"Super Mario Bros. Wonder" Review

 


Ask anyone who can we thank for making gaming a viable medium, and you'll be hard pressed for the answer to be anything other than 1985's "Super Mario Bros" from the NES. Even though gaming had been a thing with both Pong and Atari, it's that first side scrolling adventure from the legendary Shigeru Miyamoto that set the ball rolling for gaming to become the legit pillar of entertainment it is today. 

Over the years, the 2D side scrolling "Super Mario Bros" franchise has gone through its many evolutions, including the two sequels in the NES (the second of those, "Super Mario Bros. 3" considered the greatest one ever made and one of the best games ever created), the legendary SNES launch game "Super Mario World" and its unorthodox sequel "Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island", and the litany of entries with the "NEW Super Mario Bros" line which spanned the Nintendo DS, the Nintendo Wii, the Nintendo 3DS and the Wii U. 

Considering how long the gap was between the SNES entries with the NEW line starting with the DS one in 2006, 2D Mario kinda lost a bit of the sheen that came to define it in the 8 bit/16 bit era, specially when similar 2D platformers of the era were showing more visual and level creativity than what Nintendo was offering at the time (the 3D entries for Mario were home to more of the creativity at the time). But like it always has proven with Nintendo time and time again everytime they may feel like they are in some sort of rut, never count them out as they can then shockingly surprise and delight you. And surprise and delight they did with "Super Mario Bros. Wonder".




If we needed more definitive proof that the Switch era of Nintendo has brought back a lot of the magic that came to define them in the early days of the company, if this year's "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom" didn't make that clear enough, I feel "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" helps clinch the feeling. I'm not gonna go ahead and say "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" is this revolutionary, never before seen platformer. But for sure I'll say this game is Nintendo's best execution of this idea in a long time, delivering pitch perfect platforming and a non-stop level of charm and wondrous creativity in each of the levels on display. While the structure still remains similar to the 2D entries that came before, and some progression does feel slightly stiffled by its reliance on the finding of "Wonder Seeds", I haven't enjoyed and had a non-stop grin to my face playing a 2D Mario game literally since "Super Mario World". 




As is usual when it comes to a 2D Mario game, you know the drill. Bowser has shown up ready to wreck some havoc, and its up to Mario and co. to stop him. But instead of capturing Princess Peach as you'd expect, this time he has kidnapped the main source of power of the Flower Kingdom (the neighboring country to the tried and true Mushroom Kingdom), which gives "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" its specific gimmick that makes it so delightful. While you can always bring up the fact that the Mario games never seem to aspire to much storywise, it's for naught when the simple setup at least makes way for the excellent game in display. And boy is "Wonder" excellent. 





Through the "Wonder Seeds" you are tasked to collect in each of the individual levels, Nintendo flexes their charm and creativity to give every level its unique identity and gameplay rug pull. The way the "Wonder Seeds" serve to transform each level provides the hook to keep playing these levels. Sometimes a seed will manipulate the warp pipes to make them a unique tool for platforming. Another time, a seed will begin a musical sequence where you'll see the plant piranhas start singing and dancing around and you dodging them in the midst of their musical number. Other times a wonder seed may even completely transform your character into an interesting object, or shift the game's perspective on its head when you least expect it. The "Wonder Seeds" keep the gameplay fresh from moment to moment, and it's crazy how the wondrous variety of the level changes never lets up all the way 'til the credits roll. It gives this game variety in a way the "NEW Super Mario Bros" line of 2D Mario games didn't.




It also helps that the "Wonder Seeds" also highlights the wonderful visual and aural presentation for "Super Mario Bros.Wonder". While you can always expect a Mario game to at the very least be the top of the line when it comes to presentation in a Nintendo game, the truth of the matter is 2D Mario in recent years had developed a very sterile, samey look ever since "NEW Super Mario Bros" came out on the Nintendo DS. While the concept of doing a 2D Mario game with the visual style of the 3D games was very novel back in 2006, Nintendo really doubled down on that visual style for their next three 2D games without much in the way of visual variety. If you had played one of those 2D games from that line, you had seen it all, which was great at the time but became so samey and repetitive afterwards. The visual variety to tried and true Mario aesthetics you could see in something like "Super Mario 3D World" or the later 3D games eluded the 2D entries for a while. "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" finally changed that for the better.




While the game still shares some visual similarities at first glance to the "NEW" line, you quickly notice how much the aesthetic has taken more strides to make this game more of a visual, colorful wonder. The pastel colors that dominate so many levels that even resemble tried and true classic Mario environments shine with the new color emphasis in display. When you see the full on level transformations that at times changes the visual style completely, it gives 2D Mario a new visual identity it has missed since the glory days of the NES/SNES. And it looks very sharp and runs well on the ageing hardware of the Switch. While I would say a contemporary platformer like 2013's "Rayman Legends" may get a slight edge when it comes to overall beauty, the visual style of "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" gets super close to that level of visual creativity and surpasses it in select spots. And mixed in with some new musical compositions that mix together classic tunes from the legendary Koji Kondo, and "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" provides one of the Switch generation's most pleasing audiovisual experiences. 




But like it always is with Nintendo, their games don't live and die by their presentation, but how good they are to play. "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" absolutely plays wonderfully. Some of the floatiness that was dominating the "NEW" line has been tightened up considerably, making just the act of running and jumping in this game feel so considerably better to how recent games felt. It definitely harkens back more to how pitch perfect games like "Super Mario Bros. 3" and "Super Mario World" felt back in the day, and the feel of "Wonder" is definitely more in that style, and dare I say controls even better than those.




While the moment to moment gameplay is probably the best these games have ever been, I have some slight reservations to other gameplay additions for "Super Mario Bros. Wonder". The game features a cadre of different playable characters that harkens back to "Super Mario Bros. 2", from Mario himself to Luigi, Princess Peach, a yellow and blue Toad, the pink flavored Toadette, Peach's counterpart Princess Daisy, four green/red/yellow/light blue Yoshis and the rabbit shaped thief Nabbit. But despite the high amount of different characters available, none of them have the different gameplay quirks like in "Super Mario Bros. 2". Basically, this time around they are literal skin swaps, which in a way definitely alleviates any griefing of playing the game in local coop and someone getting a character that has a special ability that other characters don't have (in that aforementioned older entry, Luigi would have the long jump, Peach could float, and Toad would grab things quickly). Only the Yoshi's and Nabbit have a particular gameplay quirk where they basically are accessibility options where they don't take damage but can't be transformed by the different cool items (like turning into an elephant, the drill hat, and other's). 




To counteract the lack of unique character abilities, Nintendo introduced a badge system where basically you can equip every character with an ability that would have been exclusive to them in another game. What this does is create an interesting level of customization to the game where you can outfit every character with a particular skill that may help or hinder your level progression, and everyone can equip it while they are playing locally. Some of these badges include a Parachute Cap (sorta giving characters Princess Peach's floating abilities), Wall Climb Jump (allowing players to do a straight wall jump instead of the usual bounce), and many others you can see for yourself. And if you don't feel satisfied with your choice of badge, you can always equip/unequip them after dying or in the overworld. It's a nice way to add spice to the gameplay even though it doesn't really encourage you having to play with other characters beyond just swapping to a different skin.




One extra addition I was surprised to find myself loving so much is "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" version of online play. Instead of traditional multiplayer, "Wonder" has weirdly implemented the "Dark Souls" style of player connectivity where you will always see the ghosts sillouettes of other players going through the level you are, and its a fun way to see how everyone goes through the same level challenges as you are without any sort of player griefing one would think could come from some deranged individuals. It's surprising how smoothly it connects to other players considering the Nintendo Switch's spotty online, and just how fun it sometimes is to interact with other players in such a positive way, specially in some puzzle oriented levels where you are all aiding each other find the different coins to succeed. How this multiplayer also helps in some of the game's more arduous levels by enabling the player revive option where you become a ghost that can come back to life by running into another character is some great way for cooperation. It's definitely one of the more fun multiplayer experiences I've seen from a game this year, and very surprising coming from a 2D Mario game. And like mentioned before, there is also local coop for those who want to have traditional couch fun.




Are there any quibbles worth mentioning about "Super Mario Bros. Wonder"? Of course they are. Even with my reservations on how this game doesn't incentivize playing with other characters other than a visual cosmetic change, as much as I adore how the "Wonder Seeds" are the carrot at the end of the stick that gives each level their unique flavor, I do have a slight issue how progression is sometimes tied too much of finding these seeds in order to unlock more levels in the overworlds. While you always get one seed on level completion, there are times when just completing the levels is not gonna net you enough seeds to keep advancing through the game. It's not much of a problem early on, when the requirements to find said seeds are generally low and its fairly easy to find the gamechanging seeds halfway through the early levels. Later stages, particularly the fire lava World 6, requires a lot of these seeds to complete this world, and at a time when you are reaching the tail end of the game it feels like the game has slammed the breaks and requires full 100% completion of every level in this world, where you sometimes have to find some secret seeds that are heavily tucked away in those levels and require items you can screw yourself over from not having. It's minor, but feels like it hurts the game's generally wonderful pacing in the late game. And mileage may vary from gamer to gamer, but I was able to finish this game around the 10-12 hour mark, which I found perfect for the kind of game this is with still some hidden levels to uncover, but I can see that also being a deterrent to some. 




These are just quibbles in the grand scheme of the joyful time I have with "Super Mario Bros. Wonder". Just like "The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom" gave me child-like joy at seeing how game design could be pushed to new levels, this game brings back the child-like joy Mario games gave me in my childhood with those classic NES/SNES entries. It's good seeing Nintendo embrace the joy so widely associated with their brand, specially with how they feel so creatively juiced up these days after extended ruts sticking to their tried and true guns. Even if this game may seem like just another 2D Mario game at first glance, the execution of it and the joy it permeates makes it rise above what 2D Mario had become in the decade prior. In a year where people were reminded of the joys of Mario with the "Super Mario Bros" movie, I'm glad a game that's as equally joyful and delightful made its way to gamers hands. 

In a year already as stacked with high quality titles, "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" stands tall amongst the very best of them!



95%

★★★

5/5

Essential


Written by Alejandro Segovia


Reviewed on Nintendo Switch


Scoring rubric:


★ : 1 point  ☆ : 0.5 points


★★★★★: Essential. Basically excellent. Close to flawless. Transcends any minor flaws it may have. 

   ★★★★: Great/Highly recommended. Basically close to greatness. Some flaws worth mentioning, but nothing to worry about.

      ★★★: Okay/Recommended. Basically in the range of good. Contains things worth watching & experiencing, but flaws can hinder the experience.

         ★★: Caution/Questionable. Basically Mediocre. The flaws start to significantly hinder anything good about it.

             ★: Avoid/Awful. Basically bad territory (some enjoyment as "so bad its good"). Preferably don't waste your time.















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