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 eighth course — Metro Kingdom.
Metro Kingdom is a sprawling metropolis home to New Donk City, Odyssey’s thinly-veiled Mario-fication of New York City. Surrounded by endless rows of skyscrapers that stretch as far as the eye can see, packed full of realistically-proportioned humans, Metro Kingdom is Odyssey’s swing toward urbanism and realism. Yet as the setting of the original Donkey Kong, it pays due diligence to the big ape’s franchise through street names, billboards, graffiti, and common red construction girders.It is primarily comprised of several urban blocks, featuring tightly packed buildings (some which mirror famous New York sites such as the Empire State Building and Flatiron Building), a plaza area, and a tiny park. Though of similar scope to Wooded Kingdom and Sand Kingdom, it contains its sprawl by emphasizing vertical architecture and upward momentum.
On the way to Metro Kingdom, Cappy describes the region’s energy dependency on power moons. Per yet another untimely mishap, Mario arrives on a stormy night when Broodals and a centipede-like Mechawiggler have sapped the city’s energy grid. It’s a linear jaunt to City Hall, during which Mario explores most of the city and confronts Sherms (tanks), Stingbies (mosquitos), and construction-hat-wearing-and-probably-unionized Goombas along the way. Once at City Hall, Mario must scale its cool art deco interior via elevator platforms and poles only to get knocked off the skyscraper by Mechawiggler. Upon defeating Mechawiggler in a Sherm-based boss battle, the weather clears and the city revives. But saving the city isn’t enough for Mayor Pauline — she needs to find four musicians to hold a festival. After finding them scattered around New Donk City, Pauline realizes there is still a power shortage, and Mario needs to traverse an underground energy grid filled with Piranha Plants and platforming over poison. After beating two Big Poison Piranha Plants, Mario saves and partakes in the festival, which turns out to be a playable, 2D, Donkey Kong-centric series of stages. Most of this works well enough, but the portion leading to City Hall erects walls throughout the city to encourage linear play without justification and is so easy to run past it gives no incentives to explore or make use of capturable enemies.
New Donk City’s core topographical feature is its scattered verticality. Tall buildings dominate the landscape, encouraging players to take the course’s frequent plays on the term “jump man” literally. Fortunately, elevation options abound: wall jumping between buildings, climbing stairs, scaling poles, capturing spark pylons and delineator’s posts, hopping on taxis, etc. Upward movement is nearly always worth the journey since rooftops are hotspots for stumble-upon moons and regional currency. And while the similarly vertical Wooded Kingdom uses its height for concealment and complexity, Metro Kingdom’s rooftops facilitate navigation by providing alternate routes and visual vantage points to clarify and empower movement.
Instead of elaborate outdoor nooks, Metro Kingdom hides its secrets in its diverse interior portions and secret areas. Entering through the corner of the Flatiron building leads to a T-Rex chase sequence that improves upon Crash Bandicoot’s camera-chasing gameplay. Meanwhile, a building next to City Hall houses a heavily trafficked corridor where Mario vaults along New Donkers’ heads. On the next block, an art house theater lets Mario replay 1-1 of Super Mario Bros. on a movie screen in front of a live audience. At their best, these interiors elaborate upon New Donk City’s worlds and themes, sometimes even requiring course-specific captures (such as a Taxi and a Manhole) to reach them.
Outside of the narrative portion, where Mario can capture Goombas and Sherms, most of Metro Kingdom’s captures revolve around traversal. Capturing the delineator’s post (i.e. “pole”) allows Mario to fling himself in a direction, often helpful for scaling buildings. And plentiful Spark Pylons allow for even snappier travel. Meanwhile, capturing the taxi and manholes allow Mario to reach secret areas. These captures are shallow, but they also suit the course’s enemy-less, secret-riddled design. The main exception is the kingdom’s most unnerving capture, in which Mario possesses a fellow(?) human to control an RC Car. I hasten to ask why Mario can’t just capture the RC Car itself or simply wait his turn in line. But regardless of Mario’s preferred control scheme, this RC Car mini-game that harkens back to top-down retro racers like Micro Machines and Super Off Road is an unexpected and enjoyable addition that almost negates the pure evil of the neighboring jump rope mini-game.
As one of Odyssey’s largest courses, Metro Kingdom contains a total 81 moons. 52 are available on the first visit, with another accessible via a painting in Sand Kingdom. Another 13 unlock upon defeating Bowser, and shattering the Moon Rock unleashes another 15. To further break it down, 7 of the 81 moons are earned in the narrative portion, 3 in timer challenges, 3 gardening, 2 from scooter puzzles, 2 from an abysmal and monotonous jump rope mini-game, and 3 from the RC Car mini-game. Another 12 are reused goals like finding Peach and buying a moon, while 24 hide in secret areas and interiors, 11 involve small missions or challenges like spelling Mario’s name with capturable letters, and the final 11 are stumble-upons that require little to no effort.
For the most part, Metro Kingdom’s moons are decent-to-fantastic. Some post-game moons are typically forgettable, but the course’s diverse and robust interior portions and course-specific objectives make up for it. This is likely the most compelling collection of moons in any of Odyssey’s large courses, as it features the fewest number of stumble-upons while also containing some of the best indoor and narrative-related moons in the game. Outside of the egregious second jump rope moon, which adds nothing but aggravation and tedium, and a couple less offensive moons like a second “bird traveling” and “hat-and-seek” moons, New Donk City’s moons are varied and well-integrated. And at their best, they even meaningfully contribute to a sense of place and theme. For instance, dressing up as a clown to please one mopey New Donker and sitting next to a lonely man on a bench both slyly interpret New York City’s infamous rates of depression and social isolation while framing Mario as an antidote to unhappiness (a role he has no doubt served for millions of players around the globe).
Metro Kingdom is at once Super Mario Odyssey’s most bizarre and most quintessential course. Its heavy focus on platforming and wholehearted celebration of Mario lore feel like nods toward tradition, while the uncanny setting and strain toward realism make it wholly unique. While these two facets of Metro Kingdom might initially appear contradictory, they synergistically contribute toward the game’s obsession with a grand sense of outward and inward journeying. Though not without its faults (like the jump rope mini-game, underused captures, and linear narrative portion), Metro Kingdom is the most singular, strange, and energetic course in Super Mario Odyssey.