Some theories on Super Mario Odyssey design influences

The Electronic Entertainment Expo – E3 –  united millions of video game developers and fans this week. Nintendo’s efforts stood-out from the crowd. Their new game, titled Mario Odyssey, received some attention. We finally had a chance to see the game play.

I want to dig a bit deeper into some of the ideas and inspirations behind Nintendo’s new Sand Kingdom in Super Mario Odyssey. The Kingdom introduces a rusty red, cold and dry desert level.

Eagle-eyed gaming and theory enthusiasts might notice several cultural facts and references from myths influencing the design when Mario arrives in Tostarena Town.

In this post, I wanted to touch on what some of these influences are.

Samantha Robertson, Assistant Manager of Product marketing at Nintendo Treehouse, interviewed Nintendo’s developers. Robertson’s interviews reveal some of the main design influences:

  • The game play foundations stem from the dense but fascinating spaces Nintendo created in Super Mario 64, and Super Mario Sunshine.
  • The concept “Hakoniwa”, which translates into “Miniature Garden”, inspired the overall game design.

Nintendo have created a set of miniature gardens to play in.

They want to invite their fans to explore a miniature version of the real world, and it is likely their aim is to invite their fans to see the familiar world in a new, playful way.

Some Super Mario Odyssey character designs callback to past Nintendo titles. Specifically, the “Moe-aye”, inspired by Easter Island Moai statues.

“Moe-aye” are the basic sounds of the word Moai, which makes pronouncing the word easy. Super Mario Land for the Gameboy featured these statues. It is likely that “Moe-aye”
connect back to Nintendo’s early handheld Mario games.

The addition of the sunglasses is also a fun way to re-imagine the Moai statues.

Moeaye

Nintendo connects events of the past with its stylish new game in a playful way. Mario encounters a stone creature called a “Jaxi”, which resembles an ancient Mayan mask.

There is a reason for this resemblance:

It’s likely “Jaxi” combines the words jaguar and taxi.

Mario can call a ride from these stone Jaguars to get a lift across the vast red sands at breakneck speeds. This explains the taxi part of the name. But why a jaguar?

Mayan mythology regards the Jaguar as a symbol representing the energy of the sun. Similar to the sun god Apollo from the Greek pantheon, the Jaguar sun deity, called Ahau-Kin, travelled across the sky during the day.

My theory: this myth inspires the “Jaxi”

Like if Apollo became a ride share driver with his sun chariot.

Another playful idea from Nintendo that reaches back into past traditions.

Jaxi

Samantha Robertson says that Super Mario Odyssey embodies all the great experiences that the development team had while travelling overseas from Japan:

“[Mario Odyssey is] a love letter to our experiences travelling”

Kenta Motokura – Super Mario Odyssey Director, and Developer at Nintendo.

Nintendo’s Youtube channel contains all the E3 announcements from this week. Including the footage of the Sand Kingdom, and New Donk City, which I’ve added at the end of this post.

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