Since its inception, the Super Mario Bros series has embraced a lot of the concepts found in surrealist artwork. Its universe is full of non-sequitur, from turtles with wings to grinning red mushrooms which slide across the ground. 2008’s Super Mario Galaxy now stands as the best example of the series defying logic and reason in favour of creativity and surrealism, but Super Mario Odyssey appears to be pushing those concepts even further.
Surrealist art takes a known concept and mashes it with other theories to make an image that reveals the power of the subconscious mind. Some pieces try to portray an idea, but others hold different meanings depending on the viewer. At the crux of the style is creativity, the driving force behind so many ideas found in the Mario Universe.
From the recently showcased Gamescom Footage of Odyssey’s Luncheon Kingdom, surrealist concepts define the world in the get-go. The kingdom itself is composed of colossal and polygonal food things that Mario traverses, inhabited by humanoid cooking utensils which don chef hats – an occupation away from its traditional commercial plumbing services persona. Molten sugary substances create rivers, traversed naturally by capturing a conventional fireball. Already surrealist Hammer Bros change into Frying Pan Bros, hurling pans capable of breaking through large blocks of cheese since… they just do. None of these ideas should make any sense to anybody, yet they exist at the Luncheon Kingdom and feel somewhat appropriately placed.
The Metro Kingdom, Sand Kingdom, and Cascade Kingdom push the limits of creativity too. Gigantic hunks of ice randomly litter the desert of the Sand Kingdom, while relatively realistic dinosaurs roam Cascade. Metro Kingdom combines elements of fiction and reality, because the cartoonish mayor Pauline governs a city full of ordinary humans. Its buildings with its second storey extension designs exist far above the clouds, with no roads leading into the metropolis.
The core gameplay notion of Odyssey, capturing enemies by slinging a hat in them, embraces the eccentric concepts Mario was built upon. Taxi cabs grow eyes, fish with wings grow mustaches and fireballs wear hats. Everything found in the game would feel right at home in a Salvador Dali painting.
With Yoshiaki Koizumi creating the game, the Parallels between surrealist art as well as the worlds of Super Mario Odyssey should not come as a surprise. Koizumi has a history of creating worlds that push the bounds of creativity. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening, renown for its zany story, was written by Koizumi. He also led Donkey Kong: Jungle Beat and Super Mario Sunshine, while playing a key role in creating Majora’s Mask and The Wind Waker.
Nintendo Switch’s large first celebration releases this year have embraced the critical ideas that began each franchise and taken them to even further extremes. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild recaptures the sense of endless adventure and player freedom found in the first name, and Splatoon 2 continues to provide doses of millennial civilization that sense both parody and celebratory. Super Mario Odyssey thrusts players into a nonsensical world of whimsy with mind-boggling house extensions and vast parklands, unaffected by the constraints of fact our brains perceive.
From the never ending talk about video games as an art form, Mario games understandably get overlooked in favor of games which move us emotionally. While there’s no deeper meaning to find in the world’s narrative or environment, Super Mario Odyssey functions as yet another piece of evidence that video games are really art.
In other interesting news, a recent upgrade to Nintendo’s Japanese website seems to claim that Mario may no longer be a plumber. Specifically, the first part of this recently updated bio reads that he is “all around sporty, whether it’s baseball or tennis, soccer or automobile racing, Mario does all things cool. As a matter of fact, he also appears to have been employed as a plumber quite a long time back…”.
This upgrade does not define what Mario’s current profession is, simply that he’s no longer a plumber. Admittedly, Mario’s roots as an emergency plumber were somewhat fluid, as his profession changed to meet up with the scenario. This is something Shigeru Miyamoto talked about in a 2010 interview with USA Today.
The character he came up with was this small little man with a huge nose and a moustache, the features that would stick out in that medium. They made the game layout first and then placed the characters to fit that. With Donkey Kong, they had a gorilla who catches this gal and runs off with her and you have to chase the gorilla down to rescue the lady. Because the game’s point was a building site, they essentially made him into a carpenter. With 1983’s Mario Bros, they introduced Luigi where lots of the scenarios were played out underground so they made him to match that setting and, decided that he could be a plumber. The situation dictated his role.
The situation is a significant point here since Mario has also taken on the function of a doctor previously but this new upgrade will produce more questions than it answers. However, for now, it seems that Mario’s current profession isn’t tied to his previous work as a plumber. What his new role might be though, remains to be seen. But recently Nintendo has released another upgrade of the famous Mario game, Super Mario Odyssey.