With the highs like Super Mario Odyssey on Nintendo Switch, Mario has had an incredible slew of titles released over the past six years. Yet, after all this time, we’ve just now received the first new 2D Mario title for the system, which only saw the bundled release of New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. 2D Mario titles were released under the New Super Mario Bros. branding since the Wii, but things have finally been born anew with Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
Mario and friends embark on a journey to the Flower Kingdom, where Bowser shows up unexpectedly and steals the Kingdom’s power to become a living Castle. It’s your typical Mario story we all know and love. Where things get fresh and exciting, however, is the creativity that shines in every aspect of the game.
Expressive, Colorful, and Creative
Upon entering the first level, I couldn’t help myself from smiling. The sheer joy that leaks from the screen with its vibrant and playful color palate is unfathomable. From the get-go, the breath of creativity is evident. Created by its color, style, and shading, the game has an emulated hand-drawn finish. Combined with the 3/4 view of each model, we’ve got beautiful visuals that will age like fine wine.
Each stage is exploding with color, which quickly catches the eye. It’s an excellent change of pace from previous entries, especially with Wonder as the first new 2D title in over a decade. As you navigate each world, the game balances itself on that world’s color palette for each of the levels. Background art varies within each level and is incredibly detailed, making for an all-immersive platformer.
The details and little things are what elevate Wonder from good to fantastic. This is seen right from the beginning with expressive animation that hasn’t been seen since the sprite work of the early 2D Mario titles. Looking at the New Super Mario Bros. series, it’s night and day. One of my favorite animations in Wonder is the simple Warp Pipe. Upon entering, Mario reaches back out to grab his hat as it flies off his head. It’s the little things like this that ultimately culminate into something magical.
This doesn’t just go for Mario and friends, either. Enemies all have loads of animations that feel more creative and fresh than ever. During my time with the game, I noticed just how much interaction there is between the player character and the enemies. For example, you can see Mario’s model visibly react when approaching a Goomba or a Maw-Maw, one of the new enemies in Wonder.
There is a reason so much time and budget went into the animations and overall ‘life’ of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. In an interview with NPR earlier this year, Takashi Tezuka specifically stated that the team poured the budget into animations. He said that coming off of the Mario movie, “we wanted [players] to experience something similar to that.” This is clear as day when maneuvering Mario across any of the stylistic and lavish levels, and it was well worth it.
Genius New Mechanics & Abilities
Like any Mario game, the gameplay and level design are where things shine. What better place to start than the elephant in the room, the new Elephant powerup? Three new powerups are brand-new to the Mario series with Super Mario Bros. Wonder. These are the Elephant Fruit, Drill Mushroom, and Bubble Flower. Each of these brings something entirely new to the table, in addition to unlocking new ways to complete levels.
By far, my favorite powerup was the Elephant Fruit. It’s a blast to play, and the animations of seeing your character squeeze through tight passages or plowing through enemies were hilarious to watch unfold. The Drill Mushroom is also an excellent addition to the fray. With this, you can burrow into the ground above or below you, creating a whole new playing field for each level. As for the Bubble Flower, it’s alright. I like the premise behind it, but I feel like there could have been neater abilities alongside it. It almost feels like a Badge at times, which is another massive part of the Wonder gameplay experience.
The innovation continues with the revelation of Badges. These break the barrier of what used to be possible in a 2D Mario game by allowing players to equip a special ability of their choosing before each level. There are two dozen Badges to collect, which can be done through Badge Challenges and purchasing select ones throughout the game’s various stores. Great examples of these include the Grappling Vine (Yes, the grappling hook mechanic has finally made it into a Mario game!), Dolphin Kick, and Parachute Cap. In total, there are three categories of Badges: Action, Boost, and Expert. Action Badges grant you a new ability, Boost Badges grant a boosted stat or mechanic, and Expert Badges unlock strong, game-changing abilities.
Said Badges also bolster the replayability of an already very replayable title. By choosing different Badges, you can attempt levels from different angles. This is needed plenty of times to get different items like the three purple coins or Wonder Flower. While this mechanic diversifies Mario’s abilities, it feels like there could have been more substance here in some areas.
Some of the Badges feel like mechanics we’ve seen in previous Mario titles. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it does make unlocking certain Badges a little underwhelming. On the flip side, some of the Badges were an absolute treat to use. I loved the Grappling Vine, which allows you to zip up to platforms and ledges you couldn’t reach otherwise. All I could think about was how it took almost 40 years to implement a mechanic like this, which integrates flawlessly into the gameplay experience.
Overall, though, this is a highly innovative and exciting feature for Wonder. It feels like the biggest shakeup to the classic Mario formula over everything in this game, especially as the Mario titles tend to only include one big new ability per game. I’m hoping a lot of these abilities return in future titles, as quite a few naturally slot into the plumber’s move set.
Now, the star (and namesake) of the show: Wonder Flowers. If I’m recommending Super Mario Bros. Wonder for any reason, it’s the wacky and unpredictable nature of the Wonder Flowers. Each level has a Wonder Flower to find, and it’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen as a result of its activation.
The first level in the game sees the iconic Warp Pipes grow eyes and begin to inch like worms. The second level? A group of Piranha Plants appears on screen to sing a song. That level, in particular, blew my mind, as you can defeat the plants with fireballs, and the singing will stop until more spawn. I mentioned how Wonder made me smile with its many joyful moments, and I attribute most of those to these Wonder Flowers. It’s something you just need to experience for yourself, as it really is that fun. This is a game that heavily benefits from a first-time experience with a fresh set of eyes. I’ve purposely omitted plenty of detail within this review to preserve that first playthrough.
This seamlessly incorporates into the level design, which is phenomenal. While it’s not anything groundbreaking from a platformer perspective, each level is expertly crafted. With the new abilities, you can truthfully attempt levels in a number of different ways. It’s up to the player. Naturally, this blends the development team’s creative elements into this title. In the world menu, you have the ability to choose stages in almost any order you choose. I loved this creative approach. Older titles were strictly linear, but Nintendo has allowed players to take down levels as they please.
And we can’t move forward without touching on the talking flowers. Throughout each level, you’ll find different talking flowers. These flowers might have snarky comments, hints, or silly jokes as you dash and speed past them. This truly elevates the game’s environment, making 2D Mario feel more alive than ever. Moreover, this is naturally incorporated with the game’s new sound design elements, a breath of fresh air from the classic sounds we’re used to.
To touch on a few areas I wish were improved, I have to start with the music. The Mario series is known for its incredible music that has rocked the video game industry for decades. Tracks like “World Map 1” from Super Mario Bros. 3, and more recently, “Steam Gardens” or “Fossil Falls” from Super Mario Odyssey. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for the OST of Wonder. The music overall is much improved from previous 2D Mario titles, with a genuine creative theme across the board. However, many of the tracks for each level end up re-using said theme, and it was not something I thought about much.
There are definitely some great tracks, like “Fluff-Puff Peaks” or some of the Wonder Flower themes. Yet, there just are not many memorable tracks here. That’s not to say the OST is anywhere near bad, but I can’t say it’s particularly significant, either. It’s disappointing, especially as Koji Kondo returned to compose for this game. As I mentioned, the sound design in Wonder is killer, which is why this feels so disappointing. With the wacky and unpredictable nature of the game, it feels like the composers behind the title could have followed that pattern.
Additionally, plenty have voiced online that Wonder was just too easy. Naturally, this is expected with any Mario title. However, I wish Nintendo included more four and five-star levels, which presented a real challenge for me. These levels required a level of precision that just wasn’t present at the more manageable one to three-star levels.
Wonder marks a new era for 2D Mario, both with its gameplay system and voice actors, with Kevin Afghani taking over for Charles Martinet after three decades. Speaking of, I was impressed with Afghani’s performance. It’s something that fans will surely debate about for years to come, but I thought he did a great job with both Mario and Luigi here. It’s a new, yet similar, take on the characters that I’m looking forward to hearing more of.
A Wondrous Time
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is yet another easy recommendation for the Nintendo Switch library and an easy Game of the Year contender in a very packed year. New and old fans will come to love the joy of discovery and creativity that’s been missing for so long. I can’t wait to see how Nintendo pushes the 2D platformer forward once more, using Wonder as a base.
Even though the title doesn’t necessarily define or reinvent the genre, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an excellent title that takes the lessons of 2D Mario past and combines them with creative and unexpected platforming. It’s my favorite 2D platformer from Nintendo since DKC: Tropical Freeze. As if it hasn’t been said enough already, Wonder is genuinely the greatest 2D Mario title since Super Mario World. And that’s about the biggest compliment I can give it.
Disclaimer: Nintendo provided Final Weapon with a Nintendo Switch copy of Super Mario Bros. Wonder for review purposes.