The allure of Nintendo and its characters have endured throughout the years, as the company, lauded for taking innovative risks and bucking the trends to distinguish itself from the competition, also takes special care of its icons. So it’s no surprise then, that the games it puts out are always worth a look and we can now add the excellent Super Mario Bros. Wonder, a refreshing spin on its platformer staple, to its long list of successes.
While the formula has hardly ever changed, requiring players to go from point A to point B, the fact is that the Mario platformers have always found new ways to amaze and modify the established way of doing things. New power-ups, mechanics, and even moving from 2D to 3D are just some of the bold moves that have paid off. And this new entry is no different.
From the arrival of Elephant Mario to the wonderful addition of the Flower Kingdom and its denizens, this is an experience that is a joy to play from start to finish. The worlds are vibrant and full of life, the attention paid to details is astonishing, and the platforming itself has certainly achieved a delicate balance between challenging and fun.
As has been the usual setup, the arrival of Bowser spoils the gang’s visit to the new land of the Flower Kingdom, with the big bad utilising the powers of the Wonder Flowers to reimagine the land in his own image, even turning himself into an actual floating castle. You already know the drill, clear the levels, beat up Bowser Junior, and eventually face down the villain himself to save the day.
While Super Mario Bros. Wonder won’t win any accolades for its storytelling, there’s just something to be said about how the environments and creatures are brought to life in their own unique ways.
Mario and the rest of the crew bring their signature moves to the table, infused with an added charm through refined animations. Just watch how Elephant Mario teeters on the edge of a block or squeezes himself through a pipe. The same goes for the many new enemies that make their debut, showcasing various personalities, whether they are resting or actively hunting down players. All of the minute details help players to understand this new playground and its natural story. This makes most, if not all, of the levels that players will explore that much better.
Speaking of the levels, there’s plenty of adventure to be had across the Flower Kingdom and its six main worlds. There is a healthy variety of biomes that bring all sorts of perils, but at its core, players must always look to seek out the Wonder Seeds that allow passage beyond blocked paths.
With at least two Wonder Seeds per level, one rewarded for finishing the level and the other obtainable via finding a Wonder Flower, there’s always an incentive for players to be more curious and daring to take risks. Furthermore, interacting with a Wonder Flower transforms the stage in unexpected, delightful ways.
You might suddenly find yourself floating upwards constantly, trying to grab as many coins as possible before reaching the Wonder Seed, see the perspective twist into a top-down view with its own sets of rules and dangers, or become a ridiculously tall version of your favourite characters that has to crouch or jump to make important objects appear. The varied ways in which these transformations unfold bring constant enjoyment, something that is unlikely to run out of steam any time soon.
There are also other non-traditional levels that make for timely breaks every once in a while. Search levels contain hidden medals that must be collected to grab the Wonder Seed, while others are more relaxing affairs like cloud surfing that bring whimsy rather than potential frustration from jumping into yet another gap.
At the same time, Super Mario Bros. Wonder bolsters the enemy ranks of the series with new foes that feel right at home in the new land. There are constantly retreating rodents that shoot acorns, birds that swoop into water to catch their prey of coin and plumbers, or bulls that require more strength than a stomp to defeat. All of that and more help to keep things interesting as players progress through the game, requiring the same attention as you would pay to the platforming.
It also helps that Mario and the gang can take on new forms. The unexplained Elephant form will undoubtedly go down as a new favourite, bestowing heft and a useful trunk to our heroes. Not only is he bigger and stronger, players can use its trunk to knock enemies and blocks out of the way or store water to spray on dried-out plants for rewards.
Then there is also Drill Mario, which allows players to burrow into the ground or even the ceiling blocks to make new paths. Surprising enemies this way is immensely enjoyable, and can bring added replayability when you bring that power to an older level. There will also be occasions for Bubble Mario to take to the stage, with these spheres perfect for reaching enemies through walls or acting as jumping boosts in a pinch.
It all makes for an exciting and sometimes, intense journey to vanquish Bowser, but for those hoping for an easier time, there’s always the option of Nabbit or the Yoshis, who are invulnerable but cannot use the power-ups. With the ability to enjoy local and online multiplayer as well, this ensures that everyone will be able to jump in and start playing right away. The new Standee function is also a nice touch, which can be dropped anywhere as respawn points so that your partners can get back into the game without a fuss.
Another game-changing way in which Nintendo brings added functionality to the platforming is the new Badges. There are more than 20 of them, and when equipped, can activate certain effects during gameplay. There are passive ones, such as granting additional coins for defeating enemies, or more active ones, like a Badge that allows players to swim faster or jump higher and float in the air. Equipping these Badges can remove some of the challenges in levels, and it’s nice to see the option present for those who want to experiment.
Players can obtain these useful Badges either through shops or via the more amusing Badge Challenge stages. These are more bespoke levels that teach players how to use the required Badges, and can also prove to be a test of skill. It is definitely a much better way of leading players to a nice reward, and it would have been better if every Badge was earned this way.
Although 3D adventures like Super Mario Odyssey will continue to be the flagbearer for the franchise, an experience like Super Mario Bros. Wonder is nonetheless gratefully welcome. It is lively and colourful, the animations are pristine and a wonder to watch, and the innovation on display showcases the unwavering and astounding ability of Nintendo to think outside of the box. The 2D platformer still matters, and it has a new champion that players must not miss.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A big step forward for 2D platforming, Super Mario Bros. Wonder will delight even the most jaded of fans in more ways than one.
Gameplay - 9.5/10
Story - 7/10
Presentation - 10/10
Value - 9.5/10