Mario reaches strange new heights in Super Mario Bros. Wonder

By Oscar Huerta, Oct. 31, 2023

After over a decade without a new 2D entry to the Super Mario series, Super Mario Bros. Wonder splashed onto the scene Oct. 20 to breathe new life into the franchise.

This game released at a vital time to revitalize the classic side-scrolling aspect of the Super Mario series. Featuring a wealth of fun and unique ideas, Super Mario Bros. Wonder left no dull moment for players experiencing this bizarre new take on 2D Mario.

In this entry, Mario and a host of other playable characters from the series must run and jump through the new Flower Kingdom to stop Bowser from taking over.

From the very first two levels, the game wastes no time to hook players with a bizarre twist at every moment. Players will find themselves as an elephant jumping across living pipes in one level to being part of a piranha plant musical parade in the next, and the twists and turns do not stop there.

According to an by Nintendo, the developers of this game held a brainstorming session for everyone on the team to freely share ideas for the game, pitching over 2,000 potential gameplay concepts in the process. To translate all those ideas, they created the wonder flower mechanic, which would warp each level and cause these new ideas to come to life.

This creative process reflected vividly throughout the game, as every level was designed to have some strange event or control gimmick that is unexpected in a traditional Super Mario game, the game’s biggest strength.

With the wonder flower mechanic, each level might force a player to walk on the walls, float in outer space, swim in lava or play as different objects  among other surprising events.

I often found myself smiling in disbelief throughout many levels for how effectively each new idea was executed. It left me eagerly anticipating each new level to see what the wonder flower would do next.

Another part I anticipated for every new level was seeing each new visual theme. The game experimented with the colors and art style to create a vibrant and flashy look for each individual level, which added greatly to the game’s overall style and flair.

For example, a savannah level has a sunset which lights up the sky a bright orange color but keeps everything in the foreground as black and white silhouettes, which creates a striking and stylistic image.

Outside of the fantastic visuals and level mechanics, the core gameplay is standard fare for 2D Mario: run, jump and reach the flagpole. The developers clearly focused more effort into working on the visual presentation and level mechanics to hook players since the core gameplay formula for Mario didn’t need to be changed.

To spice things up, a new badge mechanic was introduced to allow players to add one unique ability to their moveset for each level, like a parachute hat to glide and a wall-climbing jump. Many of these abilities were fun to use, with my favorite one being the grappling vine which lets the player hook on to a faraway wall.

Although the badge system was a great idea to introduce to this game, I feel their overall execution could use improvement for future games.

The main issue with badges is they inadvertently prevent the game from having a complex and satisfying moveset by making players choose between abilities. For example, there is a badge that lets players gain height by consecutively jumping, which was a normal ability in the previous Super Mario game that is now locked behind a badge.

The concept of equipping extra abilities in a Super Mario game is an excellent idea, but I would rather that these bonus abilities add on to the game in smaller ways instead of taking away moves that would fit perfectly into the base moveset, allowing the core gameplay to naturally grow and evolve without the need for a badge to do it.

Despite these criticisms, the new badge system heightens the experience and mixes up the gameplay well enough alongside the crazy-level gimmicks, and I have hope that it can be improved upon for future games.

Whether it be the vibrant presentation the game boasts or the fluid and ever-changing gameplay mechanics the game surprises players with, Super Mario Bros. Wonder expertly meshes style and substance together to create a tight package that will take players for an unforgettable ride.

Feauture image courtesy of Nintendo

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