As a series that has been around for nearly four decades, Super Mario Bros. should have shown signs of slowing down years ago. But continuous thoughtful reinvention has helped the franchise remain a genre leader. Super Mario Bros. Wonder represents the next step of evolution, delivering the tight, tried-and-true gameplay in the context of the most creative 2D entry in nearly 30 years.
Simply platforming through a stage is often a pure delight; Mario and his large roster of friends have never felt, looked, or sounded better. A joyful soundtrack full of upbeat earworms I’ve been humming since I first turned on the game complements superb gameplay. And the new expressive art style accentuates the most important parts of the characters and world.
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Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s level design rarely disappoints. Each course introduces a new, creative gimmick. Whether it’s hippo-like creatures you can bounce off to reach new areas or circular rocks you must use to roll through lava while snatching collectibles, the perfectly designed on-ramps let me learn the new convention. However, the excitement of how the stage gimmick would evolve to its ultimate utilization always had me champing at the bit.
The new power-ups, namely the Elephant Fruit, Drill Mushroom, and Bubble Flower, add fun and practical ways to explore each stage. However, the new Badge system is my favorite way to augment my character’s abilities. The Parachute Cap, which lets you glide, and the Sensor, which tells you when there’s a secret nearby, were helpful, but my favorite was always the Crouching High Jump, thanks to its wide-ranging utility.
Still, the key attractions were the eponymous Wonder Effects. These level-changing warps had me constantly guessing at what could possibly come next. I never knew if grabbing the Wonder Flower would transform Mario into one of Bowser’s minions, skyrocket him into an outer space obstacle course, or cause the entire stage to break out into song. Nintendo used this opportunity to install all-new gameplay mechanics like top-down sequences, slow-motion action, and fun chase sequences. I adore how unexpected each Wonder Effect is, even aiding the title’s less creative boss battles.
Though there are only a few true boss fights in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, they use Wonder Effects to bring new twists. However, outside of these effects, which include changing the terrain, cloning enemies, and more, most battles are against the same character with the same move set. I appreciate how far the Wonder Effects go toward diversifying these confrontations, but I can’t help but wish for more variety in the encounters themselves. Thankfully, that’s not the case for the final battle, which will stick with me for a long time due to its uncompromised use of Wonder Effects in a creative and fun fight.
I spent most of my time in Super Mario Bros. Wonder solo, but I enjoyed the limited multiplayer offering. I’m disappointed by the lack of online cooperative play, but playing locally with friends is a blast and less chaotic than past games since characters can’t interact with each other (aside from riding on Yoshi).
You can play online with friends, but you’re limited to forming a lobby where you appear as ghosts in separate instances; you revive each other, but that’s the extent of the interaction. You can also set up course races, where you see who makes it to the flagpole first, but while these challenges are enjoyable, they take away what makes Super Mario Bros. Wonder so good in the first place. My favorite moments in Super Mario Bros. Wonder came when I was taking my time finding secrets or enjoying Wonder Effects rather than speedrunning.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder surprises and delights from the moment you turn on the game. Though the gameplay feels familiar, Nintendo’s ability to iterate on the established formula in unique ways kept me on my toes throughout the journey all the way up to the memorable final battle. After all this time, I thought I had a grasp on the breadth of the tricks the 2D Mario series had up its sleeve, but that Super Mario Bros. Wonder so consistently surprised me speaks to just how much gas is left in the iconic franchise’s tank.
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