Video Games

Super Mario Bros. Wonder (Nintendo Switch)

Some light spoilers for gameplay mechanics. I do also show one screenshot from World 4.

There was once an Aqua Teen Hunger Force ad that went something like: "All new, just as you remember it." The joke being that this idea plainly oximoronic. But Mario Wonder is that contradiction in video game form. It is equal parts "we are so back" and "finally something new". And it is so, so damn good for it.

Mario Wonder's existence must be discussed in the context of the last ~10 years or so of 2D Mario affairs. While I did enjoy the New Super Mario Bros. series of games (specifically the original on DS and U Deluxe on Switch, many would agree that they were somewhat lacking aesthetically. It looked great on the DS, but the soft, bubbly, low-detail, almost stock asset look didn't hold up quite the same over time. Meanwhile, Mario Maker had taken the world by storm as an advanced torture device with a selected assortment Super Mario graphics from the past and present.

The need for something actually new was clear. With Mario fans having taken the reigns themselves for a few years, and the NSMB series being on loop with ten years since the last fresh one, what could Nintendo bring the table now? The conditions were right for a bold, beautiful, inventive adventure that only the masters of the genre could bring.

Enter: Super Mario Bros. Wonder.

I think it would be fair to say that Mario Wonder's reveal sparked a genuine curiosity and excitement. Yes, every Mario game on the Switch has been gold, but this is platinum. The difference in the visual quality was immediate. Hell, looking back, New Super Mario Bros. was looking downright amateurish in comparison. The posing and animation, of the characters was so, so much stronger than it had been. It looked like Yoichi Kotabe's famous style come to life! The environments were beautiful, looking painted and detailed. THE FLOWER. In addition to all that, characters were rocking new voices, which took a while to confirm and figure out. This was all an inconceivable shake up for the series that was getting a reputation for being stale. It all made me wonder why it took so long for Mario to freshen up! What have we been doing this whole time?!

Super Mario games had a foundation as an imaginative wonderland and sense of adventure. Take a look at the Japanese commercial for the original Super Mario Bros.

"Explore the earth, the underground, the sea, the sky! There's a vast and varied world to explore!"

For its time, Mario 1 was a huge game. You simply did not, and could not reasonably see this level of variety at the arcade. Sure, graphics were better in coin-op world, and innovative gameplay was all over that scene, don't get me wrong. But this was a big adventure for you at home with secrets to find and challenges ahead. This is foundational Mario, in my opinion. Mario 2 (don't make me say it, it IS a Mario game) Mario 3, and World carried the torch beautifully. Yoshi's Island speaks for itself.

This is all preamble, context. That is to say...

We Are So Fucking Back


These were among the questions that the reveal trailer raised. It hardly needs explaining why all this generated buzz. Mario was going places. Literally, to the Flower Kingdom, but also it seems that Nintendo was well aware of the series position with fans, and how to get out. Here's a snippett from an interview with Takashi Tezuka, longtime producer of Mario games.

Tezuka: I was already thinking about what kind of Mario game we should make next when we were developing Super Mario Maker 2. At the time, some journalists and players were saying that Super Mario Maker had eliminated the need for another 2D Mario game. But I kept saying that the next Mario game would be completely different from Super Mario Maker, so there was no need to worry. In hindsight, those kinds of sentiments may have been what motivated me to come up with ideas for this game.

As the interview points out, he's quite optimistic! It seems so simple when he says that they want to make a completely different game, something that couldn't be done in Mario Maker.

The real secret sauce is right afterwards though.
Let's look. (Bold emphasis added!)

Tezuka: We wanted to create a game with much more to offer than ever before, so this time, we didn't set a fixed time period for development, which is usually decided before we kick off. To create something truly enjoyable, we decided to take our time and dedicate ample budget for development without having to worry about the production schedule. So at first, we only had a small group working on the development.

Well, damn. Awesome! That's what we're talking about baby! Much clamor and adoration for the team came out of this interview. In an industry that is choking to death under the asphyxiating grip of crunch, it's pretty nice to hear that this seemingly worked out for everybody.

Mario Wonder was quickly coming out like a dream project that seemed impractical. "If they put all the best parts from Mario World, 3, Yoshi's Island, and NSMB, and let the team take their time, it would be a great game!" sounds like useless YouTube comment drivel, but apparently it can be done! Mario Wonder is that game.

Mechanics Are Also Mario History

Mario games tended to be pretty different in major installments (NSMB is growing infamous for betraying this idea), which makes them fun to compare and contrast. While many are fans of the whole series, people tend to have their favorite. I find a sweet spot in Mario 3, and greatly enjoy the creative level design and character variety in Mario 2. Someday I will write up Mario 64 for 3D Mario, but that's later...

Mario Wonder is more than happy to celebrate, refine, and uplift Mario's gameplay just as it does for the vibe and aesthetic of the series' personality. This is enabled with the Action Badge system. Essentially, you can equip one helpful extra action at any time inbetween stages (or after losing a life). The variety of these is fantastic, and most of them originate as something from a previous game.

This is great on a few levels. Firstly, while all player characters now have identical physics (no flutter jump Luigi, floating Peach, or also-flutter-jumping Yoshi by default) ((NOVEMBER UPDATE: I was wrong about Yoshi. Yoshi does have the flutter jump. My bad for not checking!)), there is now room to personalize your playstyle on the fly regardless of character choice. This separation is a win-win situation for players. If you stan Blue Toad, the game is just the same as if you are Daisy's number one champion.

Secondly, anyone who does have a preferential favorite will find something for them in Action Badges. Do you like the Mario 2 super jump from holding a crouch? It's back! Were flutter jumps your jam in Yoshi's Island? Wave your feet all you want. I swear the Wall Kick badge resembles the wall jump glitch from Mario 1.

And I am all but certain that the Jet Run's ability to dash off a platform and jump a full second afterwards is straight out of Donkey Kong Country, which is one of the best platformer mechanics ever if you ask me! The Triple Jump makes a slightly nerfed appearance as well (understandable, since it's so powerful), but retains what actually makes it so satisfying, the timing. Floating with the Tanooki Suit or Cape is one of the most popular abilities Mario has ever had, so the Float Cap makes a great all arounder.

There are also other Action Badges that allow for difficulty modifications, such as additional blocks, coins, or preventing death from pitfalls. The Action Badge system shines as one Mario Wonder's greatest gameplay feature for the freedom and variety it gives you at nearly all times, after you unlock a few. The other one would of course, be...

I Wonder

Wonder Flowers are the game's justification for random, exciting, colorful things to happen. Not random in a detrimental way, but anything and everything can happen when you find them in a stage. I wouldn't dare spoil all the surprises, but I firmly belive that you and anyone you may be playing with will be surprised a few times.

Actually finding Wonder Flowers and other secrets are their own reward. Anyone who found every secret exit in Mario World or U Deluxe will have a blast here. I know I am. Many are hidden with just enough suspicious block and enemy placements, or direct hints. Secrets and tricks, teases and satisfying "Oooooh..."'s, are in abundance. Every level has a Wonder Flower, and then god knows what else. That's on YOU to find, and discover. I've got a lot of work left to do myself, and I've been smiling through even minute of it.

I mentioned direct hints up there. Let's briefly talk about what seems to be one of the only divisive features in the game.


Talking Flowers are everywhere in the Flower Kingdom. As you saw in the trailer, they do indeed fucking talk, like, with spoken voices. You can even change the language they speak in the Options menu!

They are certainly a strange addition to the game. At first, I did not like them. I did not see the point of having a little flower go "Hi!" or "Wow, that just happened." after a Wonder Flower event. I was hovering over the button to turn them off. They can be optioned out to be just text, just voice, or neither. Silenced forever.

But as I continued to play, their useless and inane commentary grew on me a lot. The flowers often do just say hi or scream "Whoaaa!". Once they started narrowly avoiding death (or actually dying?), that's when I decided I love them. They are also, on ocassion, placed to help point out secrets, which I think is actually really fun. It would have been easy to spoil the fun, but I think little spoken comments like "What are you doing here?" or "Does something feel off?" are just right. It's not much different from having an actual friend by your side watching. You've still gotta find the mystery block or Wonder Flower, and Talking Flowers only give the vaguest of hints. In short, I think they're funny and they work. At worst, you can turn them off, but I honestly recommend leaving them on in some form.

Speaking Of Friends

Online play returns from 3D World (or at least it resembles that initially), in a more reasonable form than it's taken before. If you play online With Friends, you will be able to interact with each other and be in the same world as you expect. However, when Online otherwise, you will see ghosts of other players who are also playing that course. This makes for an interesting compromise. I've always found that a full four player co-op in New Super Mario. Bros games tends to be more aggravating than fun or cooperative at all. It was way, way too easy to simply antagonize each other for minutes on end, intentionally or not.

Wonder's Ghosts emphasize the good side of playing with others, by cutting out some of the Play. You can see other players take different routes, or go to strange places on the map, hinting at interesting things beyond. If someone loses a life, you can also float over to their ghost (as a ghost yourself, but with like a tail and everything), and revive at their location. Players can also leave cardboard Standees at key locations to either take the edge off a dangerous hazard or point out secrets. If you want to play the game completely blind, the choice is yours to stay offline. Going online results in harmless fun in watching others bumble around while you do your thing, and maybe lending a helping hand inbetween. I do highly recommend you try some of the Item Park levels online and watch everyone beat their head against a wall (literally). That is hilarious, which is something I couldn't say for any previous online Mario endeavor.

Thanks For Being A Super Player

Any nitpicks I might have with Wonder are simply that, nitpicks. Nothing I encountered from 1-1 to the final Special World stage detracted from how dang fun the game is to just relax and play. It's so sweet and breezy on the soul that I'm fairly confident that any real issues would stick out like a pothole. And it's a hell of a lot more than nostalgia. This is core Super Mario Bros. put back in the spotlight in a modern context. Mario Wonder is a smooth Star Road from top to bottom, filled with old-school fun and all-new surprises.

Just as you remember it.