The best moment in the new Mario game is an incredible homage to a gaming classic

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Nintendo

Few games are as delightful and downright joyous as “Super Mario Odyssey,” the new Mario blockbuster on Nintendo’s Switch console.

It’s a great game unto itself, and it’s a game that celebrates Nintendo’s long history. Look no further than “New Donk City,” one of the game’s many massive open worlds, for proof of this duality.

The streets of New Donk City are literally named after Donkey Kong characters.

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The streets of New Donk City are literally named after Donkey Kong characters.
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Nintendo

And it’s here, in New Donk City, that I experienced the most incredible moment of “Super Mario Odyssey.”


WARNING: This piece speaks in detail about “Super Mario Odyssey,” and contains spoilers.

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It’s clear from the name of the city, and the endless references to Donkey Kong, that he must be <em>somewhere</em>. Right?

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Did you notice that the street Mario’s walking away from here is named “Cranky Road”? That’s a reference to Cranky Kong, the aged ape who originally starred in “Donkey Kong” in arcades. This old fogey right here:

Cranky Kong

Perhaps you didn’t know: The character known as “Cranky Kong,” who appears in various “Donkey Kong Country” games, is actually the original Donkey Kong. I hope you were sitting down for that. The character in the “Donkey Kong Country” series named “Donkey Kong” is actually Donky Kong Jr. Really!


New Donk City is even run by Mayor Pauline — the same Pauline who appeared in the original “Donkey Kong” game as the damsel in distress.

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Mayor Pauline is not Princess Peach, to be clear.

This is Princess Peach, who is also in “Super Mario Odyssey”:

Super Mario Odyssey

There have been several “damsel-in-distress” characters in the history of Mario games. Pauline was the very first, appearing in the original “Donkey Kong” game as the woman who “Jumpman” was trying to rescue from the eponymous ape villain. The Kong family is now known for heroics rather than stealing ladies.

In the case of “Super Mario Odyssey,” Pauline is now a mayor and she’s seeking Mario’s help for energy-related issues. She actually doesn’t mention Donkey Kong.


Anyway, between the road names, the name of the city itself (New “Donk” City), and the city’s mayor, it’s pretty clear that Mario’s bound to run into the big gorilla himself, right?

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New Donk City, in the Metro Kingdom, is full of humanoid characters who dwarf Mario. But isn’t Mario just a cartoon human? It’s all very confusing.
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Indeed, you meet Donkey Kong. More than just a citizen of New Donk City, Donkey Kong is the final boss of the Metro Kingdom!

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Of course, it wouldn’t be a big Nintendo production without an elaborate homage. In this regard, “Super Mario Odyssey” delivers in a serious way.


The “boss fight” where you meet Donkey Kong is on the way to Mayor Pauline’s planned festival for the citizens of New Donk City. She’s performing on a rooftop:

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An earlier mission in New Donk City has Mario assembling band members for Mayor Pauline’s performance, so this is the culmination of several story missions: A live performance of “Jump Up, Super Star!”, the game’s theme song (and the first-ever vocally-driven song in a Mario game).

But getting to the top of the building isn’t as simple as hopping in an elevator, of course.


As you ascend to a rooftop party where Mayor Pauline is singing the game’s main theme song, your first stop is this 8-bit green pipe.

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You may notice this gentleman yelling at Mario to “Jump, man, jump!” – a reference to both the game’s theme song and Mario’s original name (Jumpman). It’s this kind of delightfully deep cut that makes moments like this in “Super Mario Odyssey” so incredibly memorable.

I was so impressed actually that I stopped and snapped the picture above. Throughout the following sequence, I continually snapped screenshots using the Switch’s Capture button – not because I was thinking, “I’ll write about this,” but because it was so ridiculously cool.


Mario exits the pipe and you get a look at the full scope of what’s ahead: An 8-bit mash-up of modern gaming and classic gaming, starring Mario.

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The girders throughout New Donk City were already highly evocative of the original “Donkey Kong” game, but things get much more directly referential in this section.

Mario leaps up, heading into another pipe, which pops him out in this incredible re-creation of the original “Donkey Kong”:

Super Mario Odyssey

These 8-bit areas are littered throughout “Odyssey,” but this one is used to particularly referential effect with wooden barrels rolling along and oil barrels on fire (from “Donkey Kong”). They’re bizarrely paired with “Super Mario Bros.”-era graphics, and a gorgeous 3D world in the background.

And that’s just the first area.


Mario runs along a 2D pipe in a 3D world, wearing an 8-bit rendition of his 3D suit.

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And then, after some upside-down shenanigans, Mario finally reaches what is ostensibly a level straight-up out of the original “Donkey Kong”:

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Equipped with the far better jumping mechanics from “Super Mario Bros.”, it’s a cinch to take on this re-creation of a “Donkey Kong” level. Rather than being taken out in a single hit, Mario still has the three hearts that come standard in “Odyssey.”

There are even some extra heart containers throughout the area, if you’re having a hard time channeling your classic gaming skills. At least one is inside the used question mark boxes Mario’s standing on here:

Super Mario Odyssey

But where are these barrels coming from, praytell?


Donkey Kong himself, in all his original 8-bit glory:

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The “fight” isn’t outrageously challenging, nor is it intended to be: It’s a thoroughly detailed homage to the roots of Mario, the roots of Nintendo’s three decades as a powerhouse in gaming, and even an homage to the man who created all these characters – Shigeru Miyamoto.

Though Miyamoto didn’t lead development on “Odyssey,” he’s still the man in charge of overseeing Nintendo’s biggest franchises. He’s also the man who made “Donkey Kong,” “Super Mario Bros.” and dozens of other gaming classics known the world over.

Moreover, Mario – the character – comes from “Donkey Kong.” Playing through a modern Super Mario game that’s specifically touted as the first big 3D Mario game in years, and stumbling into a lengthy 8-bit section dedicated to a game that originally came out in 1981, is absurd. I mean that in the best possible way.

It’s the kind of ridiculous kitsch that Nintendo pulls off in a way that few other games do. It’s reminiscent of the excellent scene in “Uncharted 4,” where Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher play a PlayStation 1 game together (that you get to control).


A few jumps from the original Jumpman himself, and Donkey Kong’s down for the count:

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And then it’s time to party with Pauline and the rest of New Donk City, naturally:

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Nintendo

There are few moments in “Super Mario Odyssey” that have brought me quite as much joy as the Donkey Kong fight. Do yourself a favor and check out a video of the whole thing right here: