17. Dark Side

A lot of people would place Darker Side at the bottom on the grounds that the name ‘Darker Side’ is stupid and that it’s pretty underwhelming for the game’s final kingdom. A lot of people would be wrong, however, because as lame as Darker Side may be, it at least has some original content to offer.

The Dark Side is a joke. You arrive there only to find a small bit of land consisting of reused assets from the Moon Kingdom, populated by generic rabbits and filled with oversized polygonal fruit ripped straight from the Luncheon Kingdom along with a tower wherein you can fight slightly harder versions of the game’s worst bosses back-to-back-to-back-to-back as you ascend to the top, where you get a rematch against what is possibly the game’s boss, except made mind-numbingly easy due to the implementation of a Hammer Bro capture mechanic. And they didn’t include a Madame Broode rematch!

The rest of the content is even more of a joke. There’s a bunch of hint art strewn haphazardly about the place to pad out the Kingdom’s moon count as well as portals into platforming segments THAT YOU’VE ALREADY DONE BEFORE. They try to justify it by removing Cappy from the equation, thus upping the difficulty, but spoiler alert: it isn’t justified.

The only worthwhile functions it could conceivably have is to allow for Broodal rematches and to give the player the instant gratification of a new Kingdom for completing the game, but it’s utterly pointless on both fronts! The Broodal rematches could have easily been incorporated into the Moon Kingdom. Or even the Mushroom Kingdom, where the rest of the game’s boss rematches take place.  And that actually transitions nicely into addressing that second point: the Mushroom Kingdom is the reward for completing the story, and a far better one than Dark Side could ever hope to be. You do get a king-themed costume for completing it, but the design is ruined on account of how dumb the pants look. Dark Side truly is pointless.

…Is the tower supposed to be shaped like a carrot?

16. Darker Side

As I mentioned previously, this Kingdom has two large and immediate negatives dragging it down: the concept of a “Darker Side” is idiotic to begin with and screams of padding, and the fact that THIS is the final Kingdom to unlock is very underwhelming. Some other points of criticism are that, like Dark Side, it reuses assets, and not just from the Moon Kingdom: New Donk City Hall is given a moon variant.

Though credit where credit is due, you do get a bit of touching dialogue with Cappy on the climb up. And the inclusion of all the NPCs as well as Pauline singing Jump Up, Superstar! does at least make the level feel a LITTLE special, which is more than I can say for Dark Side. Plus it’s free of all those nasty filler Moons Dark Side had, opting to tastefully have only one Power Moon.

But the big distinguishing factor that puts this over Dark Side is the fact that there’s actually original content; they put you through a platforming marathon that serves as the game’s most difficult section. It isn’t great, but at least it’s something. And you get the Invisible Cap upon completion, which I imagine would count as one of the coolest unlockable costumes in the game.

Ultimately what would have been best would be to incorporate the Dark Side we got into the Moon Kingdom and let Darker Side be the Dark Side. And maybe change it so that the Mushroom Kingdom is the reward for 500 Power Moons.

Plus Dorrie’s in it, so it can’t be ALL bad, right?

15. Cloud Kingdom

This one’s definitely the worst of the unique Kingdoms, but hey, it’s still unique. Not being comprised of reused assets is enough to put it over the last two Kingdoms.

Ruined Kingdom gets all the glory as the glorified boss arena that was cheated out of being a proper Kingdom, but I think that Cloud Kingdom was a huge missed opportunity as well! We haven’t had a fleshed out cloud-themed level outside of 2D Mario; I’d be curious to see what creative level design they could come up with! And even though it’s tiny, what’s there still looks absolutely gorgeous. And having the phases of the Moon incorporated into the boss arena was a nice touch. I actually quite like the Cloud Kingdom for a mere boss arena.

But the fact remains that it’s a mere boss arena so it’s got to rank low.

I’ve heard criticisms that it doesn’t employ a unique art style. I say pshaw, it looks absolutely incredible.

14. Moon Kingdom

I’d say that I was pretty underwhelmed with the Moon. They didn’t do very much with it; it’s a fairly generic environment. White lunar rock with craters, as you’d expect. The only interesting thing about it is that there’s a wedding chapel in the distance, complete with ringing bells that helps improve the atmosphere, but it’s still a fairly unremarkable level design on the whole. Just a bunch of empty space. There is a platforming section that leads up to the chapel, though it’s not especially remarkable.

Ultimately what makes this Kingdom notable is that it’s the setting for the game’s ending, which in my view is kind of a mixed bag. The final boss fight was extremely underwhelming, having just been a slightly harder version of the fight against Bowser that you already had in the Cloud Kingdom. I can’t stand the tendency of these games to have you fight Bowser(usually twice) before the final encounter, which is just a rehash of the fight(s) you’ve already had. The game DOES, HOWEVER, help rectify this by including an awesome ending sequence that allows you to Smash through the Moon as Bowser, with Princess Peach in tow. Factoring the good and the bad together I’d say the ending’s decent.

In the end what you’re left with is a Kingdom that can’t really hold its own independent of the game’s ending sequence, so for that it’s the worst of the legitimate Kingdoms(those that are big enough to include purple coins).

You know, having the final boss fight take place in some random underground arena instead of the wedding hall was a horrible decision, both aesthetically and thematically.

13. Snow Kingdom

And now we’ve reached the last of the “bad” Kingdoms.

The Snow Kingdom has problems. The aboveground section is just plain bland. There’s nothing special about it. It’s just checking off all the boxes for a snow level: slippery ice and freezing water. That’s about it. There isn’t much to explore. The underground village of Shiveria has a bit more charm to it aesthetically, but it’s still tiny and lacking in content. The Shiverians are passable residents, though nothing more. And there simply isn’t much to do except for Bound Bowl Racing, which is one of the more irritating minigames to come out of a 3D Mario. And you have to complete four different versions, each harder than the last, if you aim to collect all of the Power Moons.

The only positive thing I can say about the place is that it at least has the decency to be tiny and short on content. Rather than bloating itself and being an unfun large kingdom, it serves as an unfun small Kingdom that’s easily moved on from and forgotten.

Super Mario 64’s snow levels were better designed than this.

12. Ruined Kingdom

Consider this the checkpoint for “good” Odyssey Kingdoms.

The first thing you notice about the Ruined Kingdom is how incredibly out of place it is as a setting for a Mario game; even in a Mario game that prides itself on being odd. The Kingdom consists of crumbling gothic ruins with swords stuck into the ground as some sort of sealing mechanism. Claw marks are visible along the stone. Bats are flying about in the distance. The art style gives everything a darker tone that contrasts starkly with the brightness of the rest of the Kingdoms. It looks like something straight out of Dark Souls, and this is only driven further when you confront the Lord of Lightning: a massive, realistic-looking dragon. All of this left a great impression, and though the Kingdom has its problems, it’s enough to let the Ruined Kingdom rank this highly despite being woefully underdeveloped.

In the end that’s what holds the Kingdom back: it’s underdeveloped. It’s like the Cloud Kingdom in that it’s just a glorified boss arena. This would have made for a fantastic Kingdom to hunt down a whole set of purple coins and Power Moons in, but alas. The boss fight is also somewhat disappointing in how unambitious it is, but it’s not enough to keep one from being in awe of what you’re fighting.

Such a wasted opportunity. Fingers crossed for a DLC expansion, or a Mario Kart track, or SOMETHING. ANYTHING. Just bring it back!

11. Cascade Kingdom

The moment you first land at this Kingdom, and that glorious music starts playing as your eyes take in the gorgeous environment… a lot of players teared up at that moment, when they realized that they were finally getting a true 3D Mario game again. I may not have been one of those players myself, but I came close. Between the gorgeous visuals, breathtaking music, and Chain Chomp captures(especially in the Madame Broode boss fight), this Kingdom leaves a great first impression.

Unfortunately, however, it’s not a lasting impression. Once you move on and experience the rest of what the game has to offer, the Cascade Kingdom looks pretty plain in comparison. There aren’t many Power Moons to collect, and it doesn’t have the wackiness that other Kingdoms possess. It’s just a green level with minimal dinosaur theming. And speaking of… the Tyrannosaurus Rex is a pretty mediocre capture. It’s just a glorified Mega Mushroom; you don’t do anything with it but Smash rocks and steamroll enemies. And the boss fight with Madame Broode, while fun, is something of a Big-Lipped Alligator moment: Madame Broode is so disconnected from the game’s plot that I wonder why they didn’t cut her.

While in the end I’d say I look favorably on the Cascade Kingdom, it really could have used a greater degree of creativity to help keep it impressive even after having explored the other Kingdoms.

It’s strange to think that this level sticks out more for having Chain Chomps than for the dinosaur.

10. Seaside Kingdom

You know what this Kingdom’s problem is? It’s too big for its own good. There’s far too much empty space, both above and below water, to justify this Kingdom’s size. In addition to this, a lot of the Moons feel thrown about just for the sake of padding; while all Kingdoms exhibit this to some extent, it’s most prevalent here. This could easily have been a small, vertical kingdom rather than what we got: a few small islands with a bunch of water between them. Oh, and the Bubblainians are far and away the least creative race that Odyssey introduces. They’re just talking Snails. We already had Nokis for that.

On a more positive note, the Kingdom does look gorgeous, and I like the concept of having a sea with carbonated sparkle water. The return of those horrifying eels from Super Mario 64 was a fun surprise. And the boss battle is one of the best in the game, and even incorporates the Gushen, which is one of the best captures in the game. Gives off some serious Sunshine vibes, and I love it. Oh, and there are TWO different Dorries here that each function as a Crazy Cap store. So it has that going for it.

While it’s far from the best Kingdom, it’s not without its good points, so I can’t be too harsh on it.

You could easily condense all these land masses into one larger island.

9. Cap Kingdom

It’s like they let Tim Burton take the reins in designing this Kingdom. I adore the black and grey color scheme. I adore the fog shrouding much of the level and lending itself to the eerie atmosphere. I love the massive, yellow moon eerily watching over the landscape. And I love all of the fun hat-based imagery found throughout the place. And the best part is that this is the FIRST LEVEL. Ordinarily first levels play it safe by having green, grassy environments: the blandest level design imaginable. But not Odyssey. Odyssey decides to throw you straight into an environment unlike anything seen in a Mario game prior. It’s glorious.

Despite all that, it does carry with it some hefty flaws that naturally come with being a tutorial level. The biggest problem is that there simply isn’t much to do; even after coming back to collect the Power Moons after the tutorial segment, you won’t find a lot of content. You’ve seen everything already. I’d also say that the frog and Paragoomba aren’t the best introductory captures. The frog isn’t a ton of fun to control with its slow, floaty movements, and having to scrape through the fog as a Paragoomba in search of Moons got tiresome fast, especially when you had to go out of your way to find a chunk of the mainland low enough to climb on.

All in all a neat tutorial level, and while content-wise it’s not a great level to return to, it still manages to impress with its creative environment, unlike, say, the Cascade Kingdom.

I am the shadow on the moon at night, filling your dreams to the brim with fright! – Oogie Boogie

8. Luncheon Kingdom

This one has some serious problems. Despite being an allegedly large Kingdom, over half of it is just lava: empty space. And while it certainly looks unique, all of that pink can get grating, and I can’t say that I’m a fan of the polygonal style; it may be an artistic choice, but it’s one that fails to impress from a technical standpoint, which is unfortunate.

Still, I can’t help but appreciate the Luncheon Kingdom for how far it goes in making you forget that it’s a lava level. It has all the features you’d expect: covered in boiling liquid, a giant volcano that must be scaled, percussion-heavy music… but I still think of it more as the food level than the lava level, and I love that. The Volbonans are also one of the game’s more memorable races, and the Power Moons don’t feel like they’re randomly thrown in to justify the size, as was the case in Seaside Kingdom. And while the boss isn’t one of Odyssey’s strongest, there’s something neat about climbing up Cookatiel’s vomit as a Lava Bubble. And capturing the giant slab of meat to get the bird’s attention was a great moment.

All in all it’s a strong Kingdom, even if I wouldn’t count it among the game’s best.

All the vibrant colors successfully manage to distract you from the reality that it’s a lava level.

7. Lake Kingdom

Prior to the game’s release I thought that the Lake Kingdom looked uninteresting and that Seaside would be the game’s better water level. Turns out I was completely wrong.

The Lake Kingdom is incredible. Visually it’s spectacular; the water and lighting effects are as breathtaking as staying underwater for too long; seeing the way the light floats over the main dome like a wedding dress was just exquisite. The music, while nothing memorable, is very relaxing and sets the tone for the place perfectly. While some might consider the small size a flaw, I say the opposite: this Kingdom doesn’t need to be any larger, and unlike the Seaside Kingdom, it knows that. It has the perfect amount of Power Moons; there’s little padding to be found here. While at first the level seemed lacking that “odd” quality, the placement of interactive zippers all about the Kingdom really pulled(heh) it all together. And the Lochladies are definitely one of the better races in the game.

There’s really only one complaint I have about the Kingdom. The issue I have is that there’s no standout enemy to capture like the Gushen. It’s not a huge deal, but considering that the only other small Kingdom left has such a thing, it’s enough to distinguish said Kingdom as superior.

Dorrie’s here, too. So, you know. That’s awesome.

6. Bowser’s Kingdom

When I first played through this Kingdom I was convinced that this would be in my top three for sure. Now it barely squeezed into the top six.

Let’s get the obvious good out of the way. The Japanese theming is an original twist on Bowser’s Castle, and the environment is every bit as gorgeous as could be expected. Whether it’s the Japanese architecture, the paper lanterns, the music, the fireworks, or the gorgeous, multi-colored sky, this Kingdom goes as far as it could in shoving its unique aesthetic in the player’s face, and I love it. And the BOSS. OH, THE BOSS. Robobrood is not only the best boss in the game, but quite possibly the best Mario boss ever, and with one of the best boss battle themes to boot. And the Pokio? Best capture in the game.

Given all of this, you’d think this Kingdom would be near or at the top spot on this list. But there’s a major flaw that I have with Bowser’s Kingdom: it’s linear. While the rest of the Kingdoms are quite open, this one has you moving from platform to platform, from point A to B, in order to reach the end. I understand that it’s supposed to be an obstacle course of sorts, and I was able to overlook it when first running through, but upon my return to collect all of the Power Moons and Purple Coins, I found traversing the level more of an annoyance than anything. Bowser’s Kingdom more or less plays out like a Super Mario 3D World level, and that style does not mesh well with the collectathon structure of Super Mario Odyssey; finding the collectibles was just a pain. I would’ve had less of an issue if this were treated as a small Kingdom, but it’s got a full amount of Purple Coins and Power Moons when it does NOT need to.

It’s still a great level that was immensely enjoyable to play through the first time around, but the sour taste it left in my mouth afterwards is enough to keep it from getting any higher.

I feel as if half the Purple Coins were just thrown on the roof shingles. Didn’t need more than 50.

5. Sand Kingdom

Despite technically being a really good Kingdom, I can’t say that I’m a very big fan of it. Part of me wants to put it a few spots lower, but this is really the lowest I can place it while maintaining some semblance of objectivity.

As usual, we’ll cover the positives first. It’s absolutely packed with content; it has the most Power Moons of any Kingdom(Toadette’s Mushroom Kingdom padding notwithstanding), and the proportion of Moons that feel like pure filler is actually a lot lower than I expected. The Tostarenans are one of the better races. There are some nice captures to be had between the Bullet Bills and Moe-Eyes(I just got the pun while writing that). The story content, while not long, does feel longer than most of the other Kingdoms. And, of course, it provides the Jaxi, which is method of transportation for getting around the desert.

Although that’s actually one of the problems with the Sand Kingdom: there’s so much empty space containing nothing but sand that providing a Jaxi as a way of traversing the area quickly was needed. It’s probably the largest Kingdom in the game, but it doesn’t feel like it’s earned. The level consists of a few landmarks that have content: the town, the oasis, the pyramid, the ruins, the wastes… and then a whole lot of nothingness. I get that they wanted to make the desert look expansive, but they really could have stood to fill it with a bit more content. And it doesn’t help that the music is… bleh.

But that’s not even the main issue I have with it. What really bothers me about the Sand Kingdom is that it’s so uncreative in its theming. It’s just a generic desert level. What about it is “odd”? The only thing I can think of is the juxtaposed desert and ice theming, but you know what? They don’t do very much with the ice. It doesn’t affect the overworld except for having a little bit of ice strewn about to block access to certain Purple Coins and Moons until you complete the plot. The boss(one of the weakest in the game) and its underground lair are ice-themed, but that’s confined to a disconnected section of the level. And the whole hot/cold shtick is tied directly to the conflict created by Bowser, so once you complete the area’s plot everything goes back to normal and there’s absolutely nothing uniqu3\e about the place whatsoever. It’s just a desert level. Probably the most normal area in the game, and that’s a huge negative given this game’s theme of having strange worlds.

Again, I can’t fault it too much, as it IS technically a very solid level; one of the best in the game. But it just doesn’t feel like it has the same level of creativity put into it as the others.

The village is the best thing about the place. I wish they’d filled up some of that empty space by making it larger.

4. Mushroom Kingdom

From what I’d heard about this Kingdom, everybody thought it was great because of how much it tickled the nostalgia heartstrings. And as somebody whose first console game was Super Mario Sunshine, I’d say I’m fairly immune to the nostalgic fumes emanating from Peach’s Castle. Turns out that is actually a great level in its own right, independent of all the Super Mario 64 warm fuzzies it tries to give you.

This level is just damned fun to explore. It looks gorgeous, the music is great, there’s quite a few little tidbits thrown in that weren’t present in the castle grounds of Super Mario 64… one addition I particularly enjoyed was the Goomba Woods. What a fun little touch. There are also different buildings scattered about the place that house boss rematches: for the most part, these are vastly superior versions of the game’s bosses that really help make up for the lack of difficulty in the fights prior. And, of course, there’s the ability to capture Yoshi, which is what really makes this Kingdom stick out. It’s such an insanely fun capture ability(LOVE the way you can ascend walls with his tongue), and it shows a lot of restraint that they confined it to the Mushroom Kingdom(and Darker Side, I guess) rather than stuffing Yoshi all throughout the game. And even though I’m not letting nostalgia factor in, there really are a lot of great homages to 64, and I imagine those who grew up with the game would rank it even higher.

It’s got a few issues, though. The inside of Peach’s Castle is just… neutered. It’s a single room with not a lot to do in it. It would have been nice to have been able to explore the castle in its full glory, even without the paintings. And the whole Toadette thing is just a pain in the arse. It’s the epitome of filler Power Moons; she essentially doles out Power Moon after Power Moon for fulfilling a bunch of achievements; what this essentially means is that you’ll end up sitting there talking to her over and over for quite some time, slowly taking Power Moon after Power Moon from her. It’s not a huge deal, but it’s a definite annoyance. A smaller issue that also merits mentioning is how horrible an idea it was to include one of the sheep herding minigames here… I don’t want to herd six different sheep all across this expanse. Ah well.

All in all it’s a great Kingdom that might have cracked the top three if it weren’t for the aforementioned flaws.

Dorrie is actually in the lake there, blocked from view by that tree.

3. Lost Kingdom

And here we have the absolute best small Kingdom that Odyssey has to offer.

The Lost Kingdom is without flaw. It’s hard to think of criticisms. It looks great with its unique art style and color scheme, the music fits perfectly, the Power Moons don’t feel padded, it has a fantastic unique capture in the Tropical Wiggler, the segments with having to save Cappy are a nice touch… there’s really nothing wrong with it. You might try to say that its lack of a unique race is a flaw, but I’d say that just fits in with the theming.

The only thing that keeps it down at the third spot is its size: larger Kingdoms carry with them a more impressive sense of scale as well as certain features like boss battles that the smaller Kingdoms just inherently lack. It’s not really something to be held against the Lost Kingdom; it’s as good as it could possibly be for its size, and it definitely earns its spot in the top three Odyssey Kingdoms.

It simultaneously gives off Paper Mario and Double Dash vibes. I have a soft spot for that.

2. Metro Kingdom

And here we are. New Donk City. Odyssey’s most iconic Kingdom and surely the one that will end up getting to be a Mario Kart track and a Smash stage. And I can see why: it lives up to being a fantastic level, as advertised.

The Metro Kingdom has a lot to gush about. The story content in this level is the best of any Kingdom in the game. When you first arrive there’s a thunderstorm and the city is in chaos, with the residents having been booted out by Bowser’s minions. After traversing through the wrecked city and ascending New Donk City hall you fight Mecha Wiggler. The city goes back to normal and you must now gather musicians for a festival and activate the city’s underground power plant. Upon completing this you get to play a game of Donkey Kong, jumping along the neon signs that rest atop the city’s skyscrapers, all while Pauline sings Jump Up, Superstar! The festival sequence is probably the highlight of Odyssey, and it nearly brought a tear to my eye. The level design itself is pretty nice, with a focus on verticality to an extent that can’t be found in any other Kingdom. The New Donkers are realistic-looking and thus seem totally out of place, and I love it. The music, while not great, fits the “big city” feel. There are neon signs referencing the classic Donkey Kong game and street signs referencing various Donkey Kong Country characters. There are some fantastic platforming segments. Jumping across skyscrapers is a blast! And there’s a motor scooter! I could go on, but you get the drift. The place is a giant playground, and it’s glorious.

It has problems, though. A good deal of the Power Moons do feel like padding, whether they’re just laying out in the open or acquired through a retread of Sand Kingdom’s lottery game. And, of course, there’s the Moon that can only be acquired through performing 100 consecutive jumps in the jump rope minigame. This minigame has undoubtedly caused many a player to throw down their controller in frustration; it’s not fun, it’s a massively time-consuming bore, and Nintendo really should have known better than to think people would want to go through that nightmare. Luckily, you can make it a good deal easier by jumping using the motorscooter, but there’s nothing in the game that suggests you should do that; most would never think of doing it. I certainly wouldn’t have, if not for having been told to so on the Internet. And despite the appeal of having a city environment in a Mario game, it does feel slightly lacking. Like they could have done something to make it a little bit crazier…

Ah well. Even with its flaws it’s still a glorious level, second to only one other Kingdom in the game.

Wooded Kingdom doesn’t have any horrible minigames that nobody asked for, so…

1. Wooded Kingdom

When I saw the trailer footage for this kingdom, I think I’d care for the Kingdom. Turns out it’s my favorite. Life is funny like that.

This Kingdom is just fantastic. I love the dual theming of nature and machinery. The second you cross from the woods into the industrial segment and that sweet music with the guitar riffs and organ starts up… it’s wonderful. The Kingdom has the perfect blend of verticality and width in terms of its space. The NPCs are the best in the game, more often than not delivering lines that will at least elicit an amused smirk. The Uproot and Sherm are introduced here, and they’re some of the best captures in the game. The Power Moons are plentiful and rarely feel like padding. The boss, while easy, is one of the game’s best. And the moment when you fall off the edge of the level, anticipating a loss of coins, only to realize that you’re actually falling into a whole separate area called the Deep Woods… it’s beautiful.

There aren’t really any flaws. This Kingdom’s perfect. A friend pointed out that it feels very GameCube-y; there are Pikmin, Sunshine, and Chibi-Robo vibes to be had. And I think that’s a pretty good way of describing the Kingdom. The Wooded Kingdom really resonated with me, and it’s worthy of being considered the absolute best Kingdom Odyssey has to offer.

I hope these guys become the new Piantas and start making regular appearances outside of Odyssey. I want one in Mario Kart!