The Odyssey is the second recorded work of Western fiction and one of the most important pieces of storytelling in human history. Every adventure tale told since, in literature and theatre and film and television, owes an enormous debt to Homer’s story of Odysseus’ journey home. One of the few creative forces which can be said to match Homer is Nintendo. With Super Mario Brothers, the telling of adventures experienced its biggest change in millennia.
The hero still travels across worlds and overcomes enemies and monsters to be reunited with his beloved, but the all-important detail now happens to the player rather than being told to a passive reader. More so than cinema, theatre or television, videogames change the way we can experience stories.
Which brings us to the bravely named Super Mario Odyssey. Gone are the legendary days of using a thesaurus to turn “Stubborn Ape” into “Donkey Kong.” Nintendo know what they’re doing by naming their new Mario title the way they have.
In the trailer we’ve seen already, Mario’s travels take him to a wider variety of locales than ever before. We’ve seen him avoid a cooking pot, as Odysseus avoided being eaten by the Cyclops. Odysseus’ trip to the river Styx to seek counsel from the dead is mirrored by Mario’s frolics in a day of the dead-inspired desert city. The magical hat secretly accompanying him and providing assistance could almost stand in for the Goddess Athene, or the veil offered by Leucothea.
More significantly is the hint we’ve been given of the overall plot. Mario, like Odysseus, is far from home and trying to return. We don’t know if he has been away on some analogy of the Trojan war or if he has simply been flung from the Mushroom Kingdom by Bowser similar to the start New Super Mario Bros. U. What we do know is that in his stead, Bowser has positioned himself as a suitor and means to wed Peach.
The host of unwanted candidates trying to marry Odysseus’ wife Penelope were the key antagonists of the Odyssey, adding tension to Odysseus’ race home and impetus to his son’s attempts to find his father. Will Luigi, or a Toad, have his own adventure trying to learn where Mario has gone? Will the equally well-dressed troupe of rabbit enemies seen in the trailer also being trying to wed the Princess?
These questions only raise a bigger one: based on a single reading of the Penguin Classics copy of the Odyssey, and a knowledge of Greek mythology based mostly on comicbooks and films with stop motion monsters, what other predictions can I make about Super Mario Odyssey?
1) There will be a boss fight with a Cyclops.
Of course there will. The original big man-eating monster, the Cyclops is prime videogame boss fight fodder: he has a big, obvious weak spot.
2) Mario will have to compete in some races/ contests.
Before the Phaeacians will convey Odysseus back to Ithaca, they insist on challenging him to some sports and games. The portly plumber is already a dab hand in the Olympics, and many of his previous escapades have featured minigames and races. Perhaps we’ll see a return of, or proxy to, Koopa the Quick and Il Piantissimo?
3) Lots of water levels
Odysseus spends much of his journey home aboard ships, on makeshift rafts or swimming alone through the raging waves. Mario is no stranger to a dip in the sea, and we’ve already seen footage from Odyssey of small streams and the customary enemy airships.
4) Repeated dialogue
Long a problem of Nintendo games, after Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild they do seem to be moving away from repeating instructions and item descriptions over and over. Let me tell you, though, they’ve never copied and pasted as much dialogue as Homer. I guess it made sense as spoken poetry, like choruses in a song, but piss off with that noise in a book.
5) A huge post-game
The best 3D Marios hide a huge wealth of content for more seasoned players after the initial princess rescue has been achieved. If the surprising amount of action that takes place after Odysseus has reached Ithaca is anything to go by, Odyssey shouldn’t disappoint on that front.
6) A disappointing final ending
Obviously, people don’t play Mario games for dialogue and cutscenes. The whole crux of my thing here is that Nintendo mastered the telling of adventure stories through the act of play rather than aping existing entertainment media. That said, after you’ve collected every single star in every world, you want something better than Athene coming down and telling all the pretty rightfully pissed off enemies of Odysseus to go home and pack it in.
7) An emphasis on good clothes
The trailer for Super Mario Odyssey is littered with “Crazy Cap” hat shops. It is safe to assume these will be used to upgrade Mario’s previously mentioned magic hat, which would make sense as Homer never shut up about how nice the Greek’s shinpads were. All the ay through the Iliad, I read “well-greaved Acheans” as a misspelling of “well-grieved acheans”. I thought to myself yeah, they’ve had a rough time of it, they’re pretty well grieved. Then I read my better annotated Odyssey and was informed that every time he wrote that he literally just mean the Acheans had good greaves.
8) Seven years of shagging
Between departing from Troy and returning to Ithaca, Odysseus was a captive of the Goddess Calypso on a tropical island for seven years. During this time, though he dreamed of returning home to his wife and native land, he spent plenty of time in bed with the Goddess. Could Mario perhaps find himself on Rosalina’s observatory again, the space princess less inclined to immediately help him find Peach this time? Will we see Mass Effect style tasteful fades to black or is there going to be a crass minigame?
9) Mario Will Cry
One of the things I noticed while reading Homer's work: the guys cry a lot. Here are these Greek Warriors, with their swords and beards and muscles, these pillars of masculinity fighting for their women, and they cry. When they're homesick, when they're mourning, when they're stressed, they lie in bed and cry. It just shows how stupid and recent the whole "real men don't cry" thing is, nothing more than a product of our patriarchal society. Also, anyone who claims they didn't cry during Rosalina's storybook in Super Mario Galaxy is a bigger liar than Odysseus himself.
We’ll have to wait a while yet to see whether Super Mario Odyssey will live on forever like Homer’s poem. If Breath of the Wild, released earlier this year, is anything to go on, Nintendo are at the very peak of their creative output. I long for a new Mario in time for Christmas 2017. It is my never failing wish.
By Luke Summerhayes.
PS Before anyone moans about me not acknowledging earlier works when bigging up Homer and Shigsy, try clicking on the first couple of pictures.