The key is in the name: Super Mario Bros Wonder. That “Wonder” was the feeling that I experienced during my first hands-on with Nintendo’s astonishing new reimagining of their flagship heroic plumber. On the journey back, my Editor and I spoke about what a leap forward it feels, and how it manages to bring Mario and company into the present day, whilst also including a plethora of throwbacks and shoutouts to his illustrious past. It is both brand new but familiar in the same breath, and feels like an instant classic from Nintendo, even at this early stage.
Whilst still a fantastic series of games, the New Super Mario Bros franchise was starting to feel, dare I say it, a little bit old hat. The same tried and tested art style has been used to portray the titular icon for what seems like aeons. Even the near infinite creative possibilities of Super Mario Maker have been and gone, and had their day. What I have been longing for is a game-changing step into the unknown the same way as Super Mario Odyssey and Super Mario Galaxy took us to wonderous new dimensions in awe-inspiring ways.
To say that Super Mario Bros Wonder does this is a colossal understatement. Immediately you pick up on the incredible visual style, little nuances to the animation that made the attending media giggle with delight. Luigi picking up a Koopa shell will puff his cheeks as he carries it. Yoshi has an utterly adorable expression on his face when he gulps objects and holds them in his gob. When Mario enters a horizontally placed warp pipe, his hat lingers in the air for a brief moment until a hand pops back out and snatches it. Everything sings, making this one of the finest looking titles to have ever portrayed the moustachioed Italian.
The platforming feels fresh and tight, and there are plenty of new gimmicks to get to grips with, which can alter and add to your experience in myriad ways. There is a raft of familiar faces to choose from, each with slightly different styles. A new transformative power-up appears early on, allowing your chosen character to morph into a tanky, water spouting elephant who can whack enemies and destructible scenery with their trunk.
Then there is the Badge system, which enables you to select from a wide range of equippable insignia that grant you a special ability or perk going into each course. Equipping the correct badge can be the difference between whether or not you discover all of the secrets in each level, or indeed whether you survive to tell the tale. There is even a handy character who gives you advice on which Badge to pick. My most employed badge was the one which allowed me to use a parachute ability to glide through the air.
There is no time limit, unusual for a 2D Mario experience – but it is clear why. The team at Nintendo hosting the preview were keen to express the importance of taking our time and really exploring each level to unearth every last drop of goodness, and boy was that great advice, as there are more tricks up Super Mario Bros Wonder’s sleeve that perhaps any other Mario game I have ever played.
It is boundlessly creative in the same frighteningly clever way Super Mario Odyssey dropped more ideas into one game than most developers manage in a lifetime. From what I played there were so many hitherto unseen gameplay surprises seamlessly blended into a universe that also feels super familiar, and most of them appear to be one-shot deals as Super Mario Bros Wonder takes you off on another tangent, each one more mind-bendingly great that the last. Everything they attempt sticks the landing. There were moments that had me nudging my counterpart sat next to me just so we could mutually acknowledge the jaw-dropping stuff unfolding.
Perhaps the best of all the snazzy new features comes when you get your hands on a Wonder Flower, and you enter a psychedelic alternate reality where everything gets dialled up to a completely bonkers level. On the first stage things are fairly mild, with the Wonder trip consisting of warp pipes moving around, undulating and allowing you access to previously unreachable areas. Some of the other stages need to be seen (and heard) to be believed. As mentioned, the levels of imagination in Super Mario Bros Wonder are beyond compare, and every single Wonder Flower experience I had was unique, and to the best of my knowledge not to be repeated elsewhere in the Flower Kingdom.
I left the preview session utterly desperate to play more. Hell, I am even desperate just to tell the world more about it! But then that would be spoiling it, as this is something that players need to go into as cold as possible, and allow the warm enveloping Mario hug completely overtake your soul and your senses. In a year that has had some truly exceptional games, Super Mario Bros Wonder appears destined to be revered in the same way we speak about past Mario adventures we have grown up loving, sprinkled as it is with the same timeless, magical sense of, well, wonder.
Super Mario Bros Wonder is coming to Nintendo Switch on October 20th.