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 fourteenth course — Moon Kingdom.
Cappy dresses Mario in formal wedding attire before they rocket off to put a halt to some cross-species nuptials. They land on the moon’s surface, a bell faintly sounding from a cathedral in the distance. From here, Mario must make his way across the surface and into a subterranean lava area where he eventually battles Broodal ringleader Madame Broode from Cascade Kingdom. After the battle, Mario briefly reemerges on the moon’s surface before busting into the cathedral Graduate-style, just in time to stop a wedding strangely attended by all the people Bowser stole stuff from. But then Mario falls through a trap door near the altar, landing in a boss arena where he confronts Bowser once and for all in an evolution of the Cloud Kingdom fight.
After Mario renders Bowser unconscious, Peach breaks free of the literal and proverbial ring Bowser placed her in, but Moon Rocks start to fall in great number, eventually cracking the moon’s surface and sending the three characters plummeting back down into the moon’s lava core. From here, Mario captures Bowser, plays through a lengthy 2D/3D climax that merges New Donk City’s celebration with Halo 3’s Warthog finale and sugary unironic pop music. Once back on the surface, Mario and Bowser try to woo Peach with flowers, but she walks away woke and liberated. This final bit is a strange twist on the typical damsel-in-distress ending to which Peach is typically subjected. Though I wasn’t sure whether to laugh, cheer, or cringe, it wakes our little Italian plumber up to 2017 politics while still maintaining a vestige of its former self. Then the credits roll, and there is obviously nothing left to do in the game. Oh well.
Moon Kingdom is a relatively small kingdom composed of several slightly curved surfaces dotted with craters. Although the witty brochure makes a fuss about various course features, it is mostly barren and lifeless, most remarkable for its low gravity physics. The farthest area from the starting point contains the cathedral wedding venue, whose stunning exterior is the visual highlight of the course, bar the gorgeous illuminated Earth in the background. While a kingdom like Cap Kingdom can feel curiously disconnected from its backdrop because of the distance between it and the playable region, the naturally-occurring chasms on Moon Kingdom distancing the playable region from the rest of the surface feel more believable and more seamlessly integrate the course into its surroundings.
Moon Kingdom is primarily concerned about providing a satisfying end to the journey thus far. In almost every regard it presents a capstone: the storyline concludes on a memorable script-flip; the end sequence with Bowser is a climactic culmination of the game’s tightrope walking between homage and innovation; the celestial setting takes the game off its own world map while also actualizing subtle hints that run throughout the entire voyage. And in addition to the narrative, Moon Kingdom also grants a logical and brilliant conclusion to the gameplay. First, the lowgrav setting takes jumping to its logical extreme by allowing Mario to jump extra high with extra mid-air control. Second, the capture mechanic is taken to the nth degree by allowing Mario to capture the villain and the player to play as the character Mario has spent thirty years defining himself against. Coupled with these extensions of the game’s narrative and core mechanics, the monochromatic art and frog capture near the cathedral echo the start of the journey in Cap Kingdom, while battling Madame Broode is a callback to Cascade Kingdom. Indeed, if Cloud Kingdom and Ruined Kingdom were primarily designed for pseudo-narrative purposes as boss fight arenas, Moon Kingdom lies halfway between a pseudo-narrative space to house the game’s ending and a fully-fledged course.
Moon Kingdom features five new captures, though Bowser Statue is a subpar “just move” capture, Parabones is a lazy Paragoomba reskin, and Banzai Bill is just a larger Bullet Bill. And though Chargin’ Chuck is a Super Mario World nostalgia kick, it is only featured briefly and in lackluster fashion. The Bowser capture is the star of the show, taking the capture mechanic full circle narratively while also combining the hero and villain in almost Braid-like fashion and superbly integrating a new moveset into a tense but fluid set piece. Although Moon Kingdom’s captures are generally reskinned or superficial, the Bowser capture stands among the most fascinating and unforgettable in the game.
Moon Kingdom holds a total of 38 power moons. 15 of those moons are available on the first visit, with another 2 dependent on the player’s progress in other kingdoms. Another 9 are made available after defeating Bowser, and the final 12 open up after shattering the Moon Rock. 17of the 38 moons are reused from other kingdoms, 4 are in the course’s two secret areas, 1 is in a 2D section, 2 are in timer challenges, 2 are in note-taking challenges, and the last 12 are stumble-upons or minor tasks (6 of which are very easy or obvious; the other 6 require a little more effort).
While roughly half of Moon Kingdom’s moons are reused in other courses, the lowgrav sometimes spices them up, differentiating them from their other manifestations. Sometimes this works surprisingly well. For example, the player has to be especially careful about not kicking the rolling rock off the edge, adding a layer of intent and planning to a mundane objective. But other times lowgrav flattens the challenge. For instance, catching the course’s rabbit is significantly easier than usual due to its decreased speed. Meanwhile, the interior moons are generally strong, and course-specific nuances like replacing a bird holding a star with a UFO make for some special moments. Finally, nearly half the stumble-upons are unfortunately obvious, undermining the unique possibilities for platforming in low gravity. As the fourteenth course in the game, should players really be rewarded for performing a long jump?
Though it features many memorable moments, Moon Kingdom is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, it contains a lot of unremarkable moons, a bland exterior, and several shallow, underused, or poorly integrated captures. On the other, it sends the game off on a fitting note with several narrative curve balls and its antigrav twist. Though the initial awe of antigrav wears out its welcome due to a lack of meaningful integration, the small size of the course and variation between above-and-below-ground segments makes for a unique bookend with diminishing returns, focused more on spectacle than depth or longevity.