Warning: Obvious Super Mario Odyssey spoilers ahead
For such a universally praised game, Super Mario Odyssey’s ending has caused quite a stir within the gaming community. It’s strange since we all know that it’s not the real ending. An unrivaled wealth of post-game content sees that your fun with the iconic plumber will continue for at least several dozen more hours after the credits roll if you let it. However, the closing cinematic for the game’s main campaign has fired up a host of emotions, all of which severely overlook the underlying problem with the cutscene in general.
Those who have not reached this cutscene might want to look away because I’m about to spell it out. After a fabulous final battle with Bowser and an epic escape from the Moon’s wedding chapel (to the tune of some sweet Persona 4 beats, no less), Mario leaps at the chance to receive his reward: a lovey-dovey moment with Princess Peach, his heart-throb whom he has consistently rescued for the past thirty years.
However, before he gets his chance, Bowser sucker punches him into the dirt and shoves a bouquet of piranha plants in Peach’s face. Oof!
What ensues is actually really awkward to watch. Mario, in a fit of desperation, grabs his own flower from the ground and joins in the fray with Bowser as they both compete for Peach’s love with nothing more than a piece of vegetation. The scene grows tenser and tenser, Peach looks strangely confused, and we wonder why since we all know that she has to choose Mario, right?… except she doesn’t. She (rightfully) denies both of these creepers any affection and heads off to the Odyssey, where she threatens to leave them both stranded on the Moon.
Luckily, Mario comes to his senses and is able to catch his ride at the last possible second by jumping off Bowser’s face.
Now, it’s quite obvious where the controversy is arising from here. Once again, a faction of entitled male gamers is upset with how Mario is being treated by Princess Peach in this scene. They feel sorry for the pudgy, working-class hero, and they feel enraged that this beautiful woman publically scorned and rejected him despite overcoming dragons and lava octopuses to rescue her from forced marriage and enslavement. To paraphrase:
“Thirty years and she still hasn’t put out.”
“What an ungrateful woman. Mario bends over backwards to save her, and she only uses him for security.”
Naturally, Nintendo is being called out by this group for succumbing to the rising influence of feminism in video games, and others are calling it a cheap message that doesn’t carry throughout the whole game. Paraphrasing again:
“Peach is more than happy to call to him for help when she needs him, but the second she is safe, it’s back to the friend zone for Mario.”
Nevermind that Princess Peach hits the road for her own adventure after the events of the story and even helps Mario out by supplying him with Power Moons when they bump into one another. This romantic slight has proven to be too much for some gamers to take, and seeing Mario get cut down by the woman he loves is one stroke too far those who raise the flag of SJWs intervening in game development.
No doubt, you’ll find a NeoGAF or a Reddit post about this very ending somewhere, overloaded with guys who can’t understand why Peach would reject the stoic Mario in such a cold, heartless fashion.
Now, in their defense (of which I offer begrudgingly and most minimal of manners), it was pretty lame of Princess Peach to steal Mario’s ride and strand him on the Moon. I mean, that’s taking her whole rejection of him a bit too far since it’s likely he’d suffocate, freeze, and eventually die there. However, I’m sure she knew if anyone could find their way off the Moon, it would be Mario.
(Mega Man Volnutt surely hasn’t for the past two decades)
However, turning down Mario in the same manner that she turns down Bowser in this ending is an entirely appropriate action for her to take here. Mario, for as much as we love him, was frankly being a bit of a pain in this cutscene. To him, Princess Peach suddenly stopped being the woman he loves and became a prize to be won, a trophy with which he resorted to flowers to triumph over a rival and win her heart. Piling pressure on a woman, jamming presents in her face, forcing her to choose on the spot between one or the other, expecting to get the positive response just because you see yourself as an entitled hero… fellas, this isn’t the way to a woman’s heart. Not in the least.
No matter how many Hollywood movies you see and no matter how often you contrive them into reality, a woman is not something you win through trial-and-error or through competition with another man, and this is where Mario made his fatal mistake in the ending of Super Mario Odyssey.
Can’t say I blame Princess Peach one bit for screaming “Enough,” and leaving these two jerks behind in the moondust. She isn’t so much rejecting Mario or the favor he did for her so much as she’s just super pissed off that he acted in such a rude manner. And if you feel the need to criticize Peach, go ahead and try approaching a real woman in the same way that Mario and Bowser did in this scene… see if you fare any better.
Pro-tip, and I’m no pro and I still know the results… you won’t.
To write this scene in a way that would have Mario emerging at least somewhat competent, he would have to hold back, let Peach turn down Bowser after that brutal sucker punch, and then just go about his business of safely taking her home without expectations of affection in return. If she wants to give him affection, she will. In fact, she does all the time when he’s acting a bit more mature. Mario always gets a “thank you kiss” at the end of his quest, and that seems to be enough for him. I’m not sure why he felt any differently this time around and resorted to crude, abrasive, Popeye/Bluto machismo.
However, I am thankful for this scene existing to some extent. Super Mario Odyssey’s resolution gives us a brief look into the human side of Mario, something we’ve rarely gotten to see over the last thirty years, and this is the root of the reason why this ending is not sitting well with gamers.
Because, in actuality, Mario is not really a character. He is an avatar into his gaming world, and he provides the ever so slightest amount of personality necessary to make him a beloved everyman. He flinches when he’s shocked, snarls when he’s angry, smiles when he’s pleased, and he gazes when he’s amazed. His brief range of emotions is dwarfed by his younger brother Luigi, who is just a warped, twisted rubberband ball of anxieties, phobias, insecurities, and meme-worthy murderous streaks.
As generic as it sounds, Mario is simply an extension of you in a video game, and he’s so endearing because his shallow pool of emotions makes it easy to imprint yourself upon him in the game.
Now, we come to Super Mario Odyssey’s ending, and I wonder how many people realize that this is actually the first time we’ve EVER seen any motivation from Mario. In over 200 games, he’s never once shown “want,” never shown any real reasons behind his actions other than simply doing what he’s supposed to do. Peach bakes him a cake, and he comes to her house to eat it. Whoops, Bowser’s here! Gotta rescue her!
We assume there are romantic connections there because the birds and the bees tell us he’s an adorable man and she’s an attractive young lady, but the most we ever see of their relationship is a thankful peck on the cheek and a deadpan, satisfied grin from our heroic plumber.
“That’ll do,” that moustachey smile says.
Outside of the occasional reaction shot or transition between levels, every action taken by Mario over the past thirty years has been controlled by the players. This is because, again, Mario is an avatar, not a deep, two-dimensional central pillar of a moving piece of literature. Super Mario Odyssey’s ending cutscene is somewhat revolutionary in that Nintendo is taking control of Mario away from us and putting him in control of his own fate for the very first time…
…and he totally blows it! He’s clingy, he’s weird, he’s a creeper, he reacts in a childish manner in front of the woman he loves, and above all else, the ultimate sin of this cutscene, he’s not the character I’ve known for the last three decades. That Mario would have played that sucker punch much cooler because I wouldn’t have let him do otherwise.
Essentially, Mario lashing out at Bowser is not an action myself or many gamers would have instructed Mario to do had we been allowed to keep control. This ending feels both like a failure and a betrayal after thirty years of seeing ourselves in Mario and watching ourselves muck up so badly without having a say in it.
Unlike the aforementioned group of entitled male gamers, I don’t blame Peach one bit. Mario and Bowser were total jerks here, and even if Peach felt she owed Mario something in return, he went about getting it the wrong way.
However, I’m not altogether a fan of this ending because it showed me a side of Mario I don’t like and never want to see again. The more I write about this scene, the more I appreciate it, but it still leaves me with a queasy feeling inside. If it was an attempt at comedy, it missed the mark severely, and the timing couldn’t have been worse given the current atmosphere in the United States.
Personally, for the first time in thirty years, I felt uncomfortable idolizing Mario, but even worse, I was powerless to stop him when I normally would have been able to. Hopefully, this was a rare moment of weakness for him, and collecting Power Moons in the end game while Peach goes on vacation will give him time to think about his mistake and come up with a proper apology.
In a similar manner, maybe this budding human resolve in Peach (since this is the first time she broke role and refused to play damsel, after all) will further evolve, and she’ll show some compassion and forgive him. My wife forgives me all the time for being a dummy. Mario, he’ll be just fine. Don’t feel sad for him. He learned a valuable lesson today.
As for you, Nintendo! Don’t ever take Mario out of my control again! The poor guy obviously needs me pulling the strings as his wingman. He’s hopeless without my guidance.