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 fifteenth course — Mushroom Kingdom.
Post-credits, Mario sleeps on a hilltop in Mushroom Kingdom as Cappy reveals the entire adventure was just a dream. Psych! It wasn’t. In fact, Cappy claims their adventure is just beginning and encourages Mario to head to Peach’s Castle. At the castle, the Toads are in adorable disarray. Their princess has gone missing, but this time she’s packed her bags and taken off on her own volition. As it turns out, Peach is just on her kidnapping gap year, revisiting all the locations Bowser forced her to visit against her will.
Mushroom Kingdom is a modernized reinterpretation of the hub world from Super Mario 64. It’s not a pixel-perfect reincarnation by any stretch, but its major areas (the castle, its atrium, its tranquil tree-laden exterior, its moat) are all still there, along with some pleasant surprises (the castle courtyard, the garden from Super Mario 64 DS, a capture-able Yoshi on the roof), and some new additions (a forest full of Goombas and several detached towers). Although Super Mario Odyssey lacks a hub world, Mushroom Kingdom feels like a return home in its placid, mostly safe environment populated by classic characters from throughout the series. If Super Mario Sunshine was revived in Seaside Kingdom, and Super Mario Galaxy channeled in Moon Kingdom, then Mushroom Kingdom is Super Mario 64’s time to shine (even if the entire game purports to revisit that game to some extent).
Mushroom Kingdom’s modus operandi lies in celebrating and embellishing the past. Moon Kingdom pressed forward while peering backward, slowing itself down to walk a tightrope. But Mushroom Kingdom unabashedly swings back to Mario’s first 3D foray, wholly embracing its roots while also acting as appropriately meta/left-field post-game Mario content. For example, hopping through a painting triggers the same sound effects and visual details of 64, but the bosses inside are reworked Odyssey bosses, balanced more intricately for the late game than most repeat bosses of 64. Or consider how the courtyard’s treasure chest puzzle reappropriates a 64 staple but improves upon it by fine-tuning the number of chests, their placements, and the unlocking pattern. Best of all is how Odyssey’s post-game revisits 64’s post-game by placing Yoshi on top of the castle — but this time he’s playable. All of these changes are minor but finely-tuned upgrades that also act as wish fulfillment for the series’ most devout fans.
Mushroom Kingdom is home to two new captures, Picture Match Part (Mario) and Yoshi.
Picture Match Part (Mario) is effectively identical to Picture Match Part (Goomba) from Cloud Kingdom and is thus a slow, boring capture for a slow, boring minigame. Yoshi, however, is much more interesting, allowing the player to flutter jump, stick on walls, and swallow fruit and enemies. He lacks the depth and diversity of Yoshi in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and is arguably the least empowering Yoshi in any mainline Mario game, but as one of fifty-two captures rather than a unique character with his own moveset and power-ups, he fits well into the course’s design, objectives, and nostalgia kick.
Mushroom Kingdom contains a total 104 power moo…stars, 61 of which are acquired by completing objectives for Toadette. Of the remaining 43 stars, 25 are effectively repeated from past kingdoms, 6 of which are more difficult versions of past boss fights. Of the remaining 18, 4 are in 2 stellar secret areas, 1 is a timer, 1 is note-taking, and 4 are simple stumble-upons. This leaves six course-specific stars — 3 earned by eating fruit strewn about the course as Yoshi, 1 earned in the aforementioned courtyard minigame, 1 earned by looking up at the sun in Peach’s Castle, and 1 earned by stomping tiles in Peach’s Castle.
Not many of these stars are completely unique or level-specific, but the reused ones get a bit of a pass because this is likely where most players will initial encounter them. As such, Mushroom Kingdom acts as a tutorial for the post-game content, and since repeated moons make up so much of the post-game content, it stands to reason Mushroom Kingdom would revolve around accessible and relatively easy versions of these stars — and it does. Meanwhile, Toadette’s objectives are basically Odyssey’s version of Xbox’s Achievements or PlayStation’s Trophies, asking the player to engage in secondary goals. While I enjoyed the additional star boost every time I visited Peach’s Castle, I never had to consult the objective list or change my play style because most of the objectives are easily reached while hundred-percenting the game. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity to not have some puzzly or funky targets, like lighting all the lights in Bonneton or assembling a tower of 20 Goombas.
As a whole, Mushroom Kingdom is among the strongest courses in the game due to its unforgettable setting, plentiful fan service, and perfect post-game atmosphere. Although more course-specific stars, interesting Toadette stars, and specialized Yoshi abilities could have been a major asset, the course admirably eases the player into the post-game while also transporting them back to 1996.