REVIEW: What's So Wonderful About Mario's New Game?
The last time a mainline entry in Nintendo’s flagship Mario series was released, Donald Trump was president, Mac Miller was still alive, Catalonia had declared itself independent for a whopping 8 seconds and Disney hadn’t yet purchased 20th Century Fox. As the Japanese powerhouse’s best-selling Switch console ages into its 7th year on sale, and with rumors of a successor arriving later next year, a swansong title for the system couldn’t come at a better time. This year’s Super Mario Bros. Wonder aims to refresh Mario’s winning 2D formula for the first time in nearly 20 years.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the first fully original 2D Mario title since 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, a runaway success that spawned 4 sequels released over 7 years (not counting the 2019 re-release of the final sequel, New Super Mario Bros. U). Although New Super Mario Bros. received mass critical acclaim upon release, the oversaturation and derivation of its following sequels bored critics and audiences, leaving Mario fans clamoring for something different. Although Super Mario Bros. Wonder borrows many core gameplay elements from the New Super Mario Bros. series and other previous 2D Mario games, the new entry has an art style and identity refresh long overdue for the now box-office breaking plumber.
Wonder’s art style strikes you immediately. The game takes obvious cues from the 1980’s era of the franchise with its art direction, while keeping a modern polish. Level backgrounds and environments look like sparkly, crisp reduxes of the New Super Mario Bros. series’ whimsical worlds, enhanced by a clear coat of finish not seen in said previous titles. Characters look like they were ripped straight from the box arts and magazine prints of yesteryear and shined up with several new coats of paint. Menus/UI have an almost 70’s funk to them, most reminding me of old arcade machines and their advertisements. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is able to expertly blend these aesthetics without making them clash or stick out like a sore thumb. Couple that with a buttery smooth frame rate and excellent performance (especially impressive for a console as weak as the Switch), and it’s easy to conclude that Nintendo’s latest offering is a real treat to the eyes!
As for the gameplay, it’s what you’d expect in Mario. Run-n-Jump platforming spread throughout several tightly crafted and cleverly creative levels. The series’ iconic power-ups are kept slim in this entry; limited to the known Mushrooms and Fire Flower, while also adding the ability to play as an elephant version of your mushroom kingdom hero of choice, drill atop walls, or blow bubbles. Throughout the game, players collect badges they can select before levels that add small boosts such as automatically collecting coins or adding a boost to their spin-jump. Expected Mario motifs such as deserts, clouds, and sewers theme the game’s 7 worlds. Super Mario Bros. Wonder doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel when it comes to the franchise’s tried-and-true formula.
Mario has never been known as an icon of challenge, and that certainly continues in this latest entry. Gamers are given the option to play normal difficulty as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, 2 Toads and Toadette; or play easy mode as a variety of Yoshis and Nabbit. I played the entire game without the use of Yoshi/Nabbit mode and found most of the levels to be a cakewalk. This wasn’t a major hindrance to my enjoyment as I expect Mario to be relatively easy and mostly focused on the out-of-the-box ideas presented by its level design, but it’s something to note if you’re looking for a game that pushes your problem-solving skills.
Besides its relative lack of difficulty, players may also take issue with the voice flowers sprinkled throughout each level. These characters, marking a first in the Mario series with full voice-acting in its gameplay, spit simplistic one-liners that many gamers will find bland and annoying. YouTube critic videogamedunkey describes them as “...only in the game to encourage young players” in his otherwise glowing review, a conclusion I imagine many who pick up Super Mario Bros. Wonder will reach too. The voice flowers are easy to turn off in the game’s settings, which even allow you to change their language separate from the rest of the game’s text, so this shouldn’t be a big caveat.
Something small but worthy of note about Super Mario Bros. Wonder in my opinion is that the entire game is on the physical card and is playable right as you insert it into your Switch console. In an era of frequent day 1 updates for even the most polished of titles, it’s refreshing to see a game completely playable without any use of the internet or need to download anything extra. Online multiplayer is available in Wonder; however, I was unable to test it for this review.
Overall, Super Mario Bros. Wonder lives up to its name and is a wonderful experience for all. With its gorgeously charming graphics, satisfyingly tight gameplay, and abundance of creativity, the red plumber’s latest quest against Bowser is one to look out for if you haven’t had an excuse to pick up your Nintendo in a while. Although I personally would’ve liked to see Mario delve into the more challenging realms titles such as Cuphead and Super Meat Boy have ventured, I’m more than gleeful to guide the cheeky Brooklynite throughout the various kingdoms of Toadstool for yet another excellent adventure.