Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review
2D Mario games occupy a weird space in my brain. It’s important that they innovate, but not too much. Otherwise, they lose something ethereal that I can’t define. They’re tied to the past in a powerful way, so much so that they’re automatically nostalgic. There’s a tightrope act that each new game must perform in order to satisfy me. Anyways, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is out, and it totally nails that balancing act. This game feels timeless and brand new at the same time.
Once you start playing, that is. The story is a thin layer of tinfoil over a rich chocolate confection. I recognize its role, yes. But the narrative is something to be peeled back and disposed of as soon as possible. We’re here to run, jump, and stomp our way to victory. The why is of no consequence. I honestly missed Bowser transforming into a castle when it actually happened. Some character called back to the event, and I had to trust they were telling the truth. All you need to know is the theme (flowers) and the mechanical hook (transformative hallucinogens).
This One Makes You Taller
I’m exaggerating, but only slightly. The Wonder Flowers are an absolute trip, an express ticket to sanitized madness. Inanimate objects come to life, gravity is reversed, fireworks go off, and you are transformed. Not all at once, of course, but even so. These flowers take the usual Mario aesthetic and tie-dye it, twist it, and send it to Mars. It’s not just the visuals, either. The music is changed every time, as well. Better still, the level’s mechanics are bent or broken in some novel way. Each stage comes with another bizarre, delightful shock. There’s even a handful of choreographed musical interludes. Monsters and objects break out in song, further cementing your sense of fantastic disbelief.
There’s more, somehow. Traversal and action are blown wide open with the badge system. You can jump, ground pound, wall jump, twirl, swim, and throw by default. The badges open up a dozen more skills, along with a host of bonuses. This is on top of the power-ups that are a beloved Mario staple. Suddenly there’s an extra layer of strategy added to every stage. Secrets that seemed impossible to access can be easily snatched with the right badge. You can test your skills with badge challenge stages. Slowly, the full extent of your move set is revealed. The traversal possibilities for Mario and his friends feel nearly limitless.
I love the power-ups being offered, though I find the elephant sort of baffling. The other items give you a cute new outfit or change your color scheme. Why does this one fully transform your body and its proportions? How do elephants connect to this gentle realm of flowers and seeds? It’s fine, though. The elephant power is agile, flexible, and pretty useful as well. All the power-ups feel nice and balanced, as a matter of fact. The fire flower has range. The drill hat is perfect for exploring. It turns out bubbles make for a fascinating skill check, one that can give you way more jumping range. And all the powers fit perfectly into this bizarre, beautiful world.
Elephants For Some Reason
Every aesthetic detail feels expertly crafted in Mario Wonder. The font in the UI is crisp and dynamic. Musical notes accompany every jump. Comic book assets explode outward whenever you snag a power-up. Not to mention the soundtrack. The music is a perfect blend of new standards and updated classics. I was delighted to hear notes from Super Mario World and Mario Bros. 3. The airship tracks are excellent, the world map music is delightful, and the level songs are excellent. Just a soundtrack full of bangers, really.
Another surprising innovation is your progression path. Not every world follows the same model. You’re not always working towards an infected castle, and you don’t have to finish every stage in the same order. You’re also free to skip a whole bunch of levels if you’re in a hurry. While you can build up a stock of Wonder Seeds, they only work for that specific world. This means you can’t just fully clear an early world and use that momentum to coast through the end. And if you’re an obsessive completionist, Mario Wonder is a hearty meal.
Every stage has purple coins to collect, Wonder Seeds to find, and a flagpole to climb. Plus, a lot of levels have more than one exit. If you’re really dedicated, there’s even a Special world to explore. I fancy myself a dab hand at platforming games, but some of these challenges are ridiculous. You can really feel the ‘all ages’ appeal at work here. While it’s simple enough to make it to the end credits, there’s a host of more serious challenges. Things like Badge challenges, battle arenas, and the Special world will all test your Mario mettle.
Good Luck With Special World
Multiplayer is still a chaotic mess, with some changes. Players will no longer collide with one another while playing, for one thing. I will miss being able to accidentally doom my friends and loved ones with a simple jump, it’s true. But friendly fire is still very much a thing. Shells, stunned enemies, and shifted obstacles can still absolutely obliterate an unsuspecting teammate. Fallen comrades have a whole five seconds to tag their surviving friends to get back in the game. Of course, ghosts can’t go through pipes. So do with that information what you will. The point is, co-op gameplay is still rife with malicious potential.
To be honest, I didn’t expect much from Mario Wonder. The 2D games tend to play it relatively safe, preferring to lean on nostalgia and mass appeal. Somehow I’ve been shocked at almost every turn. The visuals are consistently fresh and exciting. The mechanics blow the whole formula wide open. New powers, new skills, and new challenges had me immediately hooked. The soundtrack is mostly bangers by weight, just a hot mess of excellent music. Sure, the story is forgettable. I couldn’t tell you the name of your constant companion. He’s some sort of bug with a crown? And the bones of the 2D gameplay are well-preserved standards from several generations back. But the total package is an absolute blast. If you’ve been looking for a hot new Mario game, your prayers are answered. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the best the series has been for years.
***A Nintendo Switch code was provided by the publisher***
- Awesome new moves
- Cool new power-ups
- Sweet music
- Clever game design
- Story is forgettable
- No more player collision