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 eleventh course — Luncheon Kingdom.
On the way to Luncheon Kingdom, Cappy alerts Mario of the region’s Stupendous Stew, prepared by a volcano. Of course, upon arrival, Mario discovers Broodals overhead and a massive meat-obsessed bird named Cookatiel circling the stew. A short jaunt later, Mario fights Spewart in a mostly copy-pasted mini-boss battle and must continue through the level until reaching the top of the volcano, where he gets Cookatiel to drop him in a bowl of soup to reach the Multi Moon. After picking up the Multi Moon, Cookatiel somehow catalyzes a volcanic eruption that sends Mario flying back to the Odyssey and alters the course layout. From here, Mario must take a newly opened path through the volcano’s interior and up its other side to engage Cookatiel in a fantastic boss battle back atop the volcano for another Multi Moon.
While playing through the narrative gives a sense of the course’s intricate layout, the story itself feels remarkably unpolished. For example, the connection between the Broodals, Cookatiel, and the erupting volcano is never made clear; nor is Cookatiel’s presence. On top of this, some residents make mention of recent events like the path to the volcano crumbling and fire flooding the kingdom, but none of that makes much sense in context. For mandating such a linear path forward, then, it’s disappointing the narrative is so incoherent.
Once the volcano erupts, Luncheon Kingdom becomes a medium-large “buffet”-sized course loosely based on Italy’s Mount Vesuvius. Comprised of a volcanic mountain and its surrounding lava-ridden region, most of the course involves platforming with the risk of falling into lava. Additionally, the course integrates food as a theme, turning lava into soup, rolling platforms into corn, and brick blocks into cheese. Further running with this theme, the kingdom is inhabited by resident Volbonans, whimsically animated forks with a flair for the culinary arts. On top of these unique elements, Luncheon Kingdom features the most distinctive art style in the game, a brashly bright color palette on polygonal Cubist architecture that wavers between stunning, overwhelming, and insufficiently communicative depending on the context.
Luncheon Kingdom’s primary themes are fire and food. While one is a recurring Mario setting, the other has had more a background presence, less central to the level design. In its lava sea and occasionally tight platforming, Luncheon Kingdom can appear a successor to Super Mario 64’s inimitable Lethal Lava Land. Yet while Lethal Lava Land featured remarkably open and varied level design fashioned around its volcanic setting, Luncheon Kingdom is more linear and less varied. Indeed, Luncheon Kingdom seems to forget the genius of lava in Lethal Lava Land — it justified a wide array of small platform types and intelligently punished the player for their missteps by allowing them to take control of a more unwieldy Mario if they touched the lava. Here, platforms are by and large ordinary, corn on the cob (which mimics Lethal Lava Land’s rolling log) notwithstanding. Furthermore, though Mario has the same reaction to lava here, the steep hills and high altitudes of most platforms render the ability to control Mario in-air pointless. Both of these missteps make gameplay less nuanced, level design less specialized, and the course vaguer in identity and ideology.
Similarly, food is superficially implemented as a backdrop outside of the aforementioned corn and destructible cheese blocks. Outside of a couple of occasions, food acts as mere visual dressing: salt replaces dirt, gourds replace buildings, cheese replaces normal brown blocks — but to what end? Even the food-related captures (Meat and Volbonans) are essentially reskins of past captures. And though cooking is a course-specific mechanic, it is incredibly shallow. Why not demand players combine different ingredients to establish a sense of following a recipe rather than just tossing sporadically buried turnips in a giant pot?
Luncheon Kingdom also dabbles in course modification, though it does not go far enough to satisfy in this regard either. Modifying the course layout due to a volcanic eruption is an incredible idea — It meaningfully translates a natural phenomenon that alters real-life landscapes into a reason to rejigger a level. But because this happens in a cutscene that makes little sense, and the manner in which the course changes feel unnatural (i.e. new Fire Bros. spawn near the level’s start), the entire event seems a frivolous way to force the player through the level twice. And this mid-course change-up renders irrelevant much of the mental map the player has been developing, ultimately making the second climb to the volcano’s peak more confusing than the first. Furthermore, the linear volcano interior doesn’t hold a candle to Lethal Lava Land’s dual-pronged obstacle course.
Luncheon Kingdom’s captures are myriad but scattershot, running the gamut from the crucial to the undercooked. On one end of the spectrum lies the Lava Bubble, a common capture central that enables swimming through lava. Though jumping can be fickle because it takes time to build speed, swimming through lava feels great. Volbonans also offer a fun form of movement, though essentially identical to Metro Kingdom’s delineator’s posts. Hammer Bros. and Fire Bros. are both empowering but balanced, boasting a high jump and ferocious offense. Though neither is deeply integrated (especially Fire Bros.) into the kingdom, both classic characters offer some cheap thrills. Fire Piranha Plant is also a blast from the past, but it is only once used as an optional solution to a puzzle, making it one of the most underused captures in the game. Finally, Meat acts essentially the same as Tree or Boulder in Wooded Kingdom, but it is the most memorable of the “just move” captures in its quirkiness and narrative import.
Luncheon Kingdom contains a total of 68 moons. 49 of those are available on the first visit, with another 7 made available after defeating Bowser and the final 12 after shattering the Moon Rock. Of the 68 moons, 5 are obtained through the story, 15 are stumble-upons, 18 are in 9 different secret areas, and the remaining 30 are obtained by completing objectives. 13 of those objectives are reused with little variation (locate Peach, play a song for Toad, etc.) while the other 17 are course-specific to varying degrees, such as unique Timer Challenges or lantern-lighting puzzles.
On the whole, Luncheon Kingdom seats a decent collection of moons. It is less watered down by easy stumble-upons or repeat objectives than most kingdoms (in fact, 11 of the 15 stumble-upons are fairly well-hidden or hard-to-reach), meaning that most moons feel deserved and course-specific. This is especially true of the 9 secret areas, with 8 of them incorporating themes and captures from the main area. Even dressing up as a chef to access to a room requires kingdom-specific Lava Bubble platforming instead of the traditional dress-up freebie moon. Finally, the moon “All Cracks Are Fixed” deserves special recognition for its specialized objective and architecture designed around that objective. Though not thematically related to the course, it provides a unified but discrete challenge Super Mario 64-like in nature, sadly lacking from most of Odyssey.
With a totally novel art style, a ton of course-specific moons, thematically unified interiors, and several captures, Luncheon Kingdom swings for the fences and hits a double. Its themes are underutilized but it still understands the importance of integrating them into the level’s design. Its captures are sometimes similarly shallow, but they generally suit the stage and add more than they subtract. The art style can make moon glow and parts of the stage hard to spot, but it is also the most aesthetically distinct course in the game. It’s little wonder this kingdom is among the most divisive — it’s brilliant, flawed, and self-confident. But for my money, it belongs somewhere in the middle-to-high end — an above average course that sticks out from the pack in its strengths, weaknesses, and unabashed flair.