Super Murica

The first thing you’ll see after launching Super Mario: Odyssey is a map. Take a look at the labels and you’ll be surprised at the amount of screen space which the game’s developer, Nintendo, gave to the Metro Kingdom. This corner of the map will eventually slide from your screen, but it’s probably the only part of it which you’ll actually see. Exploring the game world is a lot more fun after all than staring at a menu.

You’ll see a similar sight after you make it to the Moon Kingdom. Peer over the horizon towards the Earth and you’ll even see the place in living color. (This time it won’t slide from your screen if you stare for too long, though). Nintendo’s point is pretty clear: the center of Mario’s world is the Metro Kingdom.

Super Mario: Odyssey presents the Metro Kingdom in a pretty poor light. This part of its world is a thinly disguised allusion to America, so there’s definitely more to the Metro Kingdom than just goofy gags and quirky puzzles. You sometimes have to read between the lines, but the game’s browbeating is mostly overt. Nintendo deliberately made use of the Metro Kingdom for its critique of an exclusionary, wasteful, and gun-obsessed America.

Super Mario: Odyssey’s critique is focused on the Big Banana: New Donk City. There’s presumably more to the Metro Kingdom than just New Donk City, but it’s the only part which the game actually represents. Needless to say, it’s a kind of urban jungle which bears more than just a passing resemblance to America’s Big Apple. New Donk City is nothing but scaffolding and skyscrapers.

New Donk City is an urban jungle

The game gives you a glimmer of the Big Banana before you actually make it to the Metro Kingdom. You’ll have to hunt around for it, but there’s a portal in the Sand Kingdom which leads to an isolated platform high above the city. Super Mario: Odyssey in other words lets you steal a sneak peek of the city’s impressive architecture from afar. While it seems close enough that a double jump across the chasm might actually get you there, New Donk City at this point in the game is in fact slightly out of reach. Breaking into the Big Banana from the Sand Kingdom is clearly harder than it looks - and not just for Mario.

There’s a cab which appears in the Mexican-themed Sand Kingdom after you defeat its boss: Knucklotec. (It’s a huge head with floating fists). Having saved the Sand Kingdom from Knucklotec’s icy influence, you’re told that tourism is once again on the rise in its otherwise toasty capital of Tostarena. This flow of people seems like it mainly moves in one direction, though. Head over towards the cabby and you’ll come across a Tostarenan with some pretty pathetic dialogue: “Going to the Metro Kingdom! Going to the Metro Kingdom! …Soon!” This character actually makes it there, but he’s pretty much the only Tostarenan which you’ll come across in the Metro Kingdom. The others are hiding out inside a gambling parlor in one of the Big Banana’s back alleys. (New Donk City doesn’t seem to offer equal opportunities to all of its inhabitants).

The only Tostarenans in New Donk City are in its back alleys

Super Mario: Odyssey portrays New Donk City as a pretty wasteful place. The over-the-top lifestyle of its inhabitants hardly hints at frugality, but the clearest case of its consumer culture can be seen by carefully examining its trash. Power Moons are described as a precious commodity, but they’re apparently so plentiful throughout the Metro Kingdom that you can even come across them in some of New Donk City’s dumpsters. They just pop right out at the drop of a hat. The poverty-stricken Tostarenans would surely be jealous.

The bright lights of New Donk City are apparently powered by… Power Moons. Super Mario: Odyssey never clarifies how Power Moons actually produce energy, but they don’t really seem like a renewable resource. They’re just fed into some kind of a machine by conveyor belt. (You’ll see how it all works when the game takes you to one of New Donk City’s power plants). Mayor Pauline invites you to a rooftop celebration for saving the day, but knowing the inner workings of her less-than-sustainable city rather spoils her party’s frenzied fun.

New Donk City runs on Power Moons

New Donk City clearly has a gun problem. It’s even bad enough that someone apparently called in the army. Super Mario: Odyssey introduces you to “the city that never leaps” by having you capture a certain type of tank, so your first evening in the Big Banana is mostly just rumbling around and blasting baddies. The action ramps up even further when you encounter the Metro Kingdom’s boss: Mechawiggler. (It’s a mechanical millipede). Skillfully dodging its laser attacks, you defeat this bionic bug through a very clever combination of shooting, shooting, and more shooting with your captured Sherm. The game thankfully grants you a short reprieve after you finally blow this boss to smithereens.

You’re introduced to them before you make it to the Metro Kingdom, but you’ll come across quite a bit more Bullet Bills on the streets of New Donk City than almost anywhere else in the game world. These are basically just really big bullets, but they always home in on their target, so you actually have to be quite careful around them. While the game rewards you at several points with a Power Moon for successfully dodging them, it still seems strangely appropriate for Super Mario: Odyssey to have an entire section of New Donk City filled with such Bullet Bills. Nintendo dubbed it the “Bullet Building.”

The streets of New Donk City are filled with tanks

Super Mario: Odyssey may be overflowing with goofy gags and quirky puzzles, but there’s a lot more to the game than just hijinks and horseplay. The developer behind Super Mario: Odyssey, Nintendo, managed to put together a fairly cutting critique by using the Metro Kingdom as a flimsy cover for its vision of contemporary America. Super Mario: Odyssey in other words carries a message.

Nintendo wanted the players of Super Mario: Odyssey to reflect on their in-game experiences. Places like the Metro Kingdom are in this way an invitation for players to engage in criticism and debate. In designing the Metro Kingdom, Nintendo evidently recreated what it saw in America: an exclusionary, wasteful, and gun-obsessed society. This vision is pretty grim. Are things really so bad in America today? The only certainty on the matter can be found in the truism that America is whatever we make it.