October 20, 2023
“Wahoo-ing” his way into our lives for over 40 years now, the Mario brand is synonymous with quality and a flagship of not just Nintendo’s catalogue, but gaming and pop culture as a whole. Taking a well-trodden, 2D sidescroller formula and finding a way to make it interesting again is no easy undertaking. Yet Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s unique and varied approach to the genre finds a way to go beyond interesting, keeping you captivated and hooked as you await that next, wondrous gameplay shift.
Taking place in many realms across the Flower Kingdom, Mario and friends must team up with Prince Florian to stop Bowser’s plans to utilise the powerful ‘Wonder Flower’ for nefarious purposes. Instantly familiar, the game’s premise is classic Mario-fare. The Flower Kingdom is wild and vibrant, and the Wonder Flower that’s found around the Kingdom is not only hugely influential, but the effects it triggers are nothing short of delightfully unhinged.
The Flower Kingdom is predictably enchanting, from the dazzling heights of Fluff-Puff Peaks to the perilous depths of Fungi Mines. You’ll be engrossed by the whimsy of the region that finds new ways to transform platformer world tropes into novel themes. With a set of new enemies alongside the Poplin and Talking Flower inhabitants of the kingdom, Mario Wonder engages with a region that’s full of life and charm.
12 characters are here to choose from with assist/invulnerable mode available through the Yoshi characters and Nabbit. Without the ability to transform using power-ups, the assist characters feel somewhat like afterthoughts, not getting the full Mario Wonder experience. Though, like many of Nintendo’s recent games, you can comfortably foresee these additional characters being intended for young kids who just appreciate being along for the ride.
4-player local co-op is also on offer, though Mario Wonder doesn’t always make for the best co-op experience. The camera will follow Player 1 and anybody else will have to keep up/predict movements or simply die after going off-screen. In a regular Mario game this would be less of an issue, but in the frantic chaos of Mario Wonder, sudden and fast movements are necessary, so your co-op buddies aren’t likely to have the best of times.
Gameplay feels appropriately nostalgic yet impressively fresh. Stomping Goombas and smashing Brick Blocks is still very much a part of Mario Wonder’s identity. But the addition of the new enemy varieties and power-ups helps to change the moment-to-moment strategy in significant ways. Whether it be an Elephant Fruit that allows you to smash your way through the world, a Bubble Flower that you can use as both a platforming and combat tool, or the Drill Mushroom that lets you tunnel through floors and ceilings. It’s all very fun and brings a new dynamic to the Mario formula.
Perhaps even more impressive is the range of Badges you can equip before entering a level. These can significantly adjust the way you tackle a stage with passive effects such as the Safety Bounce Badge launching you back onto a stage after falling off or an active effect such as the Grappling Vine Badge allowing you to pull yourself to a wall or surface. These Badges unlock as you play and they can make a pretty sizable impact on how you approach a level or sequence. Using the Parachute Cap Badge to glide through a stage or a Crouching High Jump Badge to launch yourself vertically gives you options that aren’t traditionally found in a 2D Mario game. That variation is key to Wonder’s design, providing flexibility, versatility, and huge swaths of enjoyment.
Even with all of the game’s aforementioned successes, Super Mario Bros. Wonder would be nothing without the Wonder Flower. Find a flower hidden within a stage and suddenly the world around you comes to life or shifts in some dramatic and imaginative way. The Wonder Flower may cause a Bulrush stampede that you have to ride, it might trigger a musical sequence where enemies begin dancing around you, it might entirely shift the perspective of the world or transform you into a different creature altogether. The creativity on offer is nothing short of spectacular. It creates a rollercoaster of unpredictability as you brace yourself in excitement for what may come next—never truly able to prepare for the chaos.
Unfortunately the Wonder Flower sequences are so special that it can make the rest of the game feel a bit dull by comparison. You may find yourself holding out for the next Wonder Flower hit, trying to chase a fleeting high that inevitably results in a comedown period. Mario Wonder turns you into a Wonder Flower junkie, for better and worse.
“…a rollercoaster of unpredictability as you brace yourself in excitement for what may come next”
Non-traditional stages are peppered throughout the experience too, including Badge Challenges where you compete to unlock a new badge, Wiggler Races where constant speed is key, KO Arenas where combat is rewarding, and Search Party where hidden coins are scattered around for you to uncover. There’s a lot on offer and it all collectively works together rather harmoniously thanks to some great base mechanics.
The audio/visuals of Mario Wonder is predictably pristine. It has that Nintendo polish that goes beyond commendable. An absolute feast for the senses, the world you inhabit is not just gloriously detailed and fantastically vibrant, but it also fully comes alive in unpredictable ways. Wonder Flower sequences spark pure joy and the rhythm of the Flower Kingdom can be felt to your core. The animations also have a playful quality to them, creating a total package that could only be achieved by Nintendo’s best.
With hidden levels and collectibles scattered around, Super Mario Bros. Wonder ends up being a game that’s just fun to explore. Discoverability is a crucial trait and it all feeds back into the title’s replayability. Revisiting levels with new Badges to find extra details and hit 100% completion gives the dedicated something to strive for. Whilst you’re at it, you can also continue to add to your Standee collection which is a fun if somewhat redundant minigame in itself. A Standee is your little cutout that you can leave behind for online play, allowing online interactivity and support. It’s all very cute and helps give Mario Wonder a unique twist that maintains the game’s high quality whilst emphasising its pizzazz.
- Vibrant, active, and joyous presentation
- A modern 2D Mario that's every bit as good as you'd expect
- Creativity and imagination feel limitless with the perfeclty implemented Wonder Flower
- So much variety to the gameplay
- Co-op play not perfectly implemented
- Sequences without Wonder Flowers are less engaging
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is yet another magnificent showing from Nintendo. To take a concept that’s so well understood but still find new ways to impress is no easy feat. Yet Mario Wonder excels in this field thanks to incredibly dynamic gameplay, headlined by the imaginative amazement of the Wonder Flower. It’s hard not to fall in love with this new release, a game that’s packed to the brim with charm and zest.