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 fourth or fifth course — Lake Kingdom.
Lake Kingdom is a gorgeous, mystical water-themed kingdom populated with sequined Gumby-like mermaids called Lochladies. While the domed water plaza recalls ancient Greek architecture, the Loch Ness Monster-like Dorrie and Lochladies appear related to Scotland, and the name Lake Lamode seems to reference the French phrase for fashionable. But from wherever in Europe Lake Kingdom takes its cues, it is tranquilly and thoroughly alluring. In its smallish stature and minimal variety, Lake Kingdom feels more like one unified region than a collection of sharply defined regions like those in the Sand Kingdom. That’s not a problem, though, because its calm waters prove a sure and steady quarter-game respite.
After completing Sand Kingdom, the player can choose to visit either Lake Kingdom or Wooded Kingdom next. Given the openness of past 3D Mario games, a dual-pronged branching path feels like a step backwards, but perhaps this is better than no choice at all. I chose to cover Lake Kingdom next because I feel playing Wooded Kingdom back-to-back with Sand Kingdom is overwhelming while placing Lake Kingdom splits up the colossi and smooths the pacing. Regardless of course order, Cappy alerts Mario of the Lochlady Dress on the way to Lake Kingdom and on upon arrival (surprise, surprise) discovers the Broodals over the lake and the Lochlady dress has gone missing, After traversing the course, Mario battles a typically so-so Broodal named Rango and, after collecting the requisite eight moons, can continue to the next kingdom.
Lake Kingdom is primarily about one thing, and that’s the lake that comprises the majority of the course. While water levels are conventionally acknowledged as low points in most games, Lake Kingdom mostly gets it right. Granted, swimming as Mario is shockingly clunky and disempowering. His basic doggy paddle is slow, the camera can be cumbersome, and the breaststroke is not nearly as intuitive as it was in past titles. Thankfully, this strange downgrade is made up for by the intuitive Cheep Cheep capture that transforms Mario’s underwater self from his worst to his best. Best of all, swimming around Lake Lamode is an understated sensory marvel, with just the right amount of glisten, sparkle, and coloration to make the water feel pristine and majestic. The only downside is how this glisten can sometimes interfere with detection of certain zippers and power moons, such as “From the Broken Pillar.” Though Dorrie is sparsely integrated and parts of the level are perhaps overly simplistic, Lake Kingdom manages to translate and enliven the aqueous awe of Jolly Roger Bay and Dire, Dire Docks.
Another defining feature of Lake Kingdom is its elegance (after all, the name for Lake Kingdom in the Dutch version is Elegantis — a portmanteau of elegance and Atlantis). Part of this elegance comes across aesthetically in how the blue-ish sandstone evokes a sense of classicism that matches the Greek architecture or in how well the level’s minimalist soundtrack pairs with the gameplay’s placidity. But elegance also lies at the leisurely-but-conscientious core of Lake Kingdom’s design. Consider how water in the water plaza is used to aid traversal or how the long descent down to Captain Toad is simultaneously contemplative and uneasy, somehow channeling the heartfelt ladder climb of Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, or how the moon “Super Secret Zipper” has the player unzip a small patch to drift down through the clouds to a moon. These moments might seem simplistic, but they are also smooth, majestic, and serene in their simplicity. And somehow they’re not remotely undermined by the stage’s shocking resemblance to Liberace’s sea monkey aquarium. They’re as elegant as the Dutch profess.
Captures in Lake Kingdom consist of the zipper, Cheep Cheep, Lakitu, puzzle part, and Goomba, though the first two are the most central. Like Cap Kingdom’s fog, the zipper allows collectibles and secret areas to be hidden in plain sight, optimizing the course’s small but walled spaces. It echoes the fabric motifs of Yoshi’s Wooly World and Kirby’s Epic Yarn and is one of the few ways in which the Lake Kingdom’s sense of fashion manifests.
Meanwhile, Cheep Cheep allow for snappy underwater movement that makes up for Mario’s subpar swimming mechanics. They are one of the most empowering and ergonomic captures in Odyssey and are thankfully abundant in most of the game’s water sections. It’s also worth noting that although Lakitu is implemented less interestingly here than in Sand Kingdom, the fishing mechanic suffices. Perhaps it’s not optimal Lakitu contextualization, but it suits the level’s lackadaisical atmosphere. Finally, the puzzle part capture feels like another artificial boost to the total number of captures, but it still goes a step beyond Sand Kingdom’s cactus and several later captures.
Lake Kingdom contains a total of 42 moons, 26 of which are available on the first visit, another is in a future kingdom’s painting, 6 more are unlocked after defeating Bowser, with another 9 after busting the moon rock. Of the 26 available on the first visit, many are not unlocked until after brawling with Rango. While some of Sand Kingdom’s moons were similarly gated by progress through the stage, there was also a narrative justification for it lacking in Lake Kingdom. These staggered moon unlocks carry the same benefits and drawbacks as usual, but the stage’s below-average size and facile navigability minimize the pain of having to re-investigate every nook and cranny.
A further breakdown shows the 42 moon total is comprised of 1 narrative moon, 9 simple stumble-upons, 9 more elaborate stumble-upons, 16 very similar to moons in other kingdoms, and 7 in secret rooms. With essentially none feeling very unique to the kingdom outside of the secret rooms and possibly dressing up three times for Lochlady fashionistas, it’s a lackluster collection. Still, most of the secret rooms are good or even great, and tidy level design ensures no moon is overly frustrating. Unfortunately, the pathetic puzzle piece capture room is a low point that embodies the game’s recurring problem of stripping the player of meaningful choice only to give them the semblance of something more than randomness. On a similar note, many versions of reused moons (such as the sparkling bird, Goomba romance, and hidden Peach) feel even less inspired than usual. On top of this, some post-game moons (such as the one that spawns across from Captain Toad), feel flat-out lazy. The water’s lovely but incessant sparkling can also make a couple of zippers and glowing moons tough to spot.
While a second, more deliberate playthrough changed my opinion of Sand Kingdom for the better, Lake Kingdom remains a personal favorite. Admittedly, sections of it are slightly bland or overly simplistic and it could use another area or two. Additionally, many of its moons are under-inspired and few feel unique to Lake Lamode. However, Lake Kingdom still establishes a strong sense of place through its elegance and water-based gameplay. Little touches like glistening water effects and rainbow schools of fish go a long way toward making Lake Kingdom feel like an easygoing mid-size palette cleanser between the more urgent and imposing Sand Kingdom and Wooden Kingdom. It’s a slow-burning and steadily-dazzling kingdom that marks a graceful high point.