Mario and his friends are back in a fresh and exciting 2D platformer that takes the crew to the lush, vibrant, and fantastical Flower Kingdom.
There's no beating around the bush, October 20th is one of the biggest days of the year for the games industry in 2023, because not only is Marvel's Spider-Man 2 debuting, but so is the long awaited next instalment in the 2D Super Mario Bros. series. To this end, recently I had the chance to write a final preview based on the opening portion of the game, and in that preview I stated that this very title, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, could be another Game of the Year contender. Well, now that launch is upon us and since I've had a chance to check out the full game, does that claim stack up? Simply put. Yes, yes it does.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the 2D platforming Super Mario Bros. game we have been waiting for, for years. It's polished, overflowing with charm, has meaningful new additions, and plenty of nostalgic and classic systems and mechanics. It's a truly fantastic and brilliant title that will go down as one of the best the Switch ever received during its remarkable run.
The adventure takes Mario and 11 of his friends to the Flower Kingdom, which is essentially a fantastical new world made up of several biomes that each bring their own style and aesthetical flair. The core basic setup of this game is no different to what we've seen in other Super Mario Bros. games of the past, and that's by no means a slight. Why change something that is so simple yet effective. Taking control of one of the characters, you have to steadily platform through a whole slate of 2D (and occasionally 2.5D) levels crammed with enemies and creatures (both new and familiar), tons of environmental hazards, and plenty of secrets, all in the effort of collecting Wonder Flowers, which are necessary for unlocking new levels and ultimately reaching Bowser to put a stop to his latest rampage.
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Again, this is essentially the same tried and tested format that we've seen in countless Super Mario Bros. games, but Wonder takes this style and truly runs away with it. Every part of this game feels just a step more refined than the Super Mario Bros. games that came before, be it in how the platforming is setup, the challenge that each level offers, the ways you can customise your character and tackle levels, and even in how the title uses its audio-visual presentation to elevate and emphasise the gameplay.
For me, this is the area that Wonder sets itself apart from its predecessors the most. Music and sound design has always been important in Mario games, but here it's even more so. Entire levels have been created and built with a rhythmic style at their core, a setup that asks you to time jumps to the soundtrack that plays throughout the course. Then there's also how the game reacts to your actions with sound design. Throughout a course, you'll find new blocks that play sound effects when you walk across them, as well as flower characters that coach you along the journey, all on top of a brilliant soundtrack that features timeless original numbers. It's, for lack of a better term...wonderful.
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As for the gameplay, the power of wonder looks to throw what we've come to expect on its head. You can tell that the development team has been able to get really creative with how they offer up gameplay here, because it's wacky and strange, but also completely unique and special to every course. There are tons of levels to complete in this game, each with their own secrets and new design elements, and none of them feel similar to one another thanks to how the Wonder Flowers shake things up. What I mean here is that when you find a Wonder Flower throughout a course, it will dramatically change that very level. It'll go from typical and classic 2D Mario platforming fun, to something with entirely new mechanics, for example becoming a Goomba or different enemy type, or discovering special musical performances. This is of course on top of collecting additional items such as big Flower Coins that are used as currency, landing on the top of the end-of-level flagpole, and even finding other secrets and goodies along the way. The point is, while a course may only take you two minutes to go from start to finish, there are a plethora of reasons to go back and continue exploring to find something hidden beneath the surface.
I will say however that while Wonder is excellent for a lot of reasons, the Power-ups are one area that the game feels a little lacklustre. This is likely because of the new, and arguably biggest addition, Badges. These are essentially perks that you can activate before the start of a level so that your character has an extra trick up their sleeves. This could be the Parachute Cap, which allows you to glide across distances, the Grappling Vine to zoom across large gaps, the Coin Magnet to pick up any coins in your vicinity, the Sensor to detect secrets that you may otherwise miss, and so forth. There are tons of Badges available to find and collect, and each affect the gameplay in a rather significant way, which is likely why Power-ups feel like an afterthought much of the time. Sure the Fire Flower is still great for dealing with enemies, and the Drill Mushroom, Bubble Flower, and Elephant Fruit open up new ways to interact with a level and find additional secrets, but they're not the super exciting, game-defining additions that we've seen in former Super Mario Bros. games.
The multiplayer support is also a very impressive feature in this game. Being able to team up with friends locally, or online where there is a broader multiplayer offering opens the door to a whole new range of ways to enjoy this title. Add to this how the game has been tailored to suit younger folk as well, with five of its 12 playable characters being immune to enemy damage, making the platforming experience less stressful as you solely have to worry about environmental hazards with these characters.
But the key thing to take away with when it comes to Super Mario Bros. Wonder is how it isn't really looking to rewrite the script of what we've come to expect from a Super Mario Bros. title, instead it's refining and perfecting the experience we've come to know and love. Between the audio-visual elements, the multiplayer offering, the fact that the maps between levels have open sections that allow you to explore and discover additional secrets, and for that matter so many secrets that it's truly difficult to list them off. This is a game that feels like that long awaited next step forward in the Super Mario Bros. series.
9 / 10
Brilliant audio-visual presentation. Great new mechanics and features. Broad multiplayer support. Plenty of secrets to find.