WARNING: There are definitely Super Mario Odyssey spoilers in this top 10 list, including a very late game kingdom spoiled right away, so you probably shouldn’t read any further if you are worried about spoilers.
I’m serious. Get out of here if you don’t want stuff in this game to be spoiled.
Everyone who didn’t leave, welcome! Here are my top 10 kingdoms in one of the biggest games of the year, Super Mario Odyssey.
Anyone who has read my review of Super Mario Odyssey will know that although I really loved the game, I was a bit saddened by the lack of many long, straight-forward, challenging platforming segments. In keeping with Nintendo’s recent trend of having one final hardcore area at the end of their 3D Mario games, Culmina Crater is a long, straight-forward, and challenging (though not quite as much as the last challenges in other recent 3D Mario games) area, which made it a great capstone to the game, while giving me a small taste of the Galaxy style focused platforming that I had been missing.
Lost Kingdom (Forgotten Isle)
It took awhile for the Forgotten Isle to grow on me, but it eventually did. It introduces one of the most unique captures in the Tropical Wiggler, a Wiggler variation that can stretch out long and curl around to help navigate yourself to new platforms. Very fun to play around with. And like a lot of the smaller kingdoms, it packs a lot of content into a relatively small space, so there is always something to find around each little turn without getting fatigued. It also had one of my favorite “Koopa Freerunning” races, for whatever that is worth.
Bowser's Kingdom (Bowser's Castle)
Bowser’s Castle is certainly one of the most unique kingdoms in the game. In fact, it isn’t really a single castle so much as a series of floating islands (complete with several Japanese-style buildings) that eventually culminate in a castle. It adds some pretty neat stuff (the koi pond was very cool) and a novel (if at times frustrating to master) capture in Pokio, a bird whose long pointy nose can be used to stab enemies, stick into walls and fling yourself around. But it felt a bit too linear and disjointed to me, which limited the feel of exploration.
Mushroom Kingdom (Peach's Castle)
It’s hard to explain my sheer sense of joy when I first entered this kingdom in an early-game way, getting a small glimpse of the entire kingdom sprawled out below, a tease of a kingdom that would leave me wanting more. This Super Mario 64-inspired kingdom flooded me with nostalgia, from seeing the castle to jumping into paintings to hearing Super Mario 64 music and effects to buying a costume that turned Mario into a blocky version of himself. The actual kingdom itself is pretty solid too, introducing Yoshi as a capture and containing some interesting challenges using his powers.
Sand Kingdom (Tostarena)
I have a feeling some people will be surprised this one wasn’t higher up on my list, but it often felt a bit too wide open for me, and it had a lot of moons that felt collect-a-thon-y. (Yes that is a word.) Still, it’s a great kingdom that appears as the first truly large and expansive kingdom in the game, introducing a variety of captures from old foes (Goomba, Bullet Bill) to new… friends? (Moe-Eye, Glydon) and more. It also has some truly memorable moments in the 2D pillar section and the inverted pyramid, and introduced a whole host of unique challenges behind doors, rockets and vines.
Snow Kingdom (Shiveria)
When I first stepped into this kingdom, I instantly disliked it. You’re in the middle of a blizzard and can’t really see much of anything, so I stumbled around not really enjoying myself much. However, you can get that blizzard cleared up relatively quickly, at which point it turns into a neat little space. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly why this kingdom clicked with me, but it feels like a well designed, tight kingdom where exploring leads you from one challenge to another without much down time. It also has a village section and some of the funnest mini-games in the game, including “Bound Bowl” racing, where you capture a character and use him to sneak into a racing league where you race around tracks against other racers by... bouncing. It’s just difficult enough to control to feel on the edge of unfair, but ultimately rewarding.
Cascade Kingdom (Fossil Falls)
Although the Cap Kingdom (Bonneton) was a nice start, it is really at the second kingdom, Fossil Falls, where Super Mario Odyssey began to truly feel special to me. For starters, it does something unexpected… it throws one of the biggest and baddest captures of the game at you, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, instead of holding it back for a later kingdom as I would have expected. Running around smashing things up as a T-Rex this early on was so rewarding. It’s also the kingdom where I really began to see what Super Mario Odyssey was exactly (I had avoided a lot of media on this game), just continually finding new and interesting little things to do beyond every turn, truly rewarding your desire to explore. Oh, and its stage music is one of the best songs in the entire game.
Wooded Kingdom (Steam Gardens)
While I enjoyed many of the kingdoms up to this point, Steam Gardens is the first one to really blow me away. It’s large, complex, and has tons of nooks and crannies that you won’t notice your first or second time running around it, including a whole “secret” area with 10 or 12 moons to find in it. It also introduces one of my favorite captures, “Uproot”, a plant-based creature that grows really tall and can do little hops. The music is… something else, in a good way, I think? There’s really just a lot of meaty gameplay here, both in the “overworld” and behind the doors, rockets, vines, etc. that contain the unique challenges.
Luncheon Kingdom (Mount Volbono)
With that said… I don’t know that I was truly satisfied with the kingdom size to quality content ratio in any stage as much as I was with Mount Volbono. While many kingdoms felt like they had too much space or not enough fun moons to collect, this is a medium sized kingdom just plain packed full of various challenges, including a lot of the best door / rocket / vine challenges in the entire game. But more than that, it does something that most of the kingdoms in Super Mario Odyssey don’t do particularly well, which is build a lot of serious platforming / challenge in the “overworld” of the kingdom itself. Just navigating through this kingdom was a joy, especially when it came time to climb all the way to the top of the volcano. As an added bonus, when the volcano erupts the entire kingdom changes and it feels fresh all over again. I could have used more stages like Mount Volbono in Super Mario Odyssey.
Metro Kingdom (New Donk City)
And then we come to New Donk City. I really believe that this is one of the greatest spaces ever built into a video game, period. Your introduction to the city starts off with a bang (literally), as you’re fighting off enemies using a tank capture on a stormy night, after which you have to scale the largest building in the city and fight a deadly boss. Once you get that cleared out of the way though, sun and daylight appear, and the city opens up into a huge and amazing place with tons of inhabitants, and all kinds of wild things to do. There are of course a lot of the typical platforming challenges that you find in doors, rockets and vines, but there are also a lot of unexpected things such as RC car racing and jump roping. And the “overworld” of the city itself is such a joy to navigate, not necessarily in the way that Volbono’s is (there aren’t any enemies and there is little real danger) but just using the simple joy of movement… running around, bouncing off cars, using poles to flick up buildings, long-jumping to the top of other buildings, and of course using the motor scooter to cruise around quickly (sometimes on top of buildings.) Speaking of the motor scooter, there is a lovely moment involving that and a T-Rex. There are also many nostalgic moments which I will not spoil here, including the culmination of the stage, the New Donk City Festival, which features something that every red-blooded Nintendo gamer is sure to have a wash of warm feelings over.
Well, that’s my list. For the curious, I’ll finish up the rankings here real quick...
#11. Seaside Kingdom (Bubblaine) #12. Moon Kingdom (Honeylune Ridge) #13. Cap Kingdom (Bonneton) #14. Lake Kingdom (Lake Lamode) #15. Dark Side (Rabbit Ridge) #16. Cloud Kingdom (Nimbus Arena) #17. Ruined Kingdom (Crumbleden)
As you can see I’m not a huge fan of water-based kingdoms, and though the cloud and ruined kingdoms had awesome themes, there just wasn’t much to do in them. Maybe they can come back as full-fledged kingdoms in the inevitable sequel?
What do you think of my list, agree or disagree? Let me know in the comments below!
Nice list! I'm not quite sure how I'd rank all of the Kingdoms yet, but I'd put the boss arenas (Ruined and Cloud) last, and my top five would probably be Mushroom, Luncheon, Bowser, Wooded and Metro in that order. Seems everyone puts New Donk at the top, for good reason.
EDIT: To elaborate, New Donk is a majestic, vertical playground and getting from point A to B is more fun in that stage than any other. There are so many ways to get around and it never feels slow, and the weirdness of it is something that feels distinctly "Odyssey" to me.