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 seventh course — Lost Kingdom.
After falling through the clouds after a battle with Bowser in Cloud Kingdom, Mario crash lands on Lost Kingdom in need of ten power moons to repair the Odyssey. During his search, Klepto the kleptomaniac condor from Shifting Sand Land nabs Cappy off Mario’s head, forcing Mario to traverse a chunk of the level without his new buddy in tow. This ensures the player becomes acquainted with the level’s new platform type while offering a brief but inspired challenge. After using one of those platforms to defeat Klepto, Mario and Cappy continue their search for moons and eventually depart for Metro Kingdom. Although some might see this crash landing as little more than a distracting narrative sidebar, I think it adds a twist to the kingdom-to-kingdom Bowser chase that allows for refreshing in-game storytelling liberties (like the Klepto sidebar and lack of a boss battle) and a sense of uncharted adventure. And Lost Kingdom is the perfect setting for this spiritual pitstop, as its toxic tropic setting feels suitably mysterious, desperate, and off the radar.
Lost Kingdom is a smaller-than-average kingdom replete with lush palms, incandescent butterflies, and rainbow wigglers in the middle of a toxic sea. Its art direction often feels like a translation of Super Mario World’s distinctly peculiar cartoonish aesthetic into the third dimension, where odd shapes and deep colors abound. Its rainforest sound effects contribute to its wild secluded vibe, and its wistful but contemplative theme song is among my favorites. Lost Kingdom seems to borrow from Wooded Kingdom’s height and forest theme, but integrates them into a tropical setting with more distinct regions. This clearer divisibility and less conflicting visual style works in the level’s favor, as Lost Kingdom proves consistent but idiosyncratic, and easy to navigate but full of surprises.
One of the ways Lost Kingdom bucks the level design trend is by foregrounding platforming. From rotating windmill-type platforms to elevation-changing ground pound platforms to numerously scattered tree stumps best traversed with the wonderful Tropical Wiggler capture, Lost Kingdom is tidy but full of rewarding platforming challenges. Through careful design of its tidy spaces, it demands careful anticipatory play which in turns makes movement more meaningful. This might take away from the freedom of open environments like Sand Kingdom, but it also emphasizes the centrality of movement in Mario games. The player succeeds in Lost Kingdom not only through blind exploration and curiosity but by platforming in a controlled, deliberate, thoughtful manner.
Lost Kingdom’s size befits this style of play, as its medium-small stature packs quite a few moons without them feeling superfluous or undeserved. While other smallish courses like Cap Kingdom or Cascade Kingdom might have similar acreage, Lost Kingdom’s dense platforming challenges and verticality slow movement through the level achieve the best of both worlds — a course that feels large enough to fit distinct regions with unique challenges, but small enough not overwhelm the player. Though I appreciate the diversity of kingdom sizes in Super Mario Odyssey, Lost Kingdom feels like a clear evolution of Super Mario 64’s kingdoms in conceit and magnitude.
Finally, Lost Kingdom blends clarity with style so one never outweighs the other. While Wooded Kingdom’s complexity can hamper a player’s ability to navigate the course, and Lake Kingdom was so clear it sometimes felt too obvious, Lost Kingdom strikes a balance to achieve communicative design and a strong sense of place. Part of this is accomplished through the uniquely vivid but clear-cut art style, but the course’s pre-post-game moons are also well-placed and better named than usual. Despite feeling like an organic, coherent environment, the kingdom seems divisible into severable regions without having to place swathes of desert between them. Furthermore, there are no secret warp pipe areas on the player’s first run through, encouraging immersion in a singular environment.
Lost Kingdom’s primary captures are Glydon and Tropical Wigglers. While Glydon is used to fly over the toxic sea to reach some isolated moons on far-flung islands, Tropical Wigglers lie at the core of Lost Kingdom’s level design. Indeed, much of Lost Kingdom, from its toxic sea, to its tree stumps, to the placement of many of its moons, feels designed around Tropical Wigglers. Like horizontal Uproots, the player can control the extent to which the Wiggler grows outward (usually to reach a collectible or a platform) and when they snap back. And like Uproots, Wigglers are fantastically integrated into the level design while further accentuating my earlier point about Lost Kingdom’s focus on meaningful movement, which is what the Tropical Wiggler is all about. Also, a special shout-out goes to the Trapeetle. Though not technically a capture, this kamikaze baddie catches Mario’s hat only to wholeheartedly fly at Mario like an overdetermined Bullet Bill. This oddball is an awesome reversal on the capture concept that is used in multiple amusing sequences.
Lost Kingdom features 35 moons, 20 of which are available on the first playthrough, another that opens upon returning, 4 more made accessible by beating Bowser, and a final 10 that open after shattering the Moon Rock. Thankfully, only two of the initial 20 are stumble-upons, with most moons built around the course’s exclusive platforms and captures. Especially on the first visit, Lost Kingdom offers a uniquely and refreshingly course-specific array of objectives. Furthermore, most of Lost Kingdom’s moons feel integrated into the level, the only exception perhaps being two moons in a post-game secret area that incorporates uncharacteristic lava (but even then, that area brings back Klepto, so not all ties are severed). Though many post-game moons are the same repeats we’ve seen repeatedly (including a particularly conspicuous stumble-across right next to the Odyssey), Lost Kingdom is the only course so far to maintain thematic and aesthetic consistency across its main portion and secret rooms. That so many of its moons feel so course-specific is testament to the strength of the level’s unique topography, platforms, and captures that allow for such a variety of objectives.
I’ll stop blushing and just admit it — I’m a fan of Lost Kingdom. Of all the courses in the game, this is the one that most resonates with me. It was intimate and enchanting. It was the one that most made me feel like a kid playing Super Mario World, wondering if life could get any better. Whether or not you’re feeling my less critical perspective on this course, I hope you found a similarly special place somewhere along your odyssey. I imagine that sense wondrous delight is one of the reasons some of us come back to this series time and time again.