REVIEW

REVIEW

Super Mario Bros. Wonder

October 29, 2023

GOOD

  • Creative, joyous level design
  • Delightful animations and music
  • Great new powerups & enemies
  • Wonder Flower and Badges
  • Tight, pinpoint controls

BAD

  • Some multiplayer misses
  • Samey boss levels

AMAZING

AMAZING

A simply joyous rejuvenation of Mario 2D platforming that had us smiling from start to finish. A true delight. 

It’s been a while since we got a brand-new entry into the Mario 2D side-scroller franchise. Super Mario Maker (and its sequel) were great in their own right. However, considering their classic-item-build-it-yourself approach, 2012 (New Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U) was actually the last time we had a totally original game. The style of New Super Mario Bros. had also started to feel a little stale and overused. So, you’d be forgiven then for thinking that the classic series nearing its 40th anniversary was done. I love the original games and, even I, was sceptical about Wonder, especially considering it was arriving on the Switch almost seven years into its lifespan. Excitingly, my hesitation was unnecessary. Bursting with innovative design and charm, Wonder is a colossally creative game that not only showcases everything we have ever loved about Mario’s 2D adventures but also joyously refreshes the formula making it my favourite game of 2023 so far, and the best entry in years!

Wonderland

Bowser is up to his old tricks again. This time, however, he takes on the Flower Kingdom. Thanks to the power of the Wonder Flower he actually becomes a Living Castle and you’re tasked with searching six connected worlds for powerful Royal Seeds before taking on the Koopa King himself. While we’ve come to expect this basic formula, oodles of personality and creativity make the game feel modern and up-to-date. For example, rather than a world map with a single linear string of levels, slowly getting tougher as you progress, most worlds open up presenting you with a variety of options. First up, levels are given a difficulty rating (1 star = easy, 5 stars = super tough). You could therefore decide to take on the easier levels, collect just enough collectables to open up new areas and keep moving along. Or, you can explore; find hidden secret areas and tackle the devilishly difficult levels and aim for that 100% completion. Some worlds can also be tackled out of order (world 6 before 4 for example). I loved the options and thanks to the variety of character options (including Yoshi and Nabbit that don’t take enemy damage) a range of player skill levels is taken into account and while I’m striving to hit that elusive 100% (and loving the struggle of the precision platforming required in the 5-star levels) my wife is happily popping in and out of some of the easier levels also having the time of her life.

The animations are simply gorgeous and the music has never been as important to a Super Mario Bros. game as it is to this one.

Next, while the Switch is on its last legs – Nintendo continues to demonstrate their absolute mastery of making their games look, play and sound amazing. While the Mario movie probably did this best, I can’t think of a 2D game that feels more alive. The controls are tight and responsive making even the toughest section feel fair. The animations are simply gorgeous and I’d probably argue that music has never been as important to a Bros. game as it is to this one. While the soundtrack is charming – the way it connects to what’s happening on the screen (whether it’s the specific tone of the stringed instrument that changes depending on Mario’s movements or the beats that outline when you should jump) is outstanding. Talking Flowers will narrate, quip or despair as you run past them. Goombas will freak out just before you stomp down, or fall asleep if you stray too far away. Mario (as well as the rest of the gang) now react differently whether they’re falling from a hanging pipe (dangling legs first) or entering it (catch that hat!) and this also changes depending on what powerup they collect. It’s delightful and funny. It’s unusual for a game to make me giggle out loud once; even more unusual if it gets me twice: Wonder had me doing it from start to finish. While you could say that many Nintendo games are happy in tone, Wonder builds it into the design. It’s a game built on joy.

Wonderworks

Thanks to new enemies, badges and the range of Wonder Flower experiences – level design has also been radically reinvigorated. In some stages, Skeddadlers (frightened Koopa-squirrels?) run away from you while sending projectiles in your direction… and you’re suddenly in a race with obstacles. Next, Bloomps (inflatable fish-like creatures) shoot across the sky and you now have to time your jumps, using the enemies as platforms before all their air rushes out. Then, in another world, Hoppycats (think flattened Spinys) will jump when you jump. It’s a simple premise – but try to get past a line of these enemies without jumping. It’s suddenly, all about pre-empting jumps and short sprints. There are so many new enemies, and every one of them completely changes your style of play. It’s clear that the developers not only had fun with each new enemy but, then, also designed worlds to work along with their specific mechanics. It’s ingenious and makes each land (even though they have some traditional themes – the desert level, or the lava world) feel completely unique. Throw in the awesome new powerups (Elephant-, Bubble- and Drill Mario) and shorter bonus levels (including some wonderfully challenging search and badge-skill levels) and there’s just so much variety in each playthrough.

There are so many new enemies, and thanks to matching level design, every one of them completely changes your style of play.

Within the levels, you also come across Wonder Flowers. These change things in a variety of ways. In some worlds, the screen becomes filled with bubbles and you are tasked with hoping on these to reach the top. In another, the game is sped up and everyone is suddenly talking like Alvin the Chipmunk and running around like the Flash… before crashing into slow-motion, like those sluggish action replays you get while watching your favourite sport. In my favourite ones, you’re surrounded by singing and dancing Piranha Plants and the level becomes a rhythm game where jumping to the beat is what allows you to move forward. Every Wonder experience felt amazing and I’d alternate between awe at the sheer ingenuity and cackles of laughter at the marvellous ridiculousness. Finally, to enhance the replayability even further – specific badges can be selected before each level (once they are unlocked). I wasn’t sure about these when I first started because the way the badge system seemed to mean some traditional controls which I loved and had gotten used to (like the triple jump) had been excluded in Wonder. However, after unlocking and using a range of the badges – I actually quite liked the tradeoff. Sure, some of the badges make things a lot easier – but others like the Jet Run require some expert skills and will likely make speedruns of this game (especially when combined with Bubble Mario in particular) super exciting! And because they’re all optional – I think it brings yet another layer of something different to Wonder and what makes this game truly special.

Wonder-fool

With all that positivity flying around it’s easy to think that the game is a masterpiece. And in many ways, it is. As we speak – all I can think about is jumping back into the game and that’s not something I can always say after completing a review game. However, there are a few missteps that did irk me and will likely bother other people even more, especially depending on the importance you lay on the multiplayer aspect. For one thing, Wonder has a unique take on multiplayer. On the local co-op side of things, you can play with up to 4 players. I only tried this playing with my wife, and while we had loads of fun (and I cannot stress that enough) there were a few decisions we found a little odd. For one, characters are not able to interact with each other directly (except for riding Yoshi). Neither of us loved this idea. I suppose the goal was so that players could no longer be ‘mean’ to each other and throw teammates into a pit for example. However, we kind of loved that chaos and missed it here. The new constraints also meant that during some tough platforming sections – where my partner would usually ask me to pick her character up to tackle the section alone – unless I was using Yoshi, this wasn’t now not possible. So, this usually led to her losing her life, and having her ghost chasing me across the screen in frustration. Also, why the more experienced player needs to use Yoshi (the character that doesn’t take damage) to avoid this – is even more confusing. There’s also a weird feature that seems to almost randomly decide who the ‘leading’ player is, sometimes mid-level. The camera follows that leader and led to some irritating and avoidable deaths in our playthrough. If you’re playing with a younger player – I suspect this will be super frustrating.

The Boss levels throughout the game feel a little samey and definitely lack the wonderous creativity present in so many of the other levels.

On the online side of things, there are some plusses but also some definite negatives. On the positive side, while no direct competitive play is possible – if you decide to switch online play on, players from around the world appear as shadows on the screen and can offer assistance if you lose a life or need a power-up. I wasn’t sure about this feature, but it was a lot of fun at first. it was great to see a Japanese or Australian player taking on the same level as I was, and then getting help or helping others was satisfying too. The downside was that some players use their standees (an item you place to revive dead players) around hidden blocks or secrets and losing that discoverability meant I eventually played offline most of the time. Also, in true Nintendo fashion – an in-level first-to-the-flag race feature – can only be played with friends. I had no friends playing at the same time so missed this completely. Finally, if you want to be particularly picky – the Boss levels throughout the game feel a little samey and definitely lack the wonderous creativity present in so many of the other levels.

Wonderful

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is my front-runner for Game Of The Year. I loved almost every minute with it and I don’t think I’ve smiled and laughed as much as I did playing a video game since Odyssey. Yes, I’m a fan of the genre and the series, but the design, time and creativity that went into Wonder is truly outstanding. While the New Super Mario Bros. series isn’t as bad as many people say, Wonder takes it a step further adding clever designs (and maybe even the best bits Donkey Kong 2D platformers) and infusing them with absolute joy – something we likely haven’t truly seems since Super Mario Bros. 3 and World. The animations, music, enemies, badge system and more bring so much variety and I couldn’t wait to find out what was coming next. Sure, some multiplayer and boss levels issues are disappointing – but as an overall experience there are few games that will give you this much joy and offer this much for every type of player. Super Marios. Bros. Wonder truly is WONDERFUL!

REVIEW CODE PROVIDED BY: NINTENDO


For more Nintendo Reviews click here.

October 29, 2023

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