For far too long now, the 2D Mario game have always played it safe. The world themes have usually been the same, with grass, desert and beach worlds being the first you’ll encounter. The level themes have usually been the same, with plains, castle, underwater and cave levels making up many of the stages.
And even within said levels, the mechanics have usually been pretty samey too, with the typical Mario enemies and obstacles introduced, played with and discarded in the same way.
It’s quite the disappointment for long-time fans, especially after games such as Super Mario World and Super Mario Land 2 actually evolved the formula by including their own new themes and ideas. In fact, it made us wonder if Mario had become Nintendo’s Mickey Mouse; the boring everyman series that was afraid to do anything unique in case it scared away 0.005% of its prospective audience.
Fortunately, it seems that’s not the case. Why? Because now Super Mario Bros Wonder has been released, it’s everything a Mario game should be and more.
With the main point of focus being the sheer level of creativity on display. Indeed, while previous 2D Mario outings were usually set in the Mushroom Kingdom and featured the same familiar foes to face, Wonder chucks that out the window. Now you’re in the Flower Kingdom helping Prince Florian take back his castle and kingdom, and your foes are entirely different bunch to the usual ones. There are Bulrushes charging through blocks and stampeding in herds, Hoppycats bouncing when you jump, Maw Maws eating everything in their path, and much, much more. In fact, just about every level in the game has a new enemy type or two, ranging from the very first one in Pipe-Rock Plateau to the last one in Bowser’s new domain. It’s incredible really, and means there are plenty of new sights to see around every corner.
But it’s not just the new enemies that keep things interesting here. Oh no, the Wonder ability mentioned in the title plays a big role too.
Since by collecting a Wonder Flower in a level, the world will go absolutely crazy until you collect the relevant Wonder Seed later on. Pipes will start moving in wacky ways, a herd of Bulrushes will blast across the screen, King Boo will hunt you down in haunted manors and you’ll get transformed into an enemy species with new abilities just to name a few. They’re amazing gimmicks, and the way each level has its own one means you’ll never know what to expect until you activate them.
Yet the new content doesn’t even stop there. Oh no, in addition to new enemies and Wonder seeds, there are also a ton of new level themes, objects and other interesting things to deal with as well.
Like say, the factory levels that make up Bowser’s domain this time around, or the Arabian style palace areas in the Sunbaked Desert. These are a great breath of fresh air compared to the staid ghost houses and airships from previous games, and really make this title feel like it’s an all-new adventure in a distant land.
And the new powerups only keep this fresh feeling going. Oh sure, the familiar standbys are here in the form of the Mushroom and Fire Flower, but the rest are entirely new powerups exclusive to this game.
Such as the Elephant Fruit. Pick up this, and your character turns into an anthropomorphic elephant with related powers, including the ability to swipe at enemies with your trunk, store and spray water, and push heavy objects with ease. It’s a great addition to the series, and one which is a ton of fun to play around with too.
Same goes with the Bubble Flower and Drill. The former lets you blow bubbles that can trap enemies, activate objects and act as platforms, while the latter has you able to drill underground and protect yourself from falling hazards above. They’re both great fun to use, and open up all kinds of level design possibilities not seen in previous Mario titles.
There are also badges to play around with too, and these just vary up the formula even more. Oh sure, a few of them are fairly standard in function, like one that lets you start with a Mushroom or get Luigi’s higher jump from 3D Land/World.
But plenty of others are entirely and original. These include a grappling hook vine you can use by pressing R, a dash ability that lets you run in mid-air for a short while, and a parachute hat that lets you glide to name just a few. These add even more variety to how you can play each level, and let you customise your playtime to an absolutely ridiculous extent.
So as far as design and mechanics go, Wonder is a huge step above every Mario game to date. It’s got some creative level themes, more new enemies and mechanics than you can shake a stick at, and enough new powerups and badge effects to let you handle things in any way you choose.
Yet it’s not all perfect on this front. Why? Because sadly, Mario Wonder’s bosses are… less than inspired.
Since with the exception of the last one, they’re all Bowser Jr.
Yep, not the Koopalings, Kamek, Boom Boom and Bowser Jr. Or even a bunch of wacky new foes to face.
Basically, all Bowser Jr. Period.
And while these are not bad fights per se due to the Wonder mechanics involved, they’re less than impressive compared to the game around them. You’ve battled through a palace filled with interesting mechanics only to see the same guy you’ve fought three times already? Boring!
It’s a shame really, since the Wonder effects could easily have been mixed with some of Mario’s other foes to create memorable boss battles, or been used alongside bosses new to this game altogether, especially given that just about everything else in the game is in fact brand new.
Ah well, bosses aren’t everything, and the final boss is indeed fantastic, so it’s really just the odd castle boss that fails to stack up here.
It also helps that this game isn’t as heavy on the typical world formula as every other Mario game either. For instance, you know how every previous game had each world end with a castle and boss fight?
Well, that’s not really the case here. A few of them do sure, including the first one you come across.
But at least two others don’t play out that way at all, instead having a unique plot involving characters unique to that world instead. So, while the mediocre bosses would usually hold things back, here they’re not necessarily something you’ll see in every world.
In fact, the worlds in this game barely play out like one another at all. Oh sure, they’ve all got levels to complete and secrets to find, including a path to the secret world.
But they’re also kinda story driven too, with each one either giving you a task to help with (saving Popplins, training with a sage) or illustrating how Bowser Jr is hurting the population with his antics (stealing the desert’s water, causing lava levels to rise, etc). Hence there’s a really drive to actually complete them, as well a sense of personality than most of the previous 2D titles didn’t really have.
Add this to the more open-ended nature of the map (three of the worlds can be done in any order, and most worlds have most of their levels as optional), and Mario Wonder is one of the most original games in years, with some solid gameplay and world design.
Yet the aesthetics aren’t no slouch here. Oh no, the presentation here is top notch too.
With the most important aspect being how much livelier and more animated all the characters and setting are. Now Mario and co actually emote and express how they’re feeling in levels and cutscenes, and background elements are lively and filled with detail too. It’s like if New Super Mario Bros U’s Painted Swampland was the setting for the game, and shares a lot of features with other more interesting modern platformers too, like the later Rayman games, Retro’s Donkey Kong Country games and Wario Land Shake It on Wii. It’s good stuff.
And the same goes for the music too. Just like with the aesthetics and level themes, barely anything was kept from the New Super Mario Bros series in this one, with every level and gimmick having an amazing song new to this title. The airship theme is certainly one of our favourites here:
But the rest of the soundtrack is just as good. Just take a listen:
It’s good stuff, and Nintendo knows it. In fact, they know it so much that the game seems to have a music theme in general, with numerous set pieces involving unique songs and Bowser’s own plot being based around music here.
So, the game looks, plays and sounds amazing. But how long does it last?
Well, a surprisingly long amount of time, that’s how long. Why? Because Super Mario Bros Wonder is surprisingly content heavy for a 2D Mario title.
And the main reason for that is simply that each world has far more levels in it than previous games did. For example, world 1 in this game has 21 levels, while the shortest world in the game has 12. That’s significantly more than your average New Super Mario Bros game, or any other Mario game for that matter. So right off the bat, you’ve got a 130+ level game to play through.
Of course, they’re not all normal levels here. The badge challenges are shorter levels revolving around specific badges and their abilities, the KO arenas are challenge areas where you have to defeat up to four waves of enemies and break levels are short bonus rooms where you have to clear a simple task to win…
But they are all levels nonetheless, and they will take you a fair while to complete if you’re not rushing through the game like we were.
Especially given how much of a step up in difficulty this game is to previous 2D Mario adventures. Oh sure, it’s not usually on the same level as Rayman or Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, let alone some sort of Kaizo hack.
But dear lord there are levels that get close to that, especially in the late game and secret world. In fact, those levels are so tough that the 99 lives item you can buy in the postgame might actually not be enough to get you through half of them, let alone the lot. It can be a tough game in parts, and one that’ll likely lead to broken controllers, lost hair and damaged TVs from players used to being able to breeze through certain past instalments.
There are also a ton of collectables to find and objectives to do as well. These including finding the Wonder Seeds in every level (not as easy as it sounds, since some have secret exits and hidden areas), getting the three big purple coins per level (like star coins in past games), reaching the top of the flagpole and collecting all 144 standees for multiplayer. These are all challenging tasks that’ll keep you going back for hours on end, and likely involving scouring every level like a hawk when you inevitably miss something.
So, with so much to see and do, you’ll be able to easily get 50 or more hours out of Super Mario Bros Wonder, depending on your overall skill level.
Either way, Super Mario Bros Wonder is an incredible game, and one of the best Mario platformers ever made. With amazing graphics and music, incredible levels with fantastic gimmicks and a whole host of improvements over past titles, it’s a day one buy for anyone interested in the series, and an amazing way to bring the series into a new generation.
Buy it now, you won’t regret it!