I couldn't wait. The Art of Super Mario Odyssey hit shelves in Japan this month, and I immediately imported a copy because I knew it could take years for this thing to get localized. I've spent the last day or so poring through over 300 pages of the book, and I can tell you it has cleansed me. Every page is a bright, beautiful treasure, a salve for a soul jaded by an apocalyptic news cycle.
Healing powers aside, The Art of Super Mario Odyssey contains tons of behind-the-scenes tidbits that shed new light on Nintendo's creative process. The above image, for instance, features a black-suited Bowser (with his own evil Cappy) riding on a flying version of his car from Super Mario 3D World -- none of which appear in the final game.
It would be impossible to chronicle every nifty detail in this behemoth of a book, but I've picked out a few of my favorite morsels to share.
The standout level of Mario Odyssey would have to be New Donk City, a romp through a Manhattan-ish neighborhood with a lot of bouncy charm and almost no enemies. Part of what made New Donk so memorable (besides its name) was the bizarre juxtoposition of a relatively grounded backdrop with average human beings and... Mario, the cartoonishly-proportioned plumber. The contrast shouldn't work, but Nintendo pulled it off.
The concept art for NDC, on the other hand, is just plain buckwild.
You can see that in early stages, the art team was envisioning New Donk City as a kind of mecca for Nintendo nostalgia. Billboards for Nintendo 64, Super Famicom and Captain Toad are plastered all over the un-Times Square, which also boasts a "Star Road" attraction coming soon. In this version of the level, Mario is basically Mickey Mouse walking around in Disneyland.
Dialing down the fan service isn't even the biggest New Donk departure Nintendo made during development. As you might have already noticed, the people walking on the street all have similar proportions to Mario.
Odyssey has warped my expectations of these games to the point where seeing other humans somewhat similar to Mario is downright eerie. At best, these NPCs resemble characters out of the Mother series.
Judging by some of the other concept art, Nintendo also toyed around with the idea of making New Donkers out of 2D sprites and placing them in a 3D world.
This definitely fits the level's retro-friendly aesthetic, and Nintendo has made these kinds of flat characters work before in Paper Mario games. Speaking for myself, I'm glad Odyssey went in the most "boring" and therefore weirdest possible direction, but it's still fascinating to track the trajectory of the game before it landed on shelves.
I don't want to sound entitled. Super Mario Odyssey was worth the money I paid for it, and Nintendo doesn't owe me anything else. And yet, every hour since seeing Casual Pauline concept art, I have cursed the cowards who kept that look out of the final game. That's the tricky bit of books full of unrealized dreams -- they're wonderful, until they're so wonderful that you resent them a little for not being real.
The unused ideas for Mario's ghost/hat friend Cappy are not as heartbreaking as some of the other concepts, but they are no less illuminating. Before settling on what is decidedly a "Boo with a Top Hat" design, artists dreamed up Cappys with wizard hats and even 1920s-era flapper hats. The illustrations on the bottom right appear to depict a furry, legged version of cappy that resembles a colorful hamster with a beanie on.
Veering away from the Hamtaro direction was probably the right move for Cappy, but I really wish we could press rewind on the Broodals.
The tone and aesthetic of each of Super Mario Odyssey's kingdoms varies wildly, but that makes sense for the game's globetrotting conceit. The Broodals, however, never clicked with me in any context. Bowser's new rabbit henchmen manage to be both off-putting and forgettable. According to the concept art, we almost got something closer to the much more lovable Koopalings. The foursome of lizard ladies seen above share similarities with Odyssey's canonical minibosses, from the ample mother figure to the multi-hatted gal on the left.
To be fair to Nintendo, the Broodals do fit in a bit better with East Asian folklore involving rabbits and the moon, so you can see what might have been their thought process here. Plus, I would much rather buttstomp on a Broodal than say, Goombette.
The lady Goomba that shows up in Super Mario Odyssey about as basic a gender swap as you can get. Let's put aside for a moment that Goombas didn't have strong male identifiers to begin with -- Goombette is only separated from other members of her species by a slightly pinker skin tone, curly eyelashes and and headgear from the Carmen Sandiego Collection. The early sketches for Goombette imagine a character that was taller and a bit more awkward than a typical Goomba. The eyelashes are there, but so is a ponytail and a single tooth's worth of underbite. It's not as creative as some of the Goombette takes we saw while Bowsette was trending, but at least it's got more going on than the final product.
Along with characters and enemies, Odyssey's titular ship also went through a series of iterations.
Before the Odyssey was a spaceworthy vessel in the shape of a hat, for a brief period it resembled a daVinci-esque flying machine. There's less room for Mario's personal quarters, but this version of the Odyssey also features wheels and a paddle in addition to wings -- the idea being it could travel through land, sea and air. This idea carried over even when the Odyssey began to take a more familiar shape.
A transforming Odyssey sounds like a great idea, but it makes less sense when you consider that it could simply fly around the world and land anywhere it needs to. Practicality is such a bummer.
So far we've focused on designs for characters, enemies and vehicles that were tweaked before they made their proper appearance, but some ideas were scrapped altogether.
Outside of a pixelated easter egg cameo, Rosalina is nowhere to be seen in Super Mario Odyssey. With no fanfare, the artbook drops a pic of the aforementioned space princess in casual clothes, playing the guitar. It would have been great to see her as part of Pauline's band, but hopefully that's what sequels are for.
On the right you can see a little scamp dressed up like Bowser, who may have gotten up to mischief in New Donk City in an earlier version of the game. He may have been a casualty of the shift to more realistic looks for New Donkers, since that grounded style doesn't lend itself as well to the premise of this character. And that's not even close to the most bonkers Bowser-related thing Nintendo left on the cutting room floor.
You might have seen this floating around. During the same week that Bowsette exploded from a one-off fan comic to a full-blown meme, images from The Art of Super Mario Odyssey started circulating that appeared to depict a nearly-canonical Peach/Bowser mashup. Real Bowsette is indeed in the book, appearing as a short illustrated scene where Bowser uses his own Cappy to "possess" Peach, transforming into the lizard lady we see above. This image was presumably drawn years ago during development, so we can only assume someone at Nintendo is cursed with some kind of terrible meme clairvoyance.
From a gameplay perspective, the wide array of costumes available in Mario Odyssey don't do a whole lot. You might get an extra moon here or there by wearing the Mario Maker outfit or the horrific clown getup, but the outfits are mostly there so you can play dress-up with gaming's most iconic character. It looks like the design team had fun with it too, since the artbook is full of unused costume concepts. Some are based on familiar characters, like Toadette seen above, and others like the fake muscle suit are too good for this world.
Including free DLC, there are around 100 individual clothing items in Super Mario Odyssey. They had to draw the line somewhere. But how cool would it be to play as Witch Mario? Or Steamboat Willie Mario?
The best of these costumes take Mario and put him in a brand-new genre, like the Mad Max-sh variant seen below. But some of these outfits, like the Native American garb, cross the line into uncomfortable appropriation.
Most of The Art of Mario Odyssey makes me pine for a version of the game from an alternate reality, where this concept art was brought to life with that trademark Nintendo polish. But as we saw, there are some ideas that stayed ideas for a reason.
You can buy The Art of Mario Odyssey on Amazon Japan, Play Asia or other shops where imported books are sold. You can also wait maybe three years for a publisher like Dark Horse to put out a translation. Up to you.