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 seventeenth and final course — Darker Side.
Darker Side is, like Dark Side, a Moon Kingdom spin-off primarily focused on non-lunar challenge. It is similarly comprised of a handful of platforms surrounded by a sea of darkness, though Darker Side’s are taller. Near the start, Mario encounters numerous residents from past kingdoms, all there to cheer him on. Why? Who cares?! This isn’t about feasibility, but (as Culmina Crater’s name suggests) about no-holes-barred culmination. It’s about gathering together all the disparate pieces of past courses, characters, and objectives into a single symbolic grand farewell. And it’s that grand farewell that constitutes the bulk of the course.
From start to finish, Mario captures a Frog to access a pipe, captures Goombas to beat Yoofoe, climbs, wall jumps, and swings across sinking poles, long jumps across platforms rushing through lava, platforms as a Lava Bubble, platforms as an Uproot, swims through freezing waters, scales a vertical conveyor belt using Yoshi’s tongue, follows a path of blossoming flowers, answers Sphynx questions, climbs without Cappy up a changing wall, glides past mosquitos as Glydon, flings himself across lava as several Volbonans, guards against Burrbos on a moving platform, hops from swinging platform to swinging platforms as Pokio, defeats Donkey Kong in 2D, and runs through a gauntlet of spike balls as Bowser. Once safe, he can spell out THANK YOU as a Spark Pylon, hop to the top of a pale Metro Kingdom’s City Hall as a Frog, and scale the pole at the top to finally reach the Multi Moon. On the climb up, Cappy recounts the scale and emotional value of their journey together, and the game is basically over.
Darker Side’s main thoroughfare runs the platforming and capture gamut, and most of it works really well. That said, some sections, such as jumping from hole-to-hole as a Lava Bubble and defending yourself from Burrbos on a moving platforms can be aggravating because they artificially slow the player down while also leaving them disempowered and subject to finicky controls. This is especially true of playing the game in handheld mode, which can dramatically increase difficulty by disincentivizing helpful motion-based moves such as the homing cap. It should be also noted that the course does a fantastic job incorporating a wide array of captures and types of movement, but that the reused or sterile backdrops detract from a sense of meaningful traversal central to a game-summarizing gauntlet run, especially in a game so focused on travel.
Finally, although this section integrates a wide array of platforming, the diversity of movement required here underscores how little platforming the game as a whole has mandated, as players will find themselves reverting back to movements they may have only used once or twice along their journey, such as the pole-swinging nearly exclusive to underground or secret areas in Metro Kingdom. But this is a general complaint about the game rather than about this course. Indeed, I wish the game would have demanded more frequent use of these moves throughout the journey so that playing through this section felt more like a proper retrospective than a novelty. But these fairly minor quibbles aside, Darker Side is a suitably zany and mishmashed finish to a game defined by its idiosyncrasies.
On the whole, Darker Side is really just one tough, lengthy, celebratory challenge meant to act as a summarizing capstone to all that came before. For the most part it succeeds, and most of the ways it doesn’t succeed signal Odyssey’s flaws rather than just this course’s. As the most final of final courses, it might not be quite as tough as Grandmaster Galaxy from Super Mario Galaxy 2 or Champion’s Road from Super Mario 3D World, but it does an equally fine job of funneling the game’s spirit into one last hurrah.
Check out analyses of other Super Mario Odyssey courses here.