The online hysteria that followed Nintendo’s innocent tweet promoting Super Mario Odyssey with a photo Mario in swim trunks has come to focus on one minor detail: Mario’s nipples. There, square on his smooth chest (a whole other issue noticed by fans of the Italian plumber), were two normal nipples.
It was only a matter of seconds before Mario’s nipples became a scandalous affair, allowing everyone with knowledge of the character and a Twitter account to express their dismay, incredulous disbelief or confusion over Mario’s blatant disregard for a shirt.
Everyone’s talking about Mario’s nipples but the first thing I noticed was the lack of a belly button, indicating he wasn’t of woman born. pic.twitter.com/2vHeUqb3bu
— Kieran Shiach (@KingImpulse) September 14, 2017
Mario has nipples, Link doesn’t. pic.twitter.com/Z3F5pSw6PD
— Jason Nawara (@JasonNawara) September 14, 2017
dear everyone tweeting about shirtless Mario and his nipples: like, it’d be weird if he DIDN’T have nipples, right?
— Samit Sarkar (@SamitSarkar) September 13, 2017
Despite the fact that Mario was on a beach and playing around in the sand, people couldn’t believe that Mario would ever remove his red shirt and blue overalls — and for good reason! Precedence states that even when Mario visited beaches in the past, he wasn’t inclined to strip down to a pair of swim trunks.
Mario’s nipples are a sign of a more progressive Nintendo. Remember when he used to go to the beach in fucking overalls? What a prude. pic.twitter.com/K1qkrEbjKG
— Edmond Tran (@EdmondTran) September 13, 2017
This isn’t a serendipitous case. Nintendo has been on a quest of late to prove that Mario, the company’s most recognizable character, is human.
It was during a Switch event in January that Nintendo demonstrated new gameplay from Super Mario Odyssey. During the demonstration, Mario was brought to New Donk City, a fictionalized version of New York City, where Mario leapt atop cars and scurried around parks. Unlike other Super Mario games, where the only humans are Mario and his pals, New Donk City was populated with businessmen and women, artists and street performers — all of whom loomed over Mario.
This astute observation, had by many but articulated best by Motherboard, led to the most important question of all: was Mario human?
But those humans, those conventional humans, are a sharp contrast to Super Mario, who is a pudgy red firecracker of color who can’t be bigger than a Cabbage Patch Doll and can stand comfortably atop a streetlight. Prior to this upsetting revelation, we were left to imagine what Mario’s homeworld looked like based on evidence in the games. Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and other humanoid-seeming beings all share a certain body type, so one could assume that people from Italy, Brooklyn, or wherever Mario came from, looked approximately the same. We could assume their odd bodies were just a stylistic choice Nintendo made. Now it is clear that this is not the case. Mario and his better-looking brother Luigi are aberrations.
During E3, Waypoint asked Kenta Motokura, director of Super Mario Odyssey, whether Mario was human. There was enough circumstantial evidence collected at this point to argue that Mario and his brother Luigi — and the rest of their human-like friends — weren’t 100 percent human.
Motokura confirmed that Mario was human and, when asked why the character looked so different from the other humans Nintendo had designed for Super Mario Odyssey, Motokura had one of the best answers yet.
“In the world, there are many different types of people, you know,” Motokura said.
Even with Motokura’s confirmation that Mario was human, people remained skeptical. Sure, we thought, maybe Mario played a version of a human being in a world full of monsters and tortoises that walked on their hind legs, but in New Donk City and a world populated with real humans, the differences were too big to ignore.
That’s why Nintendo gave Mario some swim trunks and a dog to play frisbee with. It’s why he takes naps in Super Mario Odyssey when tired and dances around when excited. Nintendo wants this version of Mario to feel more human than any iteration before Super Mario Odyssey.
Giving Mario nipples wasn’t the result of a big conversation; nipples are just something that humans have and Nintendo wants you to remember that Mario is human.
After all, as Polygon’s own Samit Sarkar pointed out in the tweet above, wouldn’t it be weirder if he didn’t have nipples?
Super Mario Odyssey will be released on Oct. 27.