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 — Snow Kingdom.
Snow Kingdom is home to the frosty Shiveria, a region encapsulating an underground village and the snowy lake lying above. Based on Russia and its frigid climate (the name Shiveria is reminiscent of Siberia, and the local Crazy Cap sells a matroyshka doll), Shiveria’s key feature is, as its brochure asserts, “The warmest community in the coldest land.” Indeed, the player will spend nearly as much time in and around the subterranean hearth-like village as they will on its icy exterior. While the below-ground portion is fairly compact and densely populated with the endearing Goron-esque Shiverians (minus its four wings that each couch a secret area-like interior), the above-ground portion is more barren but more diverse, featuring a frozen lake, melted glacier, ice arches, and snowy slopes around the exterior.
After departing Metro Kingdom, the player is given the option to choose between Snow Kingdom and Seaside Kingdom in another branching path that underscores the lack of actual choice the player has regarding course order. Before landing on Snow Kingdom, Cappy describes the region’s Frost-Frosted Cake given as a prize for winning the Bound Bowl Grand Prix. Of course, Bowser has stolen the cake for his wedding, leaving behind a blizzard and blocking access to their race course. For whatever reason, this means Mario will have to traverse each of the village’s four wings to access the race track, where it turns out a race is delayed due to one racer’s low self-esteem. As inadequate a therapist as ever, Mario simply captures this racer to win the race, thereby earning the region’s only Multi Moon and whisking away the blizzard.
While Metro Kingdom, Lost Kingdom, and Cloud Kingdom involve themes absent from Super Mario 64, that game twice integrated Snow Kingdom’s ice theme. Cool, Cool Mountain inverted 64’s primary architectural archetype to facilitate downward traversal and sliding. Snowman’s Land reused previous levels’ wintry assets in wholly unique ways and built multiple objectives around ice’s slippery and see-through attributes. Compared to its predecessors, Snow Kingdom is a bit of a letdown, featuring a less diverse cast of characters, a less distinct sense of place, and a less thorough integration of its hypothermic theme. From its lack of sliding (which was a joy in 64 and is sadly absent from Odyssey), mazes, and course-specific puzzles, to a general lack of charm outside the village, Snow Kingdom feels far less cohesive and ambitious than its icy forerunners. This is especially odd given how the village’s four wings each address iciness in some fashion, but none as captivatingly as the see-through mazes and lighting-fast slides of yesteryear. Instead, sliding feels unduly replaced with “bounding.” As a mechanic, bounding ingeniously infuses traditional racing with the deliberate jumping central to Mario platformers, but it still feels completely unrelated to the rest of the course thematically and mechanically. By subtracting several concepts from Super Mario 64 while adding little, Snow Kingdom feels like a misshapen snow angel of its possible self — a New Super Bros.-esque superficial take on a theme 64 pulled off multiple times.
That said, Snow Kingdom still integrates its weather into gameplay more than any other course in Super Mario Odyssey. A few moons are connected to the Ty-Foo wind capture, while another couple hide in packed snow or subzero waters. And between Mario’s costume-dependent shivering, icicle at the end of his nose, a camera that freezes over, and detailed weather effects, Odyssey aesthetically embraces the cold weather. But this attention to detail is skin-deep, revolving around entirely visual depictions superfluous to the gameplay. This disregard for thoughtfully thematic moons is a significant step backward from Super Mario 64 that runs throughout the game but is especially noticeable regarding tried-and-true Mario themes Nintendo nailed in past games.
Snow Kingdom’s unique captures are Ty-Foo, Shiverian Racer, and Cheep Cheep (Snow Kingdom). While Ty-Foo allows Mario to blow wind, its meager uses are obvious and dull, usually just requiring the player to blow a block along a set path. Meanwhile, Cheep Cheep (Snow Kingdom) is a reskinned Cheep Cheep with slightly different coloring and the ability to withstand colder temperatures. Seems to me like a cheap cheap tactic to increase the number of total captures! The Shiverian Racer is the most interesting capture of the three, allowing Mario to control a bouncy Goron around the village and racetrack. However, there is little to do with the Shiverian Racer in the village, and the public’s reception of bound-racing has been (perhaps fittingly) cold. Though I personally enjoy the races, they seem halfheartedly shoehorned into the course, completely unrelated to the course’s themes or setting (unlike the sliding races of Cool, Cool Mountain).
Snow Kingdom contains a total of 55 power moons, 37 available on first visit. After shattering Snow Kingdom’s Moon Rock, another 18 open up. 12 are spread in the 4 wings of the village, with another 10 in secret rooms, several simple stumble-upons around the village, and another 4 earned via bound-racing. This leaves less than half of the moons in the exterior part of the course, and 14 of those are merely rehashed versions of past moons (finding Peach, Hat-and-Seek, catching a bunny, etc.).
This means few moons in the external portion of the course feel unique to the course or built around the course’s themes or setting in a meaningful way. In fact, the four linear underground wings do a better job integrating its wintry setting than anything in the open area above. Like Cap Kingdom and Cascade Kingdom, Snow Kingdom suffers from a lack of identity despite having a unified art style and promising themes. After Metro Kingdom’s more thematically cohesive (but also more varied) batch of moons, Snow Kingdom’s feel especially rote and shallow — a disappointing par for the course in a game that continually suffers from this issue.
Snow Kingdom’s warm village and intriguing weather effects, though charming, don’t amount to much in the face of disappointing moons, implementations of captures, and integrations of the theme. Although slippery controls, snow coverage, limited visibility, freezing water, and heavy winds all provide opportunities for meaningful gameplay twists, they are largely ignored in favor of repeated objectives that ask the player to confront the course as a run-of-the-mill scavenger hunt.