Review: Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Since the 1980s, Mario has been the most iconic mascot of the platforming genre. He innovated both in 2D and 3D and has been a master of movement that many other titles have used as a basis for utterly fantastic design. 2D above all else is where Mario shines most with the NES and SNES titles still being some of the most iconic video games every crafted. When Mario got its first new platforming title on the DS with New Super Mario Bros. it was well received as a beloved title that’s still got a great reception to this day. Although subsequent titles remained just as popular, the innovation and creativity began to decline with every title being based on what the DS title had started instead of truly going for something fresh and new. It’s because of this that there was such an utter shock and surprise with the reveal of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. This title was like nothing we’d seen with 2D Mario in the last few titles and it was a wild breath of fresh air both visually and mechanically to look at. The question therein becomes is Wonder all it’s cracked up to be or does it end up playing it safe?

The story opens with Mario and friends on a trip to the Flower Kingdom where they’re meeting with the adorable Prince Florian who’s sharing a lovely day with new friends. Things go familiarly awry when Bowser descends upon the scene and takes one of the Kingdom’s mysterious Wonder Flowers. This fuses and transforms Bowser with Prince Florian’s castle and he becomes a terrifyingly-massive foe that spreads evil throughout the land, trapping the inhabitants and setting his nefarious plan into motion. The brave group of friends refuses to stand for this, and with Prince Florian at their back, sets off to set the Kingdom right once again and put a stop to Bowser’s plans before he can create even more chaos.

The bread and butter of Mario comes not from its detailed story or characters, but instead from its iconic level design and movement. A first for the mainline 2D series outside of Super Mario Bros. 2 is the removal of the timer. No longer do stages have any sort of arbitrary time limit to finish them and players can spend as much time as they like exploring every inch as much as they desire with the exception being specific challenges that are timed. The main cast of characters plays identically with one another while the colored Yoshi and Nabbit act as an easy mode due to the fact they don’t take damage from enemies. The trade off is that they cannot use power-ups, but at the very least Yoshi comes with the unique ability to eat enemies and can also do their iconic flutter jump. The actual platforming itself is as familiar and tight as one would hope from a Mario title. The major missing element to the moveset is the removal of the triple jump, but it and many other new and returning moves have found a way to still have an impact with the inclusion of the badge system.

Badges are a brand new system that can be used thanks to Prince Florian who’s able to wear one badge at any time. Badges are earned through story or finishing levels in addition to purchasing them with the new purple coins found throughout levels. These offer unique abilities that can either add to a move kit or give the player an extra benefit in stages. This is where the iconic third jump is located along with a great assortment of other skills. The crouch jump from Mario Bros. 2 is available, and a dolphin kick that allows faster swimming is also available for those pesky water stages. There’s also helpful badges that will give the character a mushroom at the start of every stage, or badges to make things more challenging like one that will completely turn the player invisible. The variety is fantastic and makes for a great number of ways to play and navigate levels. None of these badges are required outside of special stages that make use of them, but they do add to each level and help make an individual person’s playthrough unique depending on which badges they choose to play with.

Another good way to mix things up is with Wonder’s main new change up mechanic being the ever-so-aptly named Wonder Flower. This unique foliage that Bowser devoured has the ability to change reality in every stage they’re found in and is the key element in making so many of these stages a blast. Wonder Flowers are often hidden in stages, but more often than not they’re found right out in the open. Touching them will offer a wild amount of effects. These Wonder effects can change the character into an enemy, make them invincible, cause a grand musical show or even send them skydiving. There’s too many different changes that it’s hard to dive into them without feeling like spoilers, as there’s so many fantastic ones it’s something worth experiencing without being told ahead of time what exactly is going to happen. These are the most exciting parts of levels that mix them up from being simply fantastically-designed stages to iconic and memorable experiences. Every time a Wonder Flower appears it’s an exciting new chance to experience a level in an entirely new way and even makes it so replaying levels stays fun when going back for items or coins along the way. At the end of a Wonder Flower sequence the player will collect a Wonder Seed which is needed to progress through the campaign, in addition to Wonder Seeds being given out for finishing a stage or beating challenges. Some Wonder Flower events are timed and require players to be quick on their feet, but always feel like they give more than enough time to complete.

As with nearly every Mario title before it, Wonder comes equipped with brand new power-ups for Mario and friends to make use of. This time there are three entirely new ones that each offer a unique new skill. Returning from previous entries is the iconic Fire Flower, but it’s accompanied by a brand new flower that gives a bubbling performance. The Bubble Flower allows players to freely summon a bubble that floats forward. It might seem odd and silly at first, but it can capture many enemies and turn them into coins even through walls. In addition to this, the bubbles can also be used as optional platforms to help reach higher platforms or jump over obstacles when timed correctly. Next there’s the Elephant Fruit which transforms anybody who touch it into powerful, beastly elephants. In Elephant form players are able to smash blocks, reflect thrown objects and even suck up water to spray on enemies or dried up flowers to get some bonus goodies. It also allows players to run across two block gaps which is a niche use, but a nice emphasis on their size. Finally there’s the Drill Mushroom which offers protection and offense all tied up in one. If an enemy is hit from below they’ll die to the drill on top of the character’s head, but players can also burrow underground or even in the ceiling if the ground is sound enough to dig through. The most spectacular thing about the power-ups seen here is that none of them feel particular under-utilized, and in fact this is the first Mario title in some time where they’re all equally fun to use. In past titles it was easy to overlook certain under powered abilities in favor for the one that was usually the objective best choice, but it’s so fun to play around with all the abilities and use them as they come up in stages for a great amount of variety.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an outright gorgeous-looking title. From the moment it begins there’s an air of beauty in the color, the design and just everything that surrounds this new Kingdom to be explored. The music is a treat on the ears with every subsequent song more enjoyable than the last. Character models have seen their most significant upgrade to date with models being so full of emotion and personality that it’s hard not to smile when characters jump and cheer while they progress through each stage. Another fantastic addition is the sheer enemy and level variety. No two stages ever feel the same unless intentionally meant to be a callback. There’s also a vast array of new enemies in every single world that act as both obstacles and aids. No enemies ever overstay their welcome and aren’t frequently repeated to make them feel more unique when they do appear. Even the iconic Goomba and Koopa Troopa don’t flood levels and instead appear every once in a while where they feel welcome instead of needlessly repeated. It cannot be overstated what a fantastic upgrade this is as Mario titles tend to recycle the same enemies to the point of boredom, so it’s great to see a massive shakeup like this done right. Enemies will always hurt the player, but sometimes they’ll also be able to make platforms or clear the way to a secret as well. Moreso than ever enemies feel like a welcome inclusion instead of just ways to take damage or something to merely avoid along the path to the end.

Closing Comments:

It’s no exaggeration to say that Super Mario Bros. Wonder is one of the greatest Mario titles to come out in the last fifteen years, likely since New Super Mario Bros. DS itself. The only real complaint to be had is that we wish there were even more beautiful and fantastic levels to play after the ones that are there have all been beaten. What Nintendo has crafted here is a title with over 38 years of love for their most-iconic platforming series. It’s been a long time since we’ve had a Mario platformer so reminiscent of the much older titles, but also so full of the magic that modern inclusions can bring to the table. This is not a title that any Mario or platforming fan should be missing out on as Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a must-have for fans of the genre and anyone looking for one of the most utterly charming adventures in franchise history.

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