SPOILERS: Super Mario Odyssey’s climax sees our hero Mario, who has made a 30-plus-year career out of rescuing Princess Peach, once again doing battle with Bowser to save her from his vile clutches. Okay, okay, you probably saw that coming, but just to be clear, this post discusses endgame story events in Super Mario Odyssey in detail. Consider yourself warned.
This time around, it’s not just Peach who needs rescuing. There’s also Tiara, the sentient crown Bowser has snatched to rest upon Peach’s head during the nuptials he’s rapidly arranging. Now, Tiara is not just a living hat. No, Tiara is a female hat, and with her in danger, her brother Cappy rides along on Mario’s mop, giving him the remarkable powers he needs to complete his quest.
I mean, look. In a series that has been relying on gendered tropes for decades, if we’re gonna go so far as to gender the hats, couldn’t we at least switch things up and have the female hat (Hattie, perhaps?) ride along with Mario on a quest to rescue her brother? But no, Odyssey does damseling twice over, delivering a one-two punch of reinforcing those good ol’-fashioned video game gender norms.
The final battle takes place as Mario literally crashes Bowser’s wedding ceremony. Once the battle with Bowser is at an end, Mario, Peach and the Koopa King are together on the surface of the moon. Bowser, not entirely out of steam, charges up to Peach with an offering of a piranha plant, still trying to win her over. And here’s where things really got weird for me. Mario also crowds Peach, holding a flower, engaging in a moment of “pick-me!” rivalry with the Koopa King. For a few seconds, the two dudes elbow and jostle each other, pushing their respective flowers in Peach’s face.
Now, this is a really messed-up thing for Mario to do, a vile position to put Peach in. Furthermore, until this point in the series, it’s remained plausible that Mario’s motives for rescuing the princess were mostly selfless. One could say that he simply objected to her freedom being infringed upon, and didn’t want a brute like Bowser getting away with his dastardly schemes.👆 Learn more about the Damsel in Distress plot device in our Tropes vs Women video series 👆
However, this moment suggests that it’s not that at all, that the real reason he’s rescued Peach so many times is because he wants her for himself. I’ve made countless jokes with friends over the years about how the surprise plot twist of the Mario games will someday be that Mario was the villain all along, but this game was the first that kinda made me believe it. It was impossible for me not to think about the twist ending of the Mario-influenced game Braid, in which the protagonist Tim is revealed to be a stalker, not a hero. Peach has long served as a reward for players in these games, but this scene made me think that Mario, too, sees Peach more as a prize than a person.
To her credit, Peach doesn’t deign to give Mario so much as a kiss on the cheek, but instead gives both of these jerks the cold shoulder and walks off, at which point Mario and Bowser take some solace in their shared rejection. I guess at the end of the day, Bowser is really just another one of the Bros., and, well, you know what they say about Bros.
Sure, I admit that it’s all kind of a funny gag in the moment, but it also diminishes Mario’s heroism and makes him seem like a creep. However, a pleasant surprise in Odyssey’s endgame provides a tiny bit of promise, in a game that up to this point has been as regressive as can be.
When Mario visits the Mushroom Kingdom after completing his quest, he’s told that Princess Peach is missing yet again! It’s clear, though, that for once it’s not the result of some nefarious plot. She just decided to do something for herself for once in her goddamn life, packed her suitcase, and went on an adventure of her own.
After that, you can find Peach vacationing in each of the game’s other kingdoms; traveling the world with Tiara, taking in the sights, and wearing some pretty fabulous outfits, the likes of which we’ve never seen her in before. Here are a few of my favorites:
Hmm, that last one’s a bit reminiscent of a sticker that was created for a certain Kickstarter campaign several years ago.
But here’s the thing: As much as I enjoy seeing Peach finally do something for herself, I wish it were more than a footnote in a game that’s all about Mario. Her globe-hopping adventure could have been the basis for its own wonderful game. After all this time, she certainly deserves it. And don’t even mention that sexist garbage Super Princess Peach. I’m talking about the Peach we glimpse here; Peach the traveler. Peach the adventurer. Peach, her own person. Let that be the Peach that little girls and boys in the future get to know. Please, Nintendo, don’t let this tiny taste of freedom be all Peach gets before she goes back to serving primarily as a plot device in Mario games. Let her become a character who determines the course of her own life. Now that’s an odyssey I wouldn’t mind embarking on.
Oh, and tell Mario to stop acting like a creep, too.
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