I’m a big fan of Super Mario Odyssey and have long been disappointed that Nintendo still hasn’t further developed its winning formula. Although Breath of the Wild was released the same year and received not only DLC but also a full-fledged sequel, Mario Odyssey’s unique approach seems to have largely fallen by the wayside. However, Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels capable of filling that void. And everything I’ve played and seen so far fulfills the drive for innovation I expect from my favorite platform plumber.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a traditional 2D side-scrolling Mario adventure that more closely resembles the original trilogy and Super Mario World than its more experimental 3D cousins. But unlike its 2D seniors, Wonder puts a new, renewed emphasis on the stage, bringing its worlds to life with ridiculous charm and, yes, I’ll say it, wonder. The key to this are the Miracle Flowers, collectibles that alter the landscape and massively impact your progress through the levels. So far during my hands-on session, I’ve seen stage-destroying bull attacks, sentient and rideable warp pipes, and a torrential downpour of superstars.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder – Screenshots from August 2023
But Wonder Flowers can change not only the environment, but also the characters’ bodies and the player’s control scheme. Standouts from my gaming session included desperately trying to control the direction of a blown-up toad by furiously waving my arms, and my delightfully limited jumping abilities after transforming into a stealthy, spike-walking Goomba. My taste for these changes was slight, but the effects of the change were clear.
Even at first glance, the beauty of Mario Wonder’s images is clear to see. It features a level of vibrancy and movement normally reserved for Mario’s 3D worlds. The stages I played also offered a new level of detail to the 2D layers that really takes Wonder to the next level of whimsy.
From the motivating and sometimes suspiciously curious flowers to the snot bubbles on sleeping Goombas and everything in between, I never got tired of inspecting every inch of the screen. There are new character levels everywhere. Mario is more expressive than ever, from wiggling his little legs and forgetting his hat before entering the warp tubes, to his adorable little angry run and hat parachute when he’s at his squishiest. It’s clear that extreme care was taken to bring Wonder’s world and characters to life, and the results speak for themselves. I’m confident that this is the most beautiful Mario game yet.
However, Super Mario Bros. Wonder isn’t just a plumbing world, it also offers a whole host of characters to choose from. What’s somewhat disappointing, however, is that the majority of the cast (with the exception of Yoshi and Nabbit, invincible characters that serve as a kid-friendly, easy mode) play exactly the same. While I understand why choosing control parity for multiplayer makes sense, I feel like it misses an opportunity for platforming puzzle solving. Further encouragement to revisit levels as characters with different abilities, allowing you access to previously inaccessible paths, would have been a welcome addition to the replay value.
But that doesn’t mean there won’t be replay value. Mario and his friends have other permanent forms that change up your play, including the extremely useful Drill Hat, the traditional fireball-throwing Mario, and the already iconic elephant that you may have seen in the trailers. These abilities not only help with level variety, but are regularly (along with the special action badge abilities) the key to collecting the hidden Wonderseeds throughout the level. This often led me to reload the demo stage and try new tricks to see where seeds I had missed were creatively hidden.
Of course, the new abilities also help in dealing with enemies, and although the ability to spray water from its trunk and ride Yoshi might be the elephant’s main features, I have to say that I’m a particular fan of it, to crush those pesky weirdos – throwing squirrels to death by pushing pipes together like a trash compactor.
For me, this is the key to the success of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Not specifically the shredding of pipes, but the creative possibilities to continually develop the well-known formula. The designs for a 2D Mario game are almost as old as the industry, but Nintendo is constantly finding new ways to mix up the fun, adding fresh but never out of place ideas to keep fans coming back. From what I’ve seen so far, Wonder proves once again that Nintendo remains an incredible innovator and will always keep you up to date with its next ingenious mechanics and gameplay. It also has an impressive history of rarely using the same trick twice, even within the same game, and that track record of innovation fills me with excitement for anything I haven’t seen in Wonder before. And based on glimpses of the other wild stages we’ve seen in the latest trailer, it seems like the possibilities are endless for the plumbers and friends.
Dale Driver is executive producer of video programming at IGN and once carelessly skipped revision for his school exams to get all 120 stars in Mario 64. Be completely bored if you follow him Twitter.