The reveal of Super Mario Bros. Wonder in June 2023 sparked many enthusiastic reactions; The art direction, music, and new enemies all looked like fun evolutions of what fans had become accustomed to from the New Super Mario Bros. series. However, it was the final shot of the trailer that got the biggest reaction, as Mario grabbed a strange-looking fruit and transformed into a giant elephant version of himself. Elephant Mario, who appears larger than life on our current cover, quickly became one of the most iconic elements of Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
Players don’t have to wait long to play as Elephant Mario, as he appears in the very first stage, Welcome to the Flower Kingdom. The elephant fruit is created from a block and true to the trailer, Mario transforms into this new form. While it’s not unexpected, as I’ve seen this reveal trailer more times than I can count, it’s still a little unsettling to see one of pop culture’s most iconic characters undergo such a different transformation. In this form, Mario can swing his trunk to attack enemies and break rocks from the side, but he can also spray water to cause reactions, as seen with special flowers called Wow Buds that bloom and so far have not Reward items and collectibles seen.
As director Shiro Mouri explains, Elephant Mario was born out of a desire to achieve a certain moveset, but also deliver a new version of what Mario has done since the very first Super Mario Bros. game: grow bigger. “When we talk about creating power-up items or power-up transformations, we first start with the gaming experience: what kind of gaming experience do we want to give the player?” he says. “The first thing we wanted to do was make Mario’s body bigger. The reason we wanted to make his body bigger was so that it’s easier to hit blocks, it’s easier to stomp enemies, and it’s easier to grab coins. We thought changing Mario’s core mechanics could be a refreshing gaming experience. Another, but not as obvious, example is that if you have a narrower platform and a larger body, it’s simply easier to land on. If you say “They’re small, it’s easy to miss.”
Many theoretical forms could provide the goal of making Mario bigger – after all, Super Mushrooms have been doing that for decades – but when the team looked at the other gameplay goals they had for a power-up item in Super Mario Bros. Wonder had, the choice became clear. “The second point we wanted to achieve was the ability to hit blocks from the side. Being able to hit blocks from the side gives you areas that can only be accessed through this transformation. And the third point we wanted. We wanted to do that by spraying water. The reason we wanted to do this was, for example: Let’s say there was a withered flower. By watering them and making them bloom, something mysterious could happen. […] To find a transformation that really fits those three ideas of making the body big, being able to hit side blocks, and then spraying water, after much thought, the only answer was really an elephant.”
When characters assume their elephant form, they undergo a drastic visual transformation, but retain enough parts of their character design that they are still easily recognizable. According to art director Masanobu Sato, this was one of the initiatives he and his team took when creating these elephant shapes. “We start by understanding the characters and their iconic features,” he says. “For example, Mario’s main color is red, and he has a big nose and a noticeable mustache. The design process begins with applying the transformation motif to a character while maintaining balance to ensure a character’s iconic features are not lost.”
The creation of Elephant Mario seems simple as it fulfills various gameplay objectives, but another standout power-up in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, the Bubble Flower, was inspired by a completely different source: improving the past. “New Super Mario Bros. U had that [Bubble Baby Yoshi]”Part of the mechanics of this character were that you had to hold down the Y button to use him, and we thought that was something that could use a little improvement.” As an extension of our attempt to use this feature improve, we came up with the idea of Bubble Flower and finally Bubble Mario. I think because the Bubble Flower allows you to A defeat enemies and B also create platforms to jump from, it’s become a pretty interesting and appealing power-up.
In addition to the Elephant Fruit and Bubble Flower, players can also take advantage of other new power-ups, ranging from all-new items like the Drill Mushroom (learn more about it here) to classics like the Super Mushroom, Super Star, and other Fire Flowers. And of course, there’s a strong chance that Nintendo hasn’t shown us all the power-ups we’ll be enjoying when Super Mario Bros. Wonder releases for the Switch on October 20th.
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