In the eleven years since New Super Mario Bros. U was first released, 2D platformers have changed a lot. Not only are there a lot more of these overall – thanks to some very creative small team projects – but I would argue that the genre has largely shifted towards increasing the complexity of the overall experience. Many side scrollers these days use popular systems with added depth; Rouge-like elements, skill trees, sprawling and interconnected maps, soul-like combat, or maybe all of them. These can all be great things, and I’ve certainly had some great memories with some out-of-left-field projects over the past decade, but sometimes it’s nice to experience a platformer where the joy doesn’t necessarily come from tackling a complex one Challenge arises or system, but from something simpler. For me in the case of Super Mario Bros Wonder, that joy came from surprise. And in my final 30-minute demo session with the game, I was amazed at almost every turn.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder has certainly gained more depth compared to previous Mario platformers – it too has adopted the idea of a fluid and customizable skillset with its new badge system. During a playthrough, players unlock new abilities that they can equip before the start of a stage or after Mario and his friends lose a life. These badges can do everything from allowing characters to glide in the air, to swim faster underwater, to magnetically attract coins toward the player that are within a certain range. These small changes are just options though – they might make aspects of the game a little more accessible or add an additional traversal option, but they can also be ignored by players who prefer to run and jump around. They’re all easy to understand at first glance, and many of them are passive abilities, offering a way to mix up the experience without overwhelming the player.
But the highlight of my playthrough – demoing both solo and local co-op play alongside other PAX attendees – was simply basking in the incredible world Nintendo has created. While the new Flower Kingdom setting shares similar environmental themes to the Mushroom Kingdom from other Mario games, every stage I played felt genuinely new. The Miracle Flowers are obviously an important part of this, promising to shake up each level in bizarre and odd ways, from warp whistles dancing and bouncing around to a whirlwind of super stars raining down from the sky. This alone means that a thorough player could probably get two different-feel playthroughs out of each stage, and possibly more. A stage in the first world had a huge underground area big enough that it probably could have been its own level in a previous Mario game. In a major upheaval for the series, none of these stages are time-limited; This means players have more opportunities than ever to explore the environment without being penalized, and so far I feel this has been a great decision.
The new enemies – of which there seem to be a great many – also help make Super Mario Bros. Wonder really feel fresh. Some of them are mechanically similar – Konks are basically just Thwomps – but others, like a really fast Gopher-style creature that steals things you’ll probably want to collect before sprinting across the map, have been a really enjoyable one every time surprise when I met them.
The movement in the game feels absolutely incredible. Mario platform games have always felt very natural to me and by their very nature lend themselves to being learned quickly, but I don’t think Mario has ever felt as fluid and nimble as it did in Super Mario Bros. Wonder. When you jump in the air you always feel like you are in full control; When you land on the ground, your momentum never falters, but it’s easier than ever to flip and flip in the other direction at lightning speed. Badges also offer additional options such as: B. Turning your wall jump into a kind of wall climbing and the relief of climbing impressively high. The incredible animation goes a long way in making the cast feel more alive, from the way Mario pulls himself out of a pipe to the way Yoshi visibly strains as he carries an elephant-sized character on his back carries. That sense of flourish carries over into the sound design – and while it was difficult to hear all the details in Nintendo Live’s crowded exhibit hall, I loved details like a cymbal coming together during a ground hit. I need to hear more from our talking flower friend before I can rate the funniest Mario character in a long time, but so far I’ve found the botanical sidekick adorable.
Local co-op retains all the fun of single player play, but one change from the “New” line of Mario games seems to be that there’s less opportunity to annoy those you’re playing with – Characters, for example, don’t nudge each other so often that it will likely be more difficult to “unintentionally” nudge your friends into a lava pit. I would imagine this will be a slight disappointment for the troublemakers out there, but in my opinion, the co-op play in Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels more balanced than any other Mario sidescroller I’ve played. The frame rate was rock solid no matter how many people were on screen, and I really enjoyed jumping on the player-controlled Yoshi to get hold of a high tier coin, for example.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder will compete with some very big games when it comes out on October 20th, but if the title comes out in as polished a state as it obviously already is, and if it manages to keep surprising those in the know Mario gamers, this might be one of the most refreshing platform games from Nintendo in a long time. We will post a review of the game shortly after release; In the meantime, I’ll be wondering how much creativity can possibly be packed into this single game.