In Super Mario Odyssey, Mario Mario can travel between various dimensions. He is able to do this by riding in something resembling a stylized version of the house from the Christian anime The Flying House.
Mario goes to a fantastical redwood forest and a bridge of leaves and flowers grows beneath his feet to make him a path. He heads to a cartoonish Latin American themed world not very unlike Samba de Amigo and collects purple floating nachos. But most distressingly, he travels to something called New Donk City.
New Donk City is the Liberty City of Mario games; an ersatz version of New York seen through the prism of a non-American viewpoint. It’s a cute diorama vision of the city, it’s architecture mostly neutral colored buildings that wouldn’t be out of place in the 1940s, but speckled with more modern vehicles and billboards. The multicultural citizens (is this the first time a black person has been in a Mario game?) are dressed like one of four extras from Singin’ in the Rain. Also they have human proportions. Disgusting, actual, realistic human proportions brought into stark relief by Mario’s tiny squat cartoon body.
There’s one other thing about the city that is off balance. Several street names and various shops are named after characters in the Donkey Kong Country franchise. The “Donk” appears to be Donkey Kong.
In a normal understanding of worldbuilding, one would assume that this was perhaps a far flung future after the Kongs have become legends and they are essentially being used in the same context as presidents or other heroes of history. But this is not anything close to normal, this is Super Mario.
The Mario world, especially as seen the Mario Kart games, is a bizarre monarchist/capitalist oligarchy. Any member of the “main” cast has not only geographic locations named after them, but several active business concerns. In fact, one of the first things I thought about when I was able to take in the full breadth of New Donk City was how similar it sounded to Neo Bowser City from Mario Kart 7.
And so we are left with several questions. What exactly is the scope and size of the Mushroom Kingdom, The Empire of Bowser Koopa, Donkey Kong’s Country, The Planet Earth, and other various sovereign entities? Where do the borders begin and end? What are their various political relationships? Exactly how human are Mario and Luigi? Why am I compelled to try to piece together logic from worlds created by dozens of different people with different agendas over decades of various conflicting media who haven’t even thought about this? What is New Donk City?
Okay for starters, Mario and Luigi are Mushroomian. Straight up. They are not human beings. At the end of Yoshi’s Island, they are clearly delivered to parents in a literal Mushroom House in a Mushroom Village.
This is not to say that they did not later travel to Earth or were not raised Italian, but we have to at least start with what they are. Now there are at least two different varieties of Mushroomians. There are the Toads, the people who actually look like Mushrooms, and then there are the more humanoid people such as Princess Toadstool (Peach) and the various Kings as seen in Super Mario Bros. 3. Let’s call them “Mush-Humes”.
Now in all the various versions of the Mario Bros story, from the movies and TV shows and various lore, we learn that Mario is an Italian man who lived in New York at some point. The original Mario Bros is even said to take place in the New York City sewers on Earth. Just look at this quote from an interview with Miyamoto.
So, for now, let’s assume that those are the facts. At some point, the Mario Bros. moved to Italy from the Mushroom Kingdom and then moved to New York and started a plumbing business. And as much as I love the regular guy, working class Marios with Brooklyn accents, canonically, we are stuck with a pair of weirdly shaped anime aliens who speak and act like weird extras in a forgotten Marx Bros movie.
The events of the video games Donkey Kong and Mario Bros. at least, probably take place in a version of New York City, albeit one with weird giant crabs and what appear to be Koopa Troopas in the sewers. The fact of those monsters (animals? sentient soliders?) being in NYC opens up the very first possibility space for what the borders of the various worlds could be! Were the Koopa Troopas actually traveling via pipe from Koopa’s Kingdom? Were they introduced into the ecosystem by colonist or tourists? Are they themselves alien colonists or tourists? What we know is that the Mario Bros goal is to eliminate them from the sewers. They are ideal candidates because of both expertise in plumbing and advanced dexterity and strength because of their Mush-Hume blood. Also, yo, are Mushroomians naturally better plumbers being such a warp pipe based world? Also what even are those fucking giant green pipes and who built them? Did Mushroomian immigrants build this version of the NYC Sewer system? Now in reality of course, The Mushroom Kingdom itself was simply an expansion of the mechanics of Mario Bros. and it would be foolish to try and reverse engineer a history or culture but also who cares.
We know from the story of Super Mario Bros. that Mario and Luigi “heard” about the plight of Princess Toadstool (Peach) and they went to go save her.
Consider what that means knowing what we know now.
After getting done fighting Koopa Troopas in the sewers, the Marios find out that their ancestral homeland is being attacked by the very same creatures.
Pretty wild stuff!
But for our purposes, the important part is that Koopa, the Mushroom Kingdom, and New York City are all on the same basic plane of existence to the point where news about one place could travel to the other. Beings from one place can reasonably travel between them. Mario defeats Bowser and saves the Princess.
Now here is where it gets real tricky because the very nature of reality in Mario games from this point forward gets real slippery.
In the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2, Bowser kidnaps the Princess again. Mario and/or Luigi save her once again.
In the American version of Super Mario Bros. 2, Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Toad all work together to save the world of Subcon from the evil Wart. These adventures all turn out to be a dream that Mario is having(?)
In Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario and Luigi have to AGAIN save the Princess from Bowser who now has help from a group of rowdy teen Koopas with ‘tude.
But then they had to get weird…
The characters from Mario 2 USA leaked out of their weird Doki Doki Panic Romhack world and into “real” Mario games. Even Yoshi games, which are chronologically before the events of everything else, have Shy Guys. Birdo is happy to pop up in the party games. We have to assume from this, that Subcon is a “real” tangible place that can be traveled to. Even it can only typically be accessed by dreams.
Also Super Mario Bros. 3 is not actual events. It’s a stage play. Apparently news of Mario’s heroism spread far enough that it became a legend and people are putting on a cute little acrobatic stunt show to tell of the story which like many myths, now has a bunch of extra stuff to make it more exciting. A theory even goes that the actors in this play are the original historical figures themselves who have since become friends and this explains why they are so cool with go-karting and playing various sports together. They are wildly popular enough that they now, as mentioned earlier, have Turnpikes and Bays and Stadiums and Cities in their names. I hate this theory. I hate it and everything it brings into question. Are the events of any of the games after 3 even real? Did the plays get so out of control that they became wild proxy wars. Are they just doing weird public flash mobs to expand their #brand awareness much like the kind Fred Flintstone obviously forced Barney Rubble to do in the “Watch Me Trick Fred” Fruity Pebbles commercials which are all obviously a scheme by Fred to make his stupid cereal go viral and is the only explanation for the difference in Barney’s personality between the show and the ads.
For my own health, I’ll assume that only Mario 3 was fake. I want to take Nintendo’s word that Peach gets kidnapped from time to time by a guy she plays golf with. They are weird frenemies. It’s like the relationships on Adventure Time or something.
So they all live together and the population of Toads and Isle Delfinians and Subconites and Kongs all can meet each other and live in a bizarre kleptocracy where they all are knights and villains and politicians and sports heroes and businessmen
So is New Donk City just another example the same kind of scenario but this time applied to the Kongs?
Let’s go back for a second
New Donk City is the first time that a mainline Mario platformer has explicitly implied that Donkey Kong Country is in the same universe. Sure they all play baseball (including King K. Rool!) or whatnot, but the DKC world is now pretty solidly integrated into whatever kind of truth or advanced myth of a Mario story is happening.
We have accepted that Donkey Kong (1982), probably takes place in New York. In Donkey Kong Country (1994) we learn that the Ape which Mario originally defeated has grown aged and transformed into Cranky Kong. We also learn that there is an entire Ape World and also that they are all 100% fully sentient and can communicate through language (to varying degrees).
The protagonist of Donkey Kong Country is some sort of Donkey Kong With A Tie who is either Donkey Kong Jr or Donkey Kong III depending on who you ask. This DKWAT has also continued kidnapping Pauline and having public battles with Mario and also playing soccer with him.
With all of these factors in mind and until the actual game is released which will instantly prove me wrong. Here is what I think New Donk City is.
New Donk City is a new version of the Star Trek episode “A Piece of the Action”.
In “A Piece of the Action”, the Enterprise discovers an absurd planet that seems to be entirely based on 1920s gangster movies. The premise is that a hundred years ago someone left a book called “Chicago Mobs of the Twenties” on the planet, and the aliens who lived there based their entire culture on it. A sci-fi version of a cargo cult.
I believe that this explains the nature of New Donk City
A civilization of beings who are either born in or able to take human form discovered the “legend” of Donkey Kong from the original game up through the Country series. They have based at least an entire city on secondhand accounts of New York but are unable to truly understand human custom. This is why it essentially appears to be a pristine movie set where they all wear identical grey outfits. Perhaps there are construction sites and cement factories and recreations of all of the original Donkey Kong that are “holy sites”. The flimsy city is only an excuse to have a “context” for these places. Maybe people even see Mario in this place as part of the simulation. There could even be another Mario somewhere in the city who puts on Mario 3 style stage shows or religious festivals. They are such fanatics, they even care enough to even name streets after Expresso the Ostrich.
So that’s why I see the the nature of New Donk City as a little different from the signs for various Luigi based businesses or roads you might see zooming past you in Mario Kart. The method of Mario traveling here in a crazy magic house seems to imply that this is a fully new and alien place as opposed to just the other side of the Kong World. I have a feeling we may see a Donkey Kong based boss in this level, but remember, that may just be one of these aliens performing their assigned role to defeat the “Jumpman”
Now a real sharp guy would tie all this together in a real sharp way about how the nature of play intersects with the cruft of very thin corporate storytelling or how in this post-Marvel movie world we have all become kind of wiki-minded people who sometimes value the idea of crossovers and references over actual narrative or somesuch thing but I will just say that the word Donk is hilarious and I can’t stop saying it and I hope the internet never stops making jokes about it.