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 twelfth course — Ruined Kingdom.
En route to Bowser’s Kingdom, Mario and Cappy feel the Odyssey rumble. Upon stepping outside, they encounter Bowser riding a giant purple dragon. After Bowser mutters his typical spiel, the dragon fires purple lightning at the Odyssey, causing it to crash land in Ruined Kingdom. Needing three power moons to repair the Odyssey, Mario climbs some steps and travels to a boss arena as a spark pylon, where he engages in a tense boss battle with the dragon. After besting the dragon, Mario earns the course’s Multi Moon, which he can use to repair the Odyssey to complete the journey to Bowser’s Kingdom.
Ruined Kingdom might be in ruins, but its stormy skies, gothic architecture, and grim ambience are wholly developed. In its eroding castle and ghastly dragon, it feels more like Demon’s Soul’s Boletaria than a Mario level. Meanwhile, the colony of bats flying overhead and the dilapidated tower that looks like the bat signal seem an homage to the Dark Knight, Christopher Nolan’s trilogy in particular. The downside is that Ruined Kingdom is comprised of only two platforms — the Odyssey’s landing strip and the boss arena. Still, the miniature course succeeds on striking a memorable mood while also spiritually preceding the upcoming Bowser’s Kingdom, which also has the player ride as a Spark Pylon (Ruined Kingdom’s only capture) from region to region.
If Ruined Kingdom is concerned with one thing, it’s atmosphere. Though Ruined Kingdom is like Cloud Kingdom in simplicity, brevity, and just housing a boss, it also feels much more like a tangible place whose architecture feels like it has a story to tell. From its dark color palette to its ominous backdrop, to its acutely expressive dragon, Ruined Kingdom aims to evoke a specific mood through tiny details that coalesce to form a sum bigger than its parts. That said, it is a bit of a bummer that some of these details aren’t featured more prominently. The bats circling overhead, for example, could have been cleverly integrated into a moon, but they remain a part of the background.
A total of ten moons populate Ruined Kingdom, with 1 earned through the narrative, 4 in secret areas, 3 by stumbling upon them, 1 by finding Peach, and 1 by kicking a rolling rock around for way longer than you’d expect. Even though five of them are basically stumble-upons, most are really well-hidden, and that troll of a rock at least makes its moon feel deserved. Meanwhile, the 2 secret areas housing 4 moons are both pretty great. Though only loosely linked to the kingdom in art or theme, they are unique challenges well-placed at this point in the game in terms of difficulty. Of course, these ten moons probably take most players less than fifteen minutes to acquire, but they are surprisingly enjoyable for such a barebones course.
Overall, Ruined Kingdom is surprisingly memorable given its tiny stature. Little more than a boss arena at heart, its strong tone and atmosphere craft an equally strong identity. And though there is little for the player to engage in, almost all of its admittedly measly ten moons seem deliberately placed and considered. Though it can’t measure up to fully-fledged kingdoms, Ruined Kingdom does as much with two small platforms as one could reasonably expect.