To say Nintendo has had a heck of a year would be a ridiculous understatement. The Super Mario Bros. Movie smashed box office records left and right, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom turned out to be more than the Breath of the Wild sequel that people wanted and is a heavy favorite for Game of the Year again, and we even saw a Pikmin sequel along with a more than remastered Metroid Prime. And even with this release of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, there’s still one more big game coming before the holidays, but let’s run it back–Super Mario Bros. Wonder is also a GOTY candidate.
Announced at a Nintendo Direct just a few months ago, Super Mario Bros. Wonder caught people by surprise as there were already other exciting Mario titles announced, but Wonder also apparently represented a much needed visual change to differentiate it from the “New” Super Mario Bros. games aside from just the new power-ups and characters to freshen up the formula.
I say apparently in regards to visual change because, honestly, I don’t see it. The faces look like they animate a little differently, but they still look very much the same to me. With all the aesthetic changes they’ve made to the series with Wonder, it all still feels familiar, and that’s what makes it great.
As far as the story goes, this is a Mario game and there isn’t much to see here, but it’s worth noting it’s not about saving Princess Peach anymore (since she’s a playable character). Bowser is still a jerk though, as he crashes a party at the Flower Kingdom thrown by their Prince Florian and steals the Wonder Flower, one of the Flower Kingdom’s greatest treasures that warps reality and ends up being what really sets this game apart from other Mario games. Thanks to the powers of the Wonder Flower, Bowser merges with he Wonder Flower Castle and becomes quite the evil fortress. So now it’s up to Mario and his friends to help Prince Florian and get the Wonder Flower back to save the Flower Kingdom.
When you start the game, you have your choice between Mario, Luigi, Peach, different colored Toads, different colored Yoshis, and Nabbit. Every character except the Yoshis and Nabbit play exactly the same, so if you’re expecting Luigi to flutter or Peach to float like they did in Super Mario Bros. 2 and Super Mario 3D World, this doesn’t happen–but there’s a perfect explanation to that we’ll go over in a bit. As for what makes the Yoshis and Nabbit different, they’re essentially “easy mode” characters. Yoshi and Nabbit can’t get hurt, but they can still die by falling off the map.
Some players will be pleased to know that Mario Wonder supports both couch co-op multiplayer and online play. Aside from Nintendo Wi-Fi being as limiting as it is, the reason “some” players will be pleased with the multiplayer is like the last few 2D Mario games before this one, it can actually be to your disadvantage. If you’re playing with people not up to par with your skill, it’s just not going to be as fun for the less skilled players. Players that fall behind end up in a floating bubble, and the only way to get out of this bubble is by touching the “lead” player. More often than not, the lead player will be player 1 or the player that has yet to die in the level. This was as annoying a feature as it was when it was first presented, and it’s unfortunate because games like Disney’s Illusion Island solved this problem by panning out to show every character on the stage no matter how far away they were. The saving grace here, which some people won’t like, is that aside from “reviving” each other, players can’t interact with each other anymore. So if you’re hoping to “carry” your friends to the flagpole or use them as extra platforms, that’s no longer an option.
If you’re someone that does struggle with platformers, Mario Wonder utilizes a “Badge” system that makes the game more accessible. Remember how I mentioned that none of the characters handle differently? Badges can help with that. Having trouble wall jumping? You can use the Wall Climb Badge that’ll have your character stay on a wall for a little bit, jump up, and then off the wall for more air. Don’t like how far your character can jump? You can use the Floating High Jump to make characters flutter like Luigi or the Parasol Badge to stay in the air for a little longer to go greater distances. You can only have one badge equipped at a time so things don’t become too easy, but it’s worth noting that while the badges can help you in a tight spot, in places like the Secret World that rely totally on your platforming skill, badges might be more of a detriment than an advantage.
Annoyances with multiplayer and the lack of differentiation between the characters aside, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is nothing short of wonderful. (Yay, pun!)
On the surface, Mario Wonder looks and feels like other 2D Mario games but with new power-ups providing for quite a fresh experience. In addition to returning power-ups like the Mushroom or Fire Flower, players also have power-ups like the Drillshroom that’ll give your character a drill cap to allow them to plow through ceilings or the ground to get to otherwise unreachable areas; there’s the Bubbleshroom that’ll give you the ability to turn your enemies into bubbles that’ll also propel your character up when bouncing off these bubbles; and last but not least, there’s the Elephant Fruit that’ll turn your character into an Elephant that can snap its trunk at enemies and absorb water to spray as an attack or to use on flowers to cause them to bloom and make hidden items appear.
Speaking of flowers, every level in the game is infested with talking flowers. While mostly there for comic relief with their snappy and witty dialog, the talking flowers can also be a guide when you’re stuck. Every level in the game has various items and secrets to uncover, with some obviously being harder to find than others. It’s really easy to quickly go to the end of the level and miss out on various things, and these yappy flowers have helped on several occasions. I have to admit my appreciation for more of their troll statements though. There was one Badge Challenge level my brother and I were struggling through where we had to platform up a seemingly impossible course with the Wall Jump and hearing him say “Are you gonna go up from the left or the right?” got increasingly annoying. Once we pulled it off though and reached the talking flower at the top telling us “I’ve always believed in you” got quite the chuckle.
To speak more about the design, every level has three big flower coins (which replace the big coins), Wonder Flower, and a corresponding Wonder Seed. The Wonder Flowers change everything, literally, and there are so many scenarios to talk about when it comes to picking them up. Almost every instance, though, changes each level’s visual style and how to approach it. Some levels will turn you into an enemy like a Goomba and forces you to use their abilities (or lack thereof) to get to the Wonder Seed and end of the level. Another fun Wonder segment saw the level all of a sudden become a bullet hell shooter. The Wonder Seed adds a welcome sense of diversity to the game that rarely overstays their welcome, and each one is fantastic which is a testament to the care and attention to detail that each level has. While the difficulty can have some random spikes, there wasn’t a time in which I wasn’t enjoying what I was doing.
This is what makes Super Mario Bros. Wonder such a joy to come back to. Not too many players will have trouble reaching the final fortress and beating Bowser, but there’s a lot of fun to be had by making sure you’ve beaten every level completely by finding all the Big Flower Coins, every Wonder Flower, as well as its corresponding Wonder Seed in addition to grabbing the top of each flagpole. And even if you’re able to accomplish this, doing the same thing in the game’s exceedingly difficult “secret” world should keep even the most dedicated Mario masters busy.
While I have my reservations about whether or not Super Mario Bros. Wonder represents the first big step for the series away from the “New” Super Mario Bros. iterations, this is easily the most fun I’ve had with a 2D Mario platformer since Super Mario Bros. 3 (a game I hold in higher regard than Super Mario World), undoubtedly making it not only of the best games of the year but one of the best games on the Switch.