Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review – WGB, Home of AWESOME Reviews

We open with Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy and a few other pals visiting the Flower Kingdom to witness the demonstration of the kingdom’s greatest treasure, the Wonder Flower which is capable of warping reality around it. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Bowser crashes the party (shocking, I know) and steals the Kingdom’s Wonder Flower, causing Bowser and the nearby castle to meld into a giant, floating fortress. Bowser pulls a Bowser and vanishes for the time being to enact some nefarious plan, leaving Mario and his pals to journey around the Flower Kingdom in search of Wonder Seeds in order to get close to Bowser and end his scheming.

It’s the standard paper-thin Mario plot, an excuse to go on an adventure across beautiful locations and stomp on enemies. But while the plot might be thinner than Paper Mario, the graphics are richer and fuller than my overwhelming crush on Princess Peach. Sure, the Switch is still an ageing piece of hardware that’s struggling to keep up with its big brothers but Nintendo managed to draw every ounce of power from their machine and it really shows. You can see and feel the love and passion that’s been poured into every pixel of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Nowhere is this truer than in the animations, like how Mario reaches back for his hat when he travels through a pipe or in the lumbering run of the special elephant form.

Available On: Nintendo Switch
Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch
Developed By: Nintendo
Published By: Nintendo

Oh yeah, the elephant in the room. Heavily featured in all the promotional material prior to Wonder’s release, the elephant is one of three new powerups to be found in Wonder and is easily the coolest of the bunch. Grab one of these bad boys and whatever character you’re playing will be transformed into a chunky, charming elephant, which in Mario’s case will also be sporting a spiffing moustache. The extra weight makes smashing blocks a breeze, you can swipe with the trunk and even store water to spray over hot blocks. I also freaking adore the cutesy animation of elephants squeezing through tunnels.

Let’s not forget the other new powerups, though. One of them lets you toss out bubbles that can absorb enemies and collect coins. At first, it’s underwhelming, but it does have a neat trick: you can bounce on the bubbles. It’s fun, but it’s also a remarkably easy way to break a few levels because with a bit of skill you can bounce and pop your way over heaps of things. Youtube is packed with videos of people managing to skip entire levels by hopping from bubble to bubble.

The second powerup turns your character into a living drill capable of going underground or even into the ceiling. It’s pretty freaking awesome and a great addition to the Mario armoury. Each new power alters how you see a level, too, because they can let you get to areas that are otherwise off limits. During the development of Mario Wonder, it was mentioned that the team wanted to bring back a little of the mystery and exploration from the past games and I think they mostly managed that.

Playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a joyous experience, capturing the same sense of fun that the classic Mario games have always produced. It really does aim to recreate the wonder of those old games, the wonder that sometimes can get lost in the modern era of gaming. There’s a lot to be said for complex gameplay mechanics, deep stats, interweaving stories, massive worlds and all that, but sometimes it’s nice to play something where you jump, stomp on bad guys and guzzle mushrooms like an addict that hasn’t had a fix in the last week. It’s simplistic, but in that simplicity hides a purity of gameplay that connects directly to the dopamine centre of the brain.

A massive part of this success, aside from the return to 2D platforming, is how damn good the controls feel. The controls are crisp and responsive with just the right amount of momentum and floatiness to the jumps. There’s never any sense of being anything other than in perfect control of Mario and his friends, ensuring that whether you make a tricky jump or not is purely down to you. This is, by my reckoning, the best 2D Mario has ever felt which is certainly saying something.

One huge change that somehow doesn’t get mentioned in a lot of reviews is that the classic Mario timer has been tossed out a window. This changes everything since you’re no longer battling against the clock to reach the flagpole. Now, you can hang out a little and investigate every nook and cranny for hidden items, coins and the super-secret alternate level ending points. As someone who intensely dislikes having a time limit, this new-found freedom is a joy.

The “Wonder” part of the game’s title comes when you discover the Wonder Seed hidden in almost every course. When you grab one it’s like Mario and his friends dropped acid, the game suddenly turning into some crazed drug trip. The brilliance of these sections is that you never quite know what’s going to happen in them. Maybe you’ll wind up in a musical where the piranha plants are singing, or ride through the level on the back of a tunnel that’s turned into a worm. You may not even remain a humanoid and instead become a blob that can stick to walls. These Seeds are important for working through the overworld, being used to break into levels that are blocking you from the next section. But more importantly, they are a huge driving force in keeping you playing, the allure of each new one and the surprise that comes with it providing a damn good reason to see the adventure through. Y’know, if the classic Mario platforming wasn’t already enough.

Along Mario and co’s journey thought the Flower Kingdom, they stumble upon a selection (around two dozen, in total) of badges that grant special powers. One of these can be equipped at any time, allowing Mario to float through the air using his hat or perform an extra high, floaty jump or even toss out a grappling hook. They are a fun way to mix up the gameplay a little, like permanent versions of the power-ups sprinkled across the levels. Not all of them are bangers because quite a few seem like variations of just jumping higher and the Dolphin Kick is only useful in a few courses, but unlocking each one is a nice burst of excitement. There’s even a second type of badge designed to act as difficulty modifiers, like one that will automatically save you when you jump into lava or another one that adds extra blocks into the courses. These are a clever way of giving players, especially younger ones, a helping hand, although Super Mario Bros. Wonder is rarely very challenging anyway. And if making things easier doesn’t appeal, there’s always the Expert Badges which do things like making you run at high-speed all the time or even turning your character invisible.

There’s another way to make it easier, too: just pick one of the Yoshis or Nabbit from the lineup. These characters are invincible, making them perfect for young kids who just want to jump around without getting annoyed. The trade-off as that they can’t use powerups like the other characters can.

Right, the multiple characters. There’s 8 characters you can play as (Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Toad, Toadette, Yoshi and Nabbit) and you can take three pals along for the ride, either via local co-op or by hooking up to Nintendo’s online service. Collision detection is turned off by default this time which could be a con or a positive depending on how you feel about throwing your pals into pits or getting your jump blocked because somebody stood in the wrong place.

Naturally, having a few friends adventuring through the Flower Kingdom makes an already fun game even more enjoyable. And yet, there’s a few things I don’t like about it. Compared to the previous games in the series there’s much less room to move around in co-op without being killed instantly because you went off-screen. The camera is kept close to the action, a potential positive for those who don’t like the camera being zoomed out, so when a player steps outside of that zone they are immediately eliminated. If you’re playing with a couple of communicative people who understand the limitations in place it’s fine for the most part. However, in some of the faster platforming sequences its a pain in the ass because the leader player might move a little quicker or a little slower than someone else and WHAM! Someone is out of camera and needs to be revived. Its worse when you’re playing with kids or impatient people who want to run off to the next thing while other people are looking for every secret they can find.

Another issue I ran into is that whoever gets the highest on the flagpole at the end of the level becomes the number one player. If you happen to be playing with some younger players, which in my case was my little niece, you can wind up with a crazed demon-child in control of the flow of the game. The only way to regain that control is to make it to the flag first or restart the game. This probably isn’t an issue when you’re playing with adults who can communicate and won’t just rush off like a maniac. If you want to play Wonder with your kids or family, though, it might result in a few headaches.

Those few design decisions really damaged my experience with the co-op. Instead of firing up the game with a few friends or family members, I had to become like a scientist, carefully calculating which people to play with in any particular session. Get the wrong mix and the joyful, comforting feel of Super Mario Bros. Wonder fades away and is replaced with an annoyance because people keep dying, and not in the funny way. In the end, then, as fun as co-op can be when it all comes together I found myself sticking to playing solo.

I think there is a another fair criticism to make of Super Mario Bros. Wonder before we wrap up this review: it’s pretty much just another Mario game. It’s absolutely gorgeous, plays great and has a few fun wrinkles, but it’s also not a huge leap forward for the plumber and his pals. Some part of me expected a little bit more from Wonder in terms of advancing what Mario means and will be going into the future. Perhaps those expectations were unfounded and unfair, though. And they certainly don’t take away from how fun Wonder is.

Nintendo’s most iconic character has returned to his roots and it’s god-damn glorious. Super Mario Bros. Wonder proves that the franchise’s future isn’t just in three dimensions. There’s plenty of room for just two. The controls are tighter than Mario’s toned buttocks, and the Wonder Seeds are a fantastic way of bringing some creative twists to every level. While it’s not as technically impressive as something like Marvel’s Spider-Man 2, as vast as Baldur’s Gate 3 or even as creatively crazy as Alan Wake 2, it is a bolt of pure unbridled joy blasted through your spine and right into your brain.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

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