Nintendo’s new Super Mario Odyssey is a delight. It’s a splendid game that rethinks the Mario universe, affording players and fans of the franchise opportunities to do some ridiculous stuff with the beloved plumber.
But you know what? It’s pretty fucking gay. I’ve played the game a handful of times over the past two weeks and I have one big takeaway: there is a strong queer reading of game play. It’s the gayest Mario game ever made.
First, consider the game’s frame: you play as Mario who comes in contact with a sentient hat named Cappy who enables this non-superhero superhero to fight the forces of evil via fashionable possession. And that’s a core queer function rolling out on two levels: Odyssey is essentially the biggest, most successful fashion role play game ever (More on this later.) and the primary function of the game is to “look like someone else” without them knowing that you are different.
This latter item is very queer considering queer people, for the most part, have the ability “to pass“: the game works by Mario becoming other beings who quickly realize “This thing is trying to pass for me!” typically resulting in said others trying to attack the true other (Mario) for attempting to be “like them.” In a way, the game is all about queering oneself, trying to be that which you are not, to get ahead by concealing your true identity, your Mario. It’s interesting, especially considering the queer (Mario) ultimately wins by donning all sorts of drag.
(Yes, he wins by stealing back his heterosexual cis female love interest who is deeply steeped in gender roles but we will leave that out of this theory.)
With this, Mario possesses and becomes a lot of things. While Nintendo might try to tell you that all these things are male, who is to say that a cactus has a gender? What about a zipper? A tree? A boulder? These things have a sexuality and gender outside of heterosexuality and cisgender constraints: becoming another object inherently makes Mario queer.
As for the fashion bit, the game is crafted around putting on clothing which – Again. – is a means of passing. Cappy, the Boo-in-a-hat sidekick in the game, and his Cap Kingdom are a land dedicated to looking a certain way. Fashion is a very queer subject. Always has been, always will be. This game therefore is guilty by fashionable association.
Another combination of passing and fashion is that many of the challenges in the game require Mario to wear a specific outfit to gain entry, to pass as an explorer or swimmer or whoever to gain access to a place. Moreover, he has some pretty faggy costumes. For example: the Fashionable Cap and Outfit, a pattern clashing shorts suit that is essentially something I would wear. There’s even some YMCA action happening since Mario can don construction, cowboy, and sailor camp costumes.
There are so many other gay things about this game. In Lake World, you visit mermaid sirens who are devastated that they lost their wedding dress. Why is this so important? Are they unable to marry themselves? Is this a symbol for their communal wedding? Clearly, this queer lady compound cannot rest until the symbol of their love for each other is restored.
In Wooded Kingdom, flowers and hardware nuts are a type of currency and you repeatedly win items from “breaking a nut.” The results unlock titles for the challenges like “The Nut in the Red Maze” and “Nut Hidden in the Fog” and “The Nut Under the Observation Deck” (seen above). This is literal, yes, but Mario finding them nuts seems quite seminal.
Finally, the gameplay involves moving the controls in a jack-off motion control. The thought of grown men furiously shaking rod shaped controllers to move a small Italian man up a pole to “get that nut” is the popped queer cherry on this gay dish.
So, if you need yet another reason to play Super Mario Odyssey, I have a big one for you: it’s so fucking gay. I’m halfway through and am captivated: it’s fun to play and a gay, gay, gay experience. We need more games like this. We need more gay Mario. Please, by all means, queer everything, Nintendo.