My first few hours with Super Mario Odyssey were really uncomfortable. In the first few minutes of the game, when Peach is being kidnapped by Bowser, he taunts Mario by saying, “Are you jealous?” My skin crawled when I heard that. The suggestion was, Mario would be going on his Odyssey because, yeah. He was jealous. Essentially, the rest of the game would be spent elaborately competing with Bowser to “win the girl.” This took the usually innocuous reasons I associate with Mario’s antics and put them into question.
Right from the very beginning, the game sets up that Mario and Bowser are participating in one of the most destructive parts of toxic masculinity, mainly, Mario assumes that if he saves Peach that she will reciprocate her love without any romantic history. Mario ignores that Peach may be calling out to him to save her because they’re friends.
Madam Broode is coded as a joke. Everything about her is exaggerated to the nth degree to potray her as grotesque. I’m not anti-joke but, it’s important to ask, in comedy, who or what we are meant to laugh at. In this instance, Madam Broode is designed to be a Cruella De Vil type. Dressed lavishly and clearly very wealthy but, she’s meant to read as elaborately ugly. The joke is, “haha look at this pig, with lipstick.” Broode also doesn’t fight for herself. Of all the bosses in the game, she is the only one without the ability to fight on her own, instead, her pet to does the work. She’s lazy and inept.
The fight goes like this: Broode sics her pet on Mario and he must avoid getting hit until he is able to possess the chain chomp. After the possession, Madam Broode panics and starts to chase after her beloved pet, flailing her arms ineffectually until she gets tired, which happens pretty quickly because she’s fat and therefore couldn’t possibly have any stamina. Enter fat phobia.
All of this leads into the last segment when she gets enraged. All of the boss fights in Super Mario Odyssey come with a final phase where the boss enrages. But, Madam Broode’s is different. It’s implied that she enrages because when she is hit with the chain chomp, it leaves a mark. This phase is connected to her physical appearance in a way that no other boss fight in the game has. The haughty, vain, and grotesque design of Madam Broode is the joke. And it’s deeply sexist and fatphobic.
The Good Mayor Pauline
Pauline, the mayor of New Donk City, is one of the characters that everyone knows well from the Mario universe. She appeared in the 1981 arcade game, Donkey Kong. The treatment of Pauline in Super Mario Odyssey isn’t actually that awful. She’s a mayor, who’s good at her job, according to the citizens in town. She isn’t helpless and is never explicitly damseled. She gets to be, really awesome. Though, she is reliant upon Mario for certain tasks still.
**Spoiler Warning** The ending of Super Mario Odyssey really has MRAs in a tizzy. Mario ends up crashing Peach and Bowser’s wedding on the moon. He beats Bowser up, and saves Peach, Bowser, and himself from certain death. After everyone is out of danger, Mario tries to give Peach a single white flower to express his affection for her. Bowser cuts in with a lovely bouquet of fire piranha plants and the two shove each back and forth as they wait for their princess to decide who she wants to marry. Only, she doesn’t. Instead, she gets annoyed with their macho antics, gathers up Cappy and Tiara and gets on the Odyssey without them.
Let’s roll back for a minute to something I mentioned earlier. A huge part of toxic masculinity is the aspect of it which constantly pits men against each other in ways which are both destructive for them and the people around them.
In this case, that person around them would be Peach. With only a couple of vaguely canonical suggestions of a mutual attraction, the series has never established that Peach holds any sort of real romantic feelings for Mario. So, when Peach is shouting at Mario for him to save her, it doesn’t really have straight up romantic implications attached, only expectations which turn out to be false.
Giving Peach the freedom to get annoyed and dip out is probably the most agency Peach has ever had in a Mario game, when she is not one of the playable characters. Though it may appear to the player, initially, that Peach owes Mario something because of the way she calls out to him, consider maybe, for a moment, she was asking for his help as a friend. And even if she wasn’t, it’s no stretch to say that the way Mario behaves in the final cutscene is extremely petulant and sort of a turn-off.
To conclude, Super Mario Odyssey has a lot of the sexist trademarks of the Mario franchise. In order to play the game, I had to accept that I was going to have to put up with some sexist depictions of women. But, where typically there aren’t a lot of bright spots in the series’, in this aspect, I actually could find some things to appreciate about the way the game handles Peach’s agency. And, damn if Pauline isn’t really cool. It’d be great if this franchise could start to go beyond helpless princesses and cheap sexist jokes as Mario tries to enter the modern era of games.
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