The newest Nintendo Switch title, “Super Mario Bros Wonder,” released worldwide on Oct. 20, is the first fully original 2D Mario game in over a decade. In a year of hotly anticipated game releases, Nintendo’s flagship franchise sticks out from the crowd, providing players with expertly crafted level design that twists the 2D platformer genre on its head.
The previous era of 2D Mario games, whose releases spanned from 2006 to 2012, went under the moniker of “New Super Mario Bros”. Every one of these games was well made in its own right, but with the release of each new title, the gameplay becomes more repetitive and stagnant. It was almost as if “New Super Mario Bros U” was just copying the homework of “New Super Mario Bros Wii” with a few minor tweaks.
It also didn’t help that each game had the same style of presentation, causing all of them to meld together and being hard to tell apart. “Super Mario Bros Wonder” acts to remedy these criticisms, not only by throwing in multiple new gameplay twists but also by sporting an expressive new art style and placing Mario characters in an all-new setting.
The setting of the game takes place in the Flower Kingdom. When Mario and friends visit the kingdom’s leader, Prince Florian, a surprise from the villainous Bowser causes him to merge with the prince’s castle under a “Wonder Flower” effect. It is up to Mario, Prince Florian, and other playable characters to stop Bowser from taking over the rest of Flower Kingdom. The design of the Mario games always prioritizes gameplay first, with a very simple story that is never the center focus.
Through each level, Mario and friends get from one end of the level to the other to reach a flagpole while stomping enemies, collecting coins and finding secrets along the way. This has been the side-scrolling Mario formula for almost three decades, but what Super Mario Bros Wonder does differently is by introducing the “Wonder Flower” mechanic.
This gameplay element is present in every single level of the game and massively shakes up the level design in fun and interesting ways. On one level, you could be riding on top of a rhinoceros stampede, while on another level, it transforms you into a slime that travels up walls, allowing for unique course design and new hidden secrets.
“Super Mario Bros Wonder” also introduces a new feature known as Badges, which can be unlocked by visiting in-game shops or completing various challenges. Equipping one allows for new movement options, such as a grappling hook, a cap glide, and mid-air jump. Combined with new power-up abilities such as the Elephant Fruit, the Drill Mushroom, and the Bubble Flower, it allows for even more gameplay variety and exciting ways to traverse through each level.
Previous titles in the “New Super Mario Bros” series allowed you to play as Mario, his brother Luigi and two colors of Toad. Super Mario Bros Wonder brings back returning characters such as Toadette and Princess Peach, as well as introducing Princess Daisy for her platforming debut. Each character is beautifully animated and expressive and a massive step up from the rather bland animations of previous 2D Mario games.
Players also have the option to play as the mischievous Nabbit and fan favorite Yoshi, who is now a separate character instead of being a glorified power-up like in previous games. Both Nabbit and Yoshi are designed for less experienced players, as they cannot take damage from enemies at the cost of being unable to use power-ups. While this does make the game more accessible, it does take away from more experienced players who want the option of playing Yoshi without an easy handicap.
“Super Mario Bros Wonder” is a fantastic return to form for the traditional 2D platformer that the Mario franchise was built on. While the game at times might not provide the biggest challenge for more experienced players, the wonderful level design, new gameplay mechanics and highly appealing graphics allow for anyone of any age to pick up and play.