A Meta Reading of Mario Odyssey's Song

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MajorMitch

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Edited By MajorMitch

Like many of you, I came away from E3 2017 extremely excited about Super Mario Odyssey. It's easily one of the coolest games I saw at the show (its only possible rival in my book being Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus), and one of the things I really liked about the new Odyssey trailer was the song. Not only is it a super catchy and fun song, but I think that "swing" style works really well for Mario. If a lot of the soundtrack follows that mold, I'm pretty eager to hear it. It's good stuff.

Needless to say, I've listened to that song a good number of times since it debuted (I said it's catchy!), and once I paid attention to the lyrics... something struck me. It's possible that Nintendo may be more "meta" with this song than it first seems. In fact, this entire song almost feels like one big sales pitch for the game, the Nintendo Switch itself, and perhaps the company's outlook going forward. Of course I could be reading way more into it than anyone ever intended, but I still thought it might be a fun exercise to break down the lyrics and see what Nintendo is actually saying. First, here's the song, and I got the lyrics from the info on this same video. After listening closely, they seem accurate enough.

Catchy, right? Anyway, I'll dissect the lyrics in chunks. Away we go!

Here we go, off the rails,
Don't you know it's time to raise our sails?
It's freedom like you never knew!

Don't need bags, or a pass,
Say the word I'll be there in a flash!
You could say my hat is off to you!

Oh, we can zoom all the way to the moon,
From this great wide wacky world!
Jump with me, grab coins with me,
Oh yeah!

Will I write a blog all year that doesn't reference Zelda? Not looking likely.
Will I write a blog all year that doesn't reference Zelda? Not looking likely.

Right off the bat, in the very first line, we get the crux of Nintendo's entire pitch for Mario Odyssey: we're going "off the rails." They're billing the game as a "sandbox" 3D Mario game, similar to Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine, and this line is saying as much. Nintendo's come under fire a number of times over the past few years (and not just for Mario) for making their games more linear and "hand-holdy." The entire pitch for Mario Odyssey feels like a reaction to that criticism, and a deliberate callback to earlier Mario games. Hey, it worked for Breath of the Wild, right? This has become the theme for Nintendo's year, and in some ways the entire Switch platform.

The rest of these first three stanzas continues to echo that promise of freedom and exploration. I mean, you can't get more blunt than that third line: "It's freedom like you never knew." You don't need a "pass" (ie, permission to do things), and you can go "all the way to the moon" (possibly a reference to Super Mario Galaxy, but more likely just continuing to express the level of freedom to expect). Overall, it's a "wacky world" that you're invited to explore how you wish. These three stanzas capture that in a nutshell.

Amusing aside: If you read "sails" as "sales," you could ponder about Nintendo trying to bounce back from the poor sales of the Wii U. But that reading may be a bit of a stretch ;)

It's time to jump up in the air!
Jump up, don't be scared!
Just jump up and your cares will soar away!

And if the dark clouds start to swirl,
Don't fear, don't shed a tear 'cuz,
I'll be your One-Up Girl!

So let's all jump up super high!
High up in the sky!
There's no power-up like dancing!

You know that you're my Super Star,
No one else can take me this far!
I'm flipping the switch,
Get ready for this,
Oh, let's do The Odyssey!

These next four stanzas comprise what I consider the "chorus," as we see this same basic set of lines again later. The first two stanzas here are basically asking us to jump in. This is where the song is at its most sales-pitchy, trying to extend a hand and say "come on, dive in, the water's great!" It's assuring us that things really are good this time: "don't be scared," "your cares will soar away," and "don't fear, don't shed a tear" are all trying to comfort us. The singer then identifies herself as "your One-Up Girl" (which I imagine is the name of the song?), simultaneously making a video game pun and saying "hey, I'm here to help you along!" It's peppy, it's encouraging, and it's really trying to get us to shake off any doubts we may have about giving Mario Odyssey a shot.

Come on in, everything's fiiiiiiiine.
Come on in, everything's fiiiiiiiine.

The next two stanzas follow that same basic premise, but turn slightly from the idea of comforting us, towards empowering us. These lines highlight the fun of jumping "high up in the sky," and make references to power-ups, most directly the Super Star. The Super Star line is not only letting us know that there will be fun power-ups in the game, but doubly calls us the "super stars." These stanzas are trying to convince us that we'll feel powerful and have a great time; we're the people who really matter in this whole thing. Nintendo has us at the forefront of their thoughts when it comes to Mario Odyssey.

The most curious lines to me are the next two: "No one else can take me this far! I'm flipping the switch." I feel like the word "switch" can't be coincidental in the chorus; they're really trying to pump up the Switch as being a fresh and bold new console that's a new leaf for Nintendo. The actual line "flipping the switch" even makes it sounds like they're making a change. At the same time, the previous line alludes to how far Nintendo has come. It's almost like they're trying to remind us how long they've been around, and how they've made tons of great games before. As much as the Switch is the "new" thing, games like Breath of the Wild and Mario Odyssey have plenty of clear, deliberate throwbacks to Nintendo's beloved past, and try to go back to what made us fall in love with them in the first place. It's all a smart concoction of taking the things we loved about the past (what's "taken us this far"), and promising a bright new future ("flipping the switch"). It's effective.

Odyssey, yes see (x7)
Odyssey, Odyssey!

Spin the wheel, take a chance,
Every journey starts a new romance,
A new world's calling out to you!

Take a turn, off the path,
Find a new addition to the cast,
You know that any captain needs a crew!

Take it in stride, as you move side-to-side,
They're just different points of view!
Jump with me, grab coins with me,
Oh yeah!

I think Nintendo is very aware how much love this game has.
I think Nintendo is very aware how much love this game has.

After perhaps too much chanting the word "Odyssey," the next three stanzas echo the sentiments of the first three again. It's once again making the pitch that Mario Odyssey is about getting out there, taking a chance, and exploring off the beaten path. They really want us to know that this is a "sandbox" game like some of the older Mario games, particularly Mario 64. The only individual lines that add much new to me are in the third stanza here. It talks about moving side-to-side as "just different points of view." The trailer showed a few instances where you'd basically become a 2D painting on the wall (similar to A Link Between Worlds' central mechanic), turning this predominantly 3D Mario game into a 2D one in spots. I personally think it's a potentially cool idea, as I like both 2D and 3D Mario games, and these lines appear to be trying to promise us that both styles are indeed great. They're just different points of view, and there's room for both. Part of me feels like it's borderline screaming "PLEASE DON'T WORRY THAT THIS THING IS NOT LIKE MARIO 64! YOU'LL STILL GIVE IT A TRY RIGHT!?"

Come on and jump up in the air!
Jump without a care!
Jump up 'cuz you know that I'll be there!

And if you find you're short on joy,
Don't fret, just don't forget that,
You're still our One-Up Boy!

So go on, straighten out your cap,
Let your toes begin to tap,
This rhythm is a Power Shroom!

Don't forget, you're the Super Star,
No one else could make it this far!
Put a comb through that 'stache,
Now you've got panache!
Oh, oh, let's do The Odyssey!

It's time to jump up in the air!
Jump up, don't be scared!
Just jump up and your cares will soar away!

And if the dark clouds start to swirl,
Don't fear, don't shed a tear 'cuz,
I'll be your One-Up Girl!

Now listen all you boys and girls,
All around the world,
Don't be afraid to get up and move!

You know that we're all Super Stars,
We're the ones who made it this far!
Put a smile on that face,
There's no time to waste,
Oh, let's do The Odyssey!

I'm ready! To jump up in the air!
I'm ready! To jump up in the air!

The last eight stanzas are basically that four stanza "chorus" I identified earlier, repeated two more times. There's a few minor tweaks to the lines each time, but many of the lines are the same, and the overall gist is very much the same. This is where the song tries to comfort and empower us, letting us know that Mario Odyssey is a safe and fun game to just jump right on into. I particularly like the lines about combing your "'stache," which will give you "panache" (ie, confidence). I'd like to think whoever wrote that line had the Mario & Luigi games in mind: RPGs where you actually have a 'stache stat to raise. Anyway, these stanzas once again tell us "don't be afraid" and that "we're all Super Stars." It's also got plenty of item references, and likes to remind that we've all "made it this far."

To wrap up, the entire song kind of came across like a big sales pitch once I really dug into the lyrics, though it's almost even more "meta" than that. Parts of it hint at how Nintendo got to this point from the Wii U to the Switch, and is indicative of how they're trying to win fans back over by calling back to games like the original Zelda and Mario 64, while also saying this is very much an exciting new start for the future. And so far it seems to be working; the Switch is selling great, Breath of the Wild was great, and now Mario Odyssey looks great. I for one am looking forward to playing it.

Thanks for reading. I really do like this song, and had a fun time digging into it (and listening to it a lot). I also fully recognize that I may be imagining all of this; this song could just as easily be about nothing more than dancing (which is directly mentioned multiple times, and "The Odyssey" is clearly some slick new dance). I'll stick with my version though ;)

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Kierkegaard

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#1  Edited By Kierkegaard

Your analysis touches my English teacher heart and totally fits Nintendo's renewed emphasis on freedom. I like how it's more gender inclusive, too. It's clearly directed at the player even more than Mario. Thank you for writing this!

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MajorMitch

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@kierkegaard: Thank you! Glad you enjoyed it :) I'm also really enjoying the direction Nintendo's taking their games this year, hope they keep it up!

PS- English was always my worst subject in school ;)

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fram

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It's utterly nuts that exactly 1:25 into the song we get the melody from Donkey Kong's first level, aka 25m. RIDICULOUS.

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MajorMitch

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@fram: Ha, I didn't notice that before, but you're right! Pretty neat. I guess with New Donk City in play we can expect some DK music too ;)

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