Our review of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, developed by Nintendo. Available now for Nintendo Switch.
WHAT IS IT?
The latest 2.5D Mario game in the vein of New Super Mario Bros.
IS IT GOOD?
It’s a fun little jaunt in single-player, but really thrives in co-op (local or online!).
WHO SHOULD PLAY IT?
Charles Martinet in his retirement.
The best Mario games are in 3D.
There, I said it. Sorry, Super Mario World; too bad, New Super Luigi U. Ever since Super Mario 64 single-handedly reinvented the platformer back on the Nintendo 64, the best Mario games have continued to be those that set Mario and friends leaping and spinning across impeccably realized 3D landscapes. While one can quibble over which is better – Super Mario Galaxy is perfect, but then so is Super Mario 64 even after all these years – there’s little doubt that these more freewheeling Marios are simply more innovative and thrilling than their 2D counterparts.
That said, Nintendo’s repeated returns to the 2D well, in effect creating two parallel series – one based on SM64 and the other building off the SNES-era World template – has paid enormous dividends, with latter-day side-scroller Marios easily matching if not surpassing their decades-old predecessors.
All of which brings us to the hot new Nintendo release: Super Mario Bros. Wonder, the first 2D (well, 2.5D) side-scroller Mario game built from the ground up for the Nintendo Switch. The new Mario game is, indeed, a wonder: a fully-fledged classic Mario game, replete with all the bells and whistles – absurd animal transformations! four-player shared-screen co-op! – you’ve come to expect of more recent titles. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s also so radically built around multiplayer that it occasionally loses some of its shine in single-player.
For once, Princess Peach has not been kidnapped.
Indeed, the closest Super Mario Bros. Wonder has to a damsel in distress is the mildly irritating Prince Florian, a flower-themed dork whose kingdom is invaded by Bowser just as the familiar Nintendo gang happen to be in town. Cue 8-10 hours’ worth of running and jumping as Mario, Luigi, Toad, and the rest seek out the missing “Wonder Seeds” which are the only thing that will stop Bowser’s invading horde. (Sadly, the Power Stars or even the Power Moons of more recent games are nowhere to be found.)
Mechanically, Wonder is, of course, perfect. Nintendo has long since perfected the art of video game movement, and every button press, every enemy attack pattern, every environmental element has been fine-tuned for maximum platforming fun. Even when it’s tough, Wonder is fair: you’ll never find yourself blaming the controls. The levels are on the whole well-designed, though they lack the spark of imagination found in other recent titles. (Most of the best ideas are borrowed, liberally, from other games, and not only Mario ones: Retro’s Donkey Kong Country Returns and last year’s Kirby and the Forgotten Land are unmistakable influences.)
Where Wonder tools around with the Mario formula, the results are a mixed bag. Four-player co-op (already present in the “New U” and Mario 3D World series) is excellent, no doubt there. Oddly, however, there are some levels – especially the semi-optional side challenges – which all but require multiple players to take them on. There’s nothing more infuriating than entering a “hidden block” level as Toad, only to discover that half the hidden blocks can only be seen by Luigi.
World‘s generosity with power-ups – most of which I’ll avoid spoiling here – is nice, but it also means that the risk of Game Over is practically null. Even at its toughest moments, you can usually summon a Super Mushroom or Fire Flower to even the odds. The real challenge is in tracking down every one of the game’s Wonder Seeds and other hidden items; though not everything is required to reach the final boss, this Mario, like so many before it, contains fiendishly difficult optional challenges requiring pixel-perfect timing and the patience to not chuck your controller across the room. It’s good stuff.
Wonder also tries, but doesn’t entirely succeed, with its “badge” system that allows players to equip power-ups at the start of each stage. While there are dozens to choose from – like the badge which grants you extra coins, or the one that lets you survive a fall into lava – they’re largely irrelevant in the face of the handful of environmental traversal abilities which are necessary to track down every hidden coin and Wonder Seed. The moment I unlocked the Wall Jump (which lets you leap upwards along walls to access hidden areas) and Parachute Cap (which lets you hang glide), I never really looked back.
Purists may scoff at the ubiquity of power-ups or lava-defying “badges” in Wonder, and they may have a point. Still, it’s hard to fault a game that seeks to be as accessible a Mario as possible. Taking most of the right lessons from its fellow platformers, this Wonder is a blast whether you’re playing with two friends or four, online or off. While it might have been nice to not feel so lonely when playing solo, that’s a small price to pay for one of the best side-scrollers in years. (Casts side-eye at Sega.) Prince Florian is still a dork though.
Final score: 9/10 tanookis.
Visit the official website for Super Mario Bros. Wonder here.