Introducing Super Mario Bros. Wonder: A Game of the Ages
Without beating around the bush, the 2D Super Mario Bros. games have felt a bit predictable and too safe for years. It’s been a while since a new game in the series debuted and was truly amazing, which is exactly what makes Super Mario Bros. Wonder so much. However, with launch imminent, I’ve begun my journey through Flower Kingdom in this compelling and enjoyable game, and from what I’ve been able to play and tell you so far, it’s clear that Wonder will become a Mario game of the ages.
Because the game not only pays homage to the 2D games that came before it in a very compelling way, but it also elevates the series and brings it into the modern era with its creative use of sound and music, as well as new gameplay mechanics. Wonder doesn’t just throw in new biomes and the occasional new item, instead, it looks fantastic with colorful animations, fun new challenges and objectives, modern iterations of beloved 2D formulas, and a use of music to draw you in that I don’t think we’ve ever seen in a Mario game before.
Of course, the idea is still to progress through 2D and occasionally 2.5D levels by constantly moving to the right. There will be Goombas and Koopas and various other enemies along the way, as well as environmental hazards, coins to collect, blocks to smash, power-ups to obtain, and secrets to discover. The soul of the former Super Mario Bros. game remains in Wonder, but it’s also been enhanced with clever new mechanics, like being able to push some pipes to solve puzzles, pull apart background pieces, place stickers to mark your presence, and of course, Wonder Seeds grab takes you to different parts of the course, which are used to open paths to new worlds and levels in the overworld.
Speaking of the overworld, this is no longer as rigid as in previous Super Mario Bros. games. There are sections where you can only travel around in specific ways, but there are also sections where you can run around more freely, letting you interact with the world and choose levels as you see fit. It’s not a huge change to the formula, but it’s noticeable and adds a lot of character. As for the levels you can sneak into from the overworld, these are highly diverse and unique. The actual main course isn’t too long but is filled with opportunities to discover secrets and complete other objectives, such as picking up larger Flower Coins (a new type of currency). The smaller side levels you can dive into are where the mini-games really come into their own, and some are even challenges that require you to prove your skills using some of the available Badges.
Badges, for those unfamiliar, are essentially perks that you can activate before a course. This could be something as trivial as enemies now dropping coins when defeated or the ability to wall jump more easily. Some even introduce new mechanics entirely, like the Parachute Cap, which pretty much does what it says on the tin – it allows you to use your hat as a parachute, slowing your fall and allowing you to glide through gaps. There are a ton of Badges to collect, each of which changes the gameplay extensively without detracting from the core and beloved platform-first Super Mario Bros. gameplay that has stood the test of time. But having said that, it does feel like the badges have impacted the presence of the items, as there are significantly fewer of them, and the newly added badges aren’t as powerful as what we’ve seen in the past.
One of the other areas where Super Mario Bros. Wonder builds upon past games is its playable cast. Here you can choose from Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Daisy, Blue Toad, Yellow Toad, Toadette, Blue, Yellow, Red, or Green Yoshi, and of course, Nabit. Yoshis and Nabit are designed to avoid a lot of dangers, while the rest of the cast gets the full untapped Wonder experience. Each character can also work together in multiplayer, which includes being able to revive each other and even hitchhike with each other if you have Yoshi on your team.
But while that’s all well and good, none of it really blew me away as much as the combination of sounds. The soundtrack and the way the world reacts to your presence, stepping on blocks, smashing enemies, picking up power-ups, and more, are all handled in such a way that adds so much personality and charm to the game that you’ll have a smile plastered on your face the whole time. I haven’t yet seen how this will continue to be explored as the story develops, but so far from early attempts at this game, it’s very, very clear that the sound design is unlike anything else in Wonder.
We’ve had a lot of truly great games this year, but if early experiences with Super Mario Bros. Wonder are anything to go by, this 2D platformer might just be the best yet. We’re supposed to be in the sunset of the Switch, but Nintendo can’t seem to stop itself from launching some of the best games we’ve ever seen for the platform. If you’ve been missing the iconic red plumber and his friends, Wonder is becoming a must-play show.