It’s rare to find a game with such an apt title as Super Mario Bros Wonder. With glorious ideas littered throughout the entirety of the experience, this is the soft reboot the 2D Mario titles have needed for years. Offering whimsy, fun, laughs, and adventures, I’d have to go back to the SNES era for a 2D Mario game I’ve liked this much.
While the story isn’t something unexpected, it does raise a smile. As usual, Mario and his friends have been invited to a new place, this time it’s the Flower Kingdom. Prince Florian is happy to see his new friends, but then Bowser shows up and for some reason turns into a giant floating castle, threatening the entire kingdom. Mario, or whoever you choose to play as, agrees to help Prince Florian, who stows away under his cap, adding the ability to wear badges that enhance your platforming abilities no end.
And let’s start there, then. The badges offer up a customisation that I’ve never really seen in a Mario Bros game. You might start out with an enlarged cap that allows you to float, but you’re going to quickly change to a wall jump badge, or maybe even the Dolphin Kick one for underwater levels. By doing so, a tired trope such as the “boring underwater level” becomes fun again, as the badge offers movement abilities you’ve just never had before. Somehow Nintendo has made water levels fun again.
I won’t ruin any surprises here, but the badges run the gamut from the supremely useful, to more passive abilities, and there’s some accessibility-based ones as well. Nintendo wants anyone to be able to play Super Mario Bros Wonder, so while there is the option to play as Yoshi or Nabbit to negate damage, there are also badges that can rescue you from otherwise instant-fail falls, or lava drops. There’s no skill barrier here, and you can even make it harder for yourself if you choose via some badges. In fact, some of the badges are so out there, I wonder if the developers have been watching YouTube videos of people creating their own challenges. Speed runs and specific challenge videos of this game are going to be great fun to watch.
Of course it only comes together because the level design is so on point. There’s a huge amount of discoverability in Super Mario Bros Wonder, but Nintendo hasn’t relied on the New Super Mario Bros style of hiding stuff behind walls. Here, you will enter the background and foreground, use specific power-ups to find things, and generally adventure your way around timer-free levels that sometimes require replaying to uncover every secret. And as someone who has hit 100% on the game, trust me, there are some really cheeky secrets in this one.
The new power-ups are excellent, too. The Elephant is a delight, and I haven’t grown tired of it yet. The bubble flower initially seems disappointing, but once you realise it can be used to bounce higher, becomes something you never want to be without. Lastly, the drill mushroom changes how you play, allowing you to burrow into the ground or ceiling and find yet more secrets. All of them are used just the right amount, and there are times you genuinely don’t know which one to have in reserve.
While there are lots of levels on offer, the addition of newer “Break Time” stages and other puzzle-based levels offers a tremendous amount of variety. Some of the levels will require you to uncover things hidden to get a Wonder Seed, while others will see you racing, or battling, or just doing a simple musical level that takes no time at all. There’s a confidence on show here that is well-founded. The entire experience feels musical, too. Analog instruments have replaced the digitized sound effects of the crew jumping, or sliding down a flagpole. The new voice acting is just right, too.
It doesn’t take a genius to see that it all looks incredible, either. Stunning animations that never interrupt the flow of the game, and offer nuance and touches that most developers wouldn’t even think of. Mario might lose his hat entering a pipe, and reach back to pull it through, or when floating with a particular badge, Luigi might tuck a shell between his feet. Yoshi’s strains as he does his extra floaty jump are a delight, as is watching him with his mouth full. Everything about Wonder looks and sounds just incredible.
None more so than the titular Wonder Seed moments. Every level has a hidden seed (with another available when hitting the flag pole), but in these moments, the game changes. There are so many unique ideas, and while they do get repeated, it’s infrequent enough that it’s a pleasant surprise. Nintendo plays with camera angles, jumping mechanics, movement: just about anything that could be thrown into the ideas pot here, has been used effectively, yet sparingly. The amount of “wow” moments when you grab one of those seeds is enough to make anyone want to see the next level, just to see what idea has been come up with next. I don’t even want to spoil the ways that Wonder Seeds change the game.
It’d be remiss of me not to mention the online component, which can of course be entirely turned off if you so wish. You will see ghosts of other players when going through a course, and you can choose to drop a “Standee” if you want, for others to run past. This can revive them, and while multiplayer has been tweaked overall so you don’t collide with one another every five seconds, it’s all very seamless for Wonder. I spent a few levels somehow playing with someone I didn’t know, and I was surprised to see it almost like an “instance”, where once I’d encountered them, they also appeared in the next level I played. They saved me, too, so thank you, whoever you were. You can, of course, play with friends, setting up private games, too. It really isn’t the afterthought I thought it might be, and there’s been a genuine attempt to create a community feel here, helping one another out as you play through the game.
Really, all that there is to complain about is that as a long-time fan of the games, it’s rarely that hard to get through. You’ll die, of course, but aside one level there are few moments I can think of that were what I’d call “truly challenging”. But I don’t think that’s the point, really. Super Mario Bros Wonder is a delight of a game, worthy of anyone’s time and money. The creativity on show here is astonishing, and it’ll have you smiling from start to finish. From the animations to the audio, to the new items and ideas, Super Mario Bros Wonder is a masterclass from the very best in the business, and proves there is a lot more life in a 2D platform game than anyone thought. Fantastic.
Genius level design
Looks and sounds brilliant
Loads of content
A bit easy