation. Being wrong can be fun. Sometimes exploring ideas with no expectation of being right can lead to some interesting insights.
So, I want to run through a brief history of Mario with the caveat that most of this info will be important later to the wild theories I propose. So, without further ado, 1981: Donkey Kong is released to the world starring Donkey Kong as a giant barrel-throwing ape who has captured Pauline, the girlfriend of Jumpman. 1983: Mario Bros is released wherein brothers Mario and Luigi clear the sewers of deadly crabs and turtles. 1985: Super Mario Bros is released on the NES where Mario is transported to the Mushroom Kingdom to fight Goombas, Bowser, and to save Princess Peach. 1993: Mario makes it to the big-screen in his film debut The Super Mario Bros Movie. It was not well received and is not well regarded. In between then and now, a ton of main series and spin off games establish Mario as the face of gaming. Now onto to the theories.
Theory #1: Mario is a Sewer Dweller and has come to the surface to enact his vengeance on the above world. What’s my reasoning behind this? At the beginning of the reveal trailer, Mario is revealed when he emerges from a man hole. Mario’s world from Mario Bros on has been concerned with traveling through pipes while dealing with fungus and wildlife. Mario grew up in the sewers, twisted and deformed, hence his relative squatness compared to the residents of New Donk City. He came to New Donk City before, to save Pauline, the mayor, from a giant ape. Did the events of Donkey Kong really take place as imagined or did he imagine them? Or did they actually happen and he was shunned by the New Donkers for his unusual appearance and forced to return to the sewer? Regardless, he now has an airship and the power to possess those in the above world. The people of the above-world best look out.
Theory #2: Super Mario Odyssey makes the Super Mario Bros Movie canon. I mentioned the much-maligned Mario movie for a reason earlier. This is why. In the beginning of the second trailer for Super Mario Odyssey, we see a T-Rex who is being controlled by Mario. Now, much of the plot of the SMB movie was that the ‘Mushroom Kingdom’ was an alternate New York where dinosaurs were never killed and evolved into the dominant species in this world. As it concerns a more real-world Mario and this is the first game to introduce worlds clearly taken from real-life locales. Does this mean that this game is the connective tissue between the SMB movies’ and games? Nintendo has expressed an interest in returning to the silver screen. Could this be their path back?
Theory #3: Super Mario Odyssey takes the plot from Homer’s Odyssey. That’s right. The latest game in the Super Mario Odyssey takes inspiration from the plot of one of the first works of Western literature. The plot of Homer’s Odyssey is that following his campaign in the Trojan war, Odysseus attempts to return home while his wife and son face a swath of suitors for the hand of Odysseus’ wife-presumed-widow Penelope. During his journey, Odyssey faces many trials including encounters with a Cyclops, being trapped by the witch Circe on her island, and narrowly avoiding the entrapping song of the Sirens. Following his ten-year journey, he returns home and slaughters the men who would marry his wife. Why do I think the two are connected?
As we see from the trailer, there is clearly a wedding between Bowser and Princess Peach, So we have the suitor angle. Mario travels around in an airship apparently. Travelling in a ship across worlds, encountering monsters, and a singing Siren (Pauline). There are at least oblique connections to the work. There’s something to this but I guess I’ll have to wait till release to see if there are more legit connections.
Theory #4: The return of Pauline and the marriage of Peach to Bowser means that all four parties must confront the complicated romantic connections between them. Mario must contend with the fact that he left Pauline in the past. Peach must contend with the fact that maybe there is something between here and Bowser. Is there some unaddressed chemistry between Bowser and Mario? Is the resolution of this conflict some bizarre role play polyamorous thing?
As you can see, there’s some fun to be had from throwing ideas to the wall and seeing what sticks. Mostly, I’ve been jokingly throwing ideas around because of how unusual many aspects of Super Mario Odyssey are. We have Mario interacting with human-looking individuals who are three times his height. We have him using his hat to possess everything from frogs, to tanks, to humans. Super Mario Odyssey seems to be erring unnervingly close to a world that Mario shouldn’t really ever meet: the ‘real world’. That’s what makes speculating about this game so fun. There is an uncanny feeling created by what we’ve seen so far. Thus we feel the need to explain it and allow it to occupy a normalcy again. But maybe it’s worth leaning into the absurdity sometimes.