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‘Super Mario Bros. Wonder’ Review:

Blooming Fun
Photo Courtesy of Nintendo
Photo Courtesy of Nintendo

Mario is back.

After the New Super Mario Bros. series wrapped up, it became clear that Nintendo’s beloved mascot was becoming stale in the very genre in which he started out, the 2-D side-scrolling platformer. Don’t get me wrong, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe was very enjoyable; it just felt like nothing new (ironically) was happening aside from different levels and an added power up here and there. In terms of gameplay, every game was pretty much the same experience.

It quite literally felt like each new game in the series had a fresh coat of paint, yet the paint became thinner and thinner with each stroke. When Super Mario Bros. Wonder was announced this past summer, Mario fans everywhere, including myself, lost their minds. After years, it finally seemed like Nintendo was moving away from this dried-out formula in an attempt to try something new.

And let me just say, it paid off wonders.

The game is fun … like … REALLY fun. Rather than the Mushroom Kingdom, this game takes place in the neighboring Flower Kingdom. Mario, Luigi, Peach, and even Daisy are invited by the ruler, Prince Florian. However, things go haywire when Bowser shows up and steals a wonder flower, which causes him to merge with the prince’s castle. In order to save the kingdom and its residents, Mario and his party set off to stop Bowser before he can steal all of the kingdom’s wonder energy.

Yeah, I know, it’s a basic plot. However, anyone who plays a mainline Mario game for the engaging story and relatable characters should go get a brain MRI. The story isn’t the focus here; rather it’s the visuals and gameplay at the forefront. 

This game looks AMAZING. Characters are expressive with their faces and movements, which is something that has never really been touched before in a Mario game. Playable characters and NPCs alike will react to what’s going on in the environment, along with facial expressions, depending on a variety of factors.

 For example, Mario will gradually speed up when you hold down the “Y” button, and when he’s at full speed, his face will change to a more intense expression as he dashes through the course. Additionally, his running animation feels right out of a cartoon, with his feet appearing not connected to his legs in order to show that he’s running quickly. Changes like these feel unnatural in the best way possible. 

Mario has always been a lighthearted series for the most part, and Nintendo has been very keen on keeping things consistent. However, this change amps up the lighthearted goofiness by taking risks with characters and visuals. It feels unnatural because of how much I’ve become numb to this basic form of Mario. That being said, I love this new style, and I want more of it. It’s fun to watch, and it puts a smile on my face whenever I notice a new little detail!

The world itself looks absolutely beautiful. Colors pop more than they ever have in a Mario game, and set-piece design continues to impress me. Every level feels drastically different from the last, even when they’re technically supposed to be taking place in the same world. That is, in part, thanks to the wonder effects, but we’ll get to those later.

From character animations to eye-candy visuals, you will never be bored looking at this game. I never thought I’d have this much fun just from staring at the screen while not touching the controller. Your eyes will never be disappointed when playing through Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Despite not being as graphically impressive as games such as The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, this game still sets a new standard for how art direction can be used in a game’s favor, even on outdated hardware.

But visuals are just one piece of the puzzle. The biggest thing that everyone was wondering was, “Will this game play differently from New Super Mario Bros.?”

The answer is an absolute yes.

You still have the basic Mario formula of run, jump, and grab the flagpole. You even have returning power-ups such as the super mushroom, fire flower, and super star. Though, that’s where the similarities end.

You’ve got some new power-ups, like the elephant fruit, drill mushroom, and bubble flower, which all add new gameplay elements to levels. The drill mushroom is probably the weakest here, as it only allows you to drill into the ground (and ceiling when available) to avoid or pick off enemies and sometimes reach secret areas. It’s really fun in some spots but useless in others.

The bubble flower lets you blow bubbles to trap enemies or create new platforms to jump off of. I find it very fun to use in most cases, and I appreciate the creativity of this particular power-up.

The elephant fruit is where the game shines, though. This transforms every character into an elephant, and it’s as fun as it sounds. Not only do you get a melee attack by swinging your trunk, but you also become heavier, allowing you to interact with the environment differently. You can also store water in your trunk, giving your attacks an extra aspect that can grow wilted flowers or cool off fire.

I’m such a fan of the elephant fruit. I actually feel like a menace, more than the other power-ups make me feel. It may not have a ranged attack, but the sheer fun that it provides makes up for it. It is by far the best power-up, and unless absolutely necessary, it’s the one I’d recommend sticking with for the entire game.

This time around, power-ups aren’t the only things to switch up gameplay. With the introduction of badges, Mario and his friends can now utilize new techniques to traverse levels.

You’ll collect badges by completing specific challenges or purchasing them using special coins you find in levels. Prince Florian can only equip one badge at a time, and their effects range from useful to downright silly.

For example, one badge lets you jump higher and float in the air, while another gives you the ability to climb up walls for a little extra height. There’s even one that gives you a grappling hook, letting you become a bootleg Spider-Man!

My favorite, and probably the silliest, is the badge that turns you invisible. Enemies can’t spot you, allowing you to sneak past them with little worry of being caught. However, you’re just as invisible to yourself as you are to enemies. It becomes a game of trying to complete tight platforming when you can’t even see where you are. It adds a goofy challenge for you to mess around with.

By collecting everything in every level, you’ll unlock a secret final level that forces you to use a variety of badges in one super-hard gauntlet. This level is a nightmare because checkpoints are limited and movement is very specific. You’ll have to master many of the badges if you want a shot at completing this level. It took me a good while to complete, but once I did, I was incredibly satisfied.

So, by now, I’ve discussed most major aspects of the game. As I mentioned earlier, there are these things called “wonder effects,” which are triggered by touching a wonder flower placed in certain levels. This is the main gimmick of the game, and it’s where the game shines the most.

By finding and touching the wonder flower, crazy effects take place, which can completely change how you play. One flower can cause the level to turn into a rhythm-based platformer, whereas another can turn you into a goomba where you need to use stealth to survive. One of my favorite wonder effects is when the game shifts from a 2-D platformer to a top-down roguelike. These effects are wild, and they make the game.

In order to stop the wonder effect, you’ll need to collect a wonder seed, which can be obtained within the level or at the end of the level. In fact, these wonder seeds are required to progress through the game. You won’t be able to access certain levels without enough wonder seeds, forcing you to experience a multitude of wonder effects.

Seriously, I cannot get over these wonder effects. They add so much variety to the game, and nothing ever feels out of place. They’re integrated extraordinarily well, and I would love to see what new stuff Nintendo can come up with in the future … maybe for DLC ….

Another fun part of the game is the online, which lets you play with others without “playing” with them. When you start a level, sometimes people from around the world will also join you. You can’t interact with these players normally, but they can help you out in a pinch. If you die, you’ll become a ghost. If you’re able to reach another player in time, they’ll revive you with no penalty. Additionally, players can place standees throughout the level that can also receive any ghosts.

It’s a nice way to interact with other players without having to play the game completely with them. I won’t lie; I was saved a couple of times because of the kindness of others. I’ve also done my fair share of rescuing too. It always feels nice to work with others in a subtle yet effective way.

However, every rose has its thorns, and Super Mario Bros. Wonder does wither in a few places.

First off, the levels are pretty bland when you take out the wonder effects. When you revisit a level to collect a coin you missed or to get to the top of the flagpole, sometimes you want to get through the level as quickly as possible. This is where you truly tend to see how basic some levels can become. It seems like the wonder effects were thought of first, and everything else came second, including level design. Stale and boring is what I’d describe a lot of the levels when you take out the wonder flower. That being said, the art style never gets old, so at least that’s some saving grace.

Another big disappointment I had with the game was the music. Mario games tend to have some pretty bopping soundtracks, but I sadly can’t say that Super Mario Bros. Wonder quite reaches the same heights as its predecessors. There aren’t really any memorable tracks here apart from some songs that play during wonder effects. It really was upsetting, considering past games had some really engaging music to accompany them.

Also, in past games, the character you chose meant something, as not everyone played the same. Mario would be average, whereas Luigi would jump higher, Princess Peach would float in the air, and Toad would run faster. Characters, except Mario, would reduce one aspect of gameplay to enhance another, which was accessible for many different gameplay styles. In this game, though, all characters play the same, except for Yoshi who has a flutter jump and can’t take damage from enemies (Yoshi serves as “easy” mode). Nabbit also returns from New Super Mario Bros. U, and he also can’t take damage. With so many characters to pick from, including the likes of Daisy and Toadette, you’d hope for some variation. The reality is, though, the characters are mainly just there for aesthetics.

My last issue comes in the form of boss fights. You’ll usually fight Bowser Jr., although there are some variations with each encounter. I kind of wish that there were more boss fights other than just Bowser Jr. using wonder effects. I would’ve loved to fight other characters and see how wonder effects would enhance those battles. 

In regards to the final boss, it is painfully easy. I didn’t take any damage during it, and I was never even close to getting hit. I understand that the game can’t be too hard for children, but I struggled more with some Bowser Jr. fights than I did with the final boss.

Even with all my problems, the game is phenomenal. In a year stacked with games such as Tears of the Kingdom, Baldur’s Gate 3, and Spider-Man 2, this game is still not overshadowed. It provided some of the most fun I’ve had playing a game in a while. That, in my opinion, hits a point that’s important for me. Games should provide fun experiences for audiences to enjoy. Too many developers want to create the next big thing that they forget what makes games fun in the first place. Super Mario Bros. Wonder stands on its own two feet and provides an opportunity for you to have that fun. This game reminded me exactly why I love to play video games; Super Mario Bros. Wonder is fun in every sense of the word.

Score: 9/10

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