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 ninth or tenth course — Seaside Kingdom.
En route to Seaside Kingdom, Cappy describes the region’s carbonated sea and four giant fountains. After landing, Mario discovers those four fountains corked and a bearded, lava-crowned octopus guzzling sparkling water out of a massive goblet the fountains are supposed to feed into. To clear the kingdom, Mario must uncork the four fountains scattered around the course to trigger a spectacular boss battle where Mario must capture a Gushen to chase the boss and shoot water at his fiery head. After beating Mollusque-Lanceur, Mario earns the region’s Multi Moon and can head to the next kingdom after earning a total of ten moons.
Seaside Kingdom is comprised of a sizable sea and its beachfront, lightly French-infused by beret-wearing snail residents, the Bubblainians, and some French enemy names and mission titles. The sea itself varies in depth and architecture, crafting the largest and most intricate underwater section in the game by far. Unlike Lake Kingdom’s open lake, Seaside Kingdom’s sea is dotted with small islands, sea caves, and underwater sea arches that make for more nuanced design. The beach is far less complex, primarily focused on housing land-based challenges like planting seeds and playing volleyball. There is also a small ramp to the north with rolling spiked balls (which inspire some of the most impressive HD rumble effects in the game) that leads to a small overlook.
Seaside Kingdom’s primary focus is the vast sea comprising about three-quarters of the map. Given Lake Kingdom’s precedent, this heavy focus on underwater gameplay can feel slightly rehashed, though the beach and resort-y feel set it apart. This is one of the rare instances Odyssey double-dips on a theme, but the drastically different art, more intricate cavernous level design, and wonderful Gushen capture freshen up the experience. On the flipside, underwater movement in this larger sea can feel more laborious than in Lake Kingdom, since there are no new underwater captures that allow the player to move quicker than a Cheep Cheep. The underwater area also suffers from repetitious level and enemy design, making underwater traversal monotonous or disorienting.
Seaside Kingdom is Odyssey’s consolation prize for the fans crossing their fingers for an Isle Delfino remaster. This is evident not only in the course’s relaxed, beatific, dusky seaside setting but also in the Gushen capture. This capture adapts the capabilities of Mario’s water-nozzle-backpack buddy from Super Mario Sunshine, providing quick horizontal and vertical transport around the course. Though Gushen is less nuanced and precise than F.L.U.D.D., this capture encapsulates the empowering spirit of Sunshine’s specialized movement without the finicky micromanagement of close-quarters control and having to switch nozzles. In these regards, Seaside Kingdom proves a spiritual successor to the Mario game some fans feared Odyssey forgot while adapting and modernizing Sunshine’s mechanics.
But the Gushen is Bubblaine’s only new capture — a slightly disappointing revelation after Snow Kingdom’s three new ones. And though Gushen is a wonderful, accessible F.L.U.D.D. redux, new underwater captures could have spiced up some of the course’s more tiresome areas. Instead, a lack of meaningful options for underwater traversal results in several flat, meddlesome sections. This is especially disconcerting given that the sea constitutes most of the kingdom. But above sea level, Seaside Kingdom seems built around Gushen’s unique properties. The boss battle, lava-ridden hot springs, vast open spaces, and even a couple platforming sections on the beach all embrace its specialized moveset.
Seaside Kingdom features 71 moons. 49 are available on the first visit, another 3 later in the game, and the remaining 19 upon shattering the Moon Rock. Unfortunately, very few of these moons are related to the course’s design or themes, with an extraneous amount of stumble-upons and reused concepts from other kingdoms. This doesn’t assuage Seaside Kingdom’s minor identity crisis, as most of these moons feel like they could have been equally well-suited for Lake Kingdom. The secret areas and interiors also feel totally out of place, with only one secret area related to a course capture and none taking place underwater.
Furthermore, the course conceals stumble-upon moons too well. Between the intricate underwater architecture and rich underwater color palette, moons are tough to locate and their glow is tough to spot. This is only exacerbated by the underwater placement of moons in deep trenches and around the course’s perimeter, where (as in Sand Kingdom) searching for a moon can feel like a long, tedious game of hide-and-seek. To top it off, the second moon in the volleyball mini-game is arguably the most egregious in the game, on par with Metro Kingdom’s God-awful jump rope challenge. Taken together, these factors combine for a lackluster collection of moons that often feels vapid or irritating.
As a whole, Seaside Kingdom’s low points weigh down its high points to form an unremarkable course. Of course, the narrative portion is enjoyable, the boss fight is spectacular, the art is gorgeous, and the Gushen capture is among the deepest and most satisfying in the game. But the course’s poor integration of its themes, lack of other meaningful captures, shoddy underwater design, and massive collection of substandard moons can make much of the experience a forgettable slog. Like its beached snail residents, Seaside Kingdom might seem chill and amusing at first, but it’s also slow-going, unambitious, and bogged down by a lack of purposiveness.