There is no mascot more familiar or famous than Mario. Nintendo have reinvented their hero numerous times, consistently releasing quality titles – but there is no doubt that a small echo of staleness still is heard from the aging fanbase who have swooped these titles up for decades. Super Mario Wonder is everything you know about Mario and pals, but with some innovative ideas in play to refine older mechanics. Can a 2D Mario really still prove relevant? Let’s find out.
Mario, Luigi, Peach, and nearly the whole colorful cast visit Flower Kingdom. During the ceremony, Bowser comes and snags the all-powerful Wonder Flower, merging his ship with the power, while causing chaos all over the lands. Along with Prince Florian, the heroes set out to find Bowser and return the Kingdom back to its normal state by utilizing the magic of the Wonder Seeds. While it sounds familiar, this may be the first 2D adventure in a long time that is beaming with originality. There may be a huge roster of characters on this journey, but each feel important, as no matter who you pick, the game makes it feel as if was built for that hero – despite the lack of change throughout based on your decision of who to play as. Sure, the story isn’t exactly deep, but this world feels alive, with talking flowers adding commentary as you play, as well as stages that create a feeling that you are in a living storybook of sorts. It’s a 1+2=3 narrative that has been fleshed out so well, it feels as if each playthrough is distinct and interesting, as the amount of detail and lore flooded within every level creates Mario’s most memorable adventure to date.
Super Mario Wonder is the best Mario game since Super Mario World, hands down. I know that is a bold statement, but this is a bold game, filled with imagination and “wonder” in every stage. The gameplay mainly takes its notes from past 2D romps, with players evading and squashing enemies as they get to the flag located at the end of each stage. Its not about end however, as the journey makes this title truly special. Each level feels unique, with plenty of places to explore. As mentioned, talking flowers will greet you throughout each stage, shouting various bits of commentary based on the hazards at that particular section. Basically, your job is to find the hidden wonder seeds, purple and gold coins, and discover whatever secrets happen to emerge. There is always a feeling to slow down and poke around at any area as the level of interactivity creates an engaging experience where the main goal is not just to finish, but to unearth some new door or treasure.
The character roster may be the largest yet in a game of this kind, with multiple Toads, Yoshis, Mario, Luigi, Daisy, and Peach all being playable, along with Nabbit, with each character adding their minor quirks to the gameplay. For instance, Yoshi is invincible but cannot pick up abilities, and Nabbit acts as an easy mode, with more resistance to enemies within the game. New power-ups are limited, but do pack a bit of a punch overall. The elephant fruit allows Mario and friends to transform into an elephant, which can bash through obstacles and absorb water, which in turn can water plants or used as a normal projectile. Along with the fire flower is a new ability that has the player shoot bubbles, which can trap enemies. There is also a drill variant that adds complexity by allowing players to drill underground, which may seem minor but comes in handy while avoiding large stampedes of foes at once. Sure, there are not a ton of abilities, but this world utilizes everything it has, making it a joy to run through stages various times with different powers. Badges can also be unlocked, which add one small nuance each to the gameplay. The ability to glide, a wall jump, and so on are obtained through this method, which can be a lot of fun to also play around with as you progress through the game.
The polished gameplay is lovely, but by far, the wonder flowers are where the magic can be found within this title. When you obtain one of these, the world immediately changes. The enemies, the pipes, and so on all come alive in a different manner and guide you to the hidden wonder seed within the level. For instance, there is one stage where normal piranha plants come alive and out of their pipes in full song, choreographing their way to your potential demise. A wonder flower almost feels like turning the stage into a theme park ride, where the player straps on and watches in awe as they get to fully participate in whatever fantasy thrill this development team put together. Sure, the game was already great, but there is some hidden joy buried inside the player that these seem to bring out to the surface, which is another element that makes it so special.
Super Mario Wonder has a bit of something for everyone. Kids could play it without much discourse as the game is super accessible. Adults are also welcome, as the stages can be a relaxing getaway or a chaotic speedrun – if they so choose. Multiplayer works well and adds in a bit of suspense, as the players now need to be in control of each other’s safety. Go to fast, you may kill a teammate. If a member of your party goes down, you need to work to bring them back to safety before their little ghost soul vanishes. The online aspect, which Nintendo are not known for doing well, adds a lot as well as players can create little cut-outs of themselves to show others how they beat a particular portion. Not a huge addition, but a neat idea that I think works well within these walls.
The soundtrack here is pure bliss. Nintendo could have went with the old tunes and still had a passable experience, but the new music is surely to remembered as truly setting the atmosphere and charms of the entire product. Charles may have also left the franchise, but Kevin Afghani does a remarkable job in his first role as Mario and Luigi, as well as those little talking flowers. All the other bells and whistles come together to make this a stunning audible showing for Super Mario Wonder, one that may be used as a bar to compete with for future titles going forward.
The bold colors, the polished models, and so on really look stunning on the Switch. Sure, its a 2D Mario game, but it is still a stunner. There are so many animations that create this world and never hold back with surprises for the player, providing such a satisfying ride as you make it through each world. Little touches now have Mario snag his hat as he goes through pipes and even obtaining power-ups now come with a burst of new celebration that come with the added animations. Sure, there are not a lot of cutscenes, but there really doesn’t need to be as the game never misses a beat, managing to sync its experience of every level with the sound and the player themselves in a seamless fashion.
Super Mario Wonder is extraordinary. There is so much life and charm throughout this entire game that is so detailed and imaginative, most will be happy to travel through time and time again as they hunt for more secrets or better times. Over the years, we have always had Super Mario World pointed at as the reference for level design, and I think this may be the title to finally shift that perspective to the present, as it really is as good as that thirty year old masterpiece of the past. Nintendo are at a point with the Switch where they didn’t have to prove anything, but managed to craft Super Mario Wonder into this one-of-a-kind experience that will be heralded for years as one of the greatest pieces of software for the platform. Sure, it doesn’t give you a brand new Mario game, but it does refine the product to perfection with new ideas and satisfying gameplay that have truly brought this franchise full circle.
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