Already among the most positively received games of all time, Super Mario Odyssey expands upon the open, flexible design philosophy of Super Mario 64 while incorporating contemporary design sensibilities and twenty years worth of polish. And like its watershed grandfather, Odyssey is sure to carve its own special niche of influence and esteem in the gaming pantheon. But is it truly the near-perfect experience many believe it to be, or might a deeper inspection reveal some telling blemishes? As I already have Super Mario 64, I will examine each of Super Mario Odyssey’s kingdoms in an attempt to glean insight into their stumbles and successes. In this entry, I will be taking a look at the game’s sixth course — Cloud Kingdom.
After Wooded Kingdom, Cappy and Mario set out for Metro Kingdom. Along the way, they catch up with Bowser’s airship, and both parties pause to duke it out. Landing atop a cloud, Mario hops past some doves and onto a central platform for a fun boss fight against Bowser. After beating Bowser, he is knocked back aboard his ship, where he unleashes cannon fire at Mario to send him falling through the clouds.
Cloud Kingdom consists of several flat adjacent clouds that are little more than barren platforms. Although the course brochure advertises some unique features such as the remnants of an ancient civilization and a history of the kingdom’s discovery by modern scientists, none of that plays a meaningful role in the uninspired level design. It’s hard to knock Cloud Kingdom’s level design too much, though, since it’s a boss arena first and foremost and doesn’t ask to be more than some pretty aerial discs sitting side by side, flourished with some doves and cloud arches. If this is in any way the follow-up to Rainbow Ride, it’s a bit of a disappointment.
Cloud Kingdom professes to be concerned with clouds, though it does little to show it. While the boss fight does not incorporate the setting at all, later exploration seems even stranger because the main platform doesn’t resemble a cloud in look or feel. Although there are some of the recurring cloud platforms on the peripheral, the central area is remarkably un-cloudlike. This feels like a missed opportunity to incorporate cloud-based concepts and mechanics and instead seems like a kingdom that could have just as well be painted grey and named Stone Kingdom.
Cloud Kingdom is also defined by its diminutive size — possibly the smallest kingdom in the game. Instead of shoehorning in as many moons as possible, the designers exercised restraint (an approach other stages could have also benefitted from). And most of these moons are decent, especially given the course’s pancaked topography and tepid integration of its cloud theme. This goes to show how much the designers can do with so little but also underscores that the vast majority of Odyssey’s moons don’t feel tied to their respective course. This is a significant problem that detracts from moment-to-moment gameplay as well as a broader sense of place and purpose.
Cap Kingdom’s only captures are the Goomba Picture Match parts for the subpar Picture Match mini-game. This mini-game involves selecting and placing components of a Goomba face in an outline of a Goomba. The slow speed of the Picture Match part capture makes a tedious mini-game even more tedious and having to play it at a higher difficulty a second time is the kingdom’s most egregious offense. This capture is as dull as it is disempowering, and even another Paragoomba floating through clouds (instead of Bonneton’s fog) would have been more suitable and enjoyable.
Upon the first visit, Cloud Kingdom serves as a simple boss arena with no obtainable moons. However, two moons open up after beating Bowser at the end of the game, and another seven open after shattering the Moon Rock. With a total of nine moons, Cloud Kingdom is lacking in substance, but its tiny size shouldn’t hold much more anyway. Of the nine moons, only one is a stumble-upon, and even that requires some dedication to locate. Of the remaining eight, one requires finding Peach (essentially another stumble-upon), three require some tricky platforming, two are hidden in a fantastic secret area, and two are earned in the previously described picture match mini-game. The two secret area moons are an obvious highlight. Despite erring from the cloud theme, this area’s 2D platforming is mind-bending enough to feel straight out of Super Mario Galaxy 2. The three platforming moons atop the clouds are also enjoyable and somewhat successfully integrate the cloud theme through their extensive use of cloud platforms.
As the home of little more than a story beat, Cloud Kingdom doesn’t have much to offer. But given its limitations, its moons are fairly enjoyable and its atmosphere is pleasant enough. In some regards, it’s an interesting counterpoint to Odyssey’s largest kingdoms but is mostly a little more than an inoffensive blip on the player’s radar.