It’s always tough reviewing a game I absolutely love. I acknowledge reviews are subjective by nature and despite my years of writing about games, which I hope lends a bit of credibility to these articles, I still struggle with balancing and articulating how a game makes me feel, while trying to project or assume whether it will stir similar emotions in those I hope to inform.
I’ve also mellowed out a lot in the last decade, so my convictions and opinions are less firm, and I’m a bit more discerning about my recommendations. Super Mario Bros. Wonder, however, demands I proselytize, so consider this less of a review and more of an ode to one of 2023’s best gaming experiences.
It’s rare to play a title that not only meets expectations but surpasses them, leaving players in awe of its creativity and innovation. Doubly so when it’s an entry in a long-standing franchise that epitomizes gaming. Like hundreds of millions of gamers, Mario holds a very special place in my heart.
I have strong memories of life events centred around Mario games I was playing at the time, from playing the original Super Mario Brothers at my cousin’s house in the eighties, to Mario 64 that my folks bought me when they performed the Hajj pilgrimage in 1998 (I have so many more Mario memories, so I might share these in a separate post).
I’m so invested in the franchise that I get a little anxiety when a new title is announced in case the magic runs out (I blame Game of Thrones season 8 for this). Such a relief that Super Mario Bros. Wonder welcomes old fans and invites a new generation at the same time.
The visual prowess of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is nothing short of stunning. The character models and enemy designs showcase a level of detail that reminded me of playing Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. It’s not photorealistic or Pixar quality, but there are a lot of little things that come together well. The settings are beautifully crafted, striking a perfect balance between intricacy and simplicity, ensuring an uncluttered yet visually engaging experience. The art direction, characterized by imaginative landscapes and a dash of craziness, amplifies the game’s charm, creating a world that captivates players from the very beginning.
The animations deserve special mention, offering a plethora of expressive moments for Mario and company. The transitions, especially when transforming into an elephant or navigating a pipe, are not just technically impressive but also inject humour into the gameplay, maintaining the series’ trademark charm.
The level design is a masterclass in breaking away from conventions, presenting players with a cascade of crazy and hilarious ideas. Each stage feels like a new adventure, with mechanics and approaches that keep players on their toes, ensuring that monotony never creeps in.
The introduction of Wonder Flowers is genius. These hidden collectibles, when touched, unleash a myriad of unpredictable changes to the gameplay. From transforming the ground into a rolling snowball to altering the perspective to a top-down view, the Wonder Flowers elevate each level. This addition not only brings a refreshing twist to the Mario formula but also adds an extra layer of replayability, encouraging players to discover the multitude of effects scattered throughout the game.
The world map, a departure from the linear progression of many Mario titles, emerges as a standout feature. It provides a sense of freedom, allowing players to explore open areas teeming with secrets and hidden screens. The inclusion of difficulty indicators before each level ensures that players can tailor their experience, deciding whether to face the most challenging phases or opt for a more relaxed journey. Some of the optional badge levels (more on that below) were tough and took me about 30 tries to finish.
The addition of badges, while a bit underutilized, offered a little bit of strategy and helped make some of the tougher stages a little easier (by augmenting skills or enabling passive improvements). Conversely, it also opened up ways to make levels a little harder, adding to the replayability and sense of discovery. There wasn’t a lot of incentive from the game itself to experiment with different badges, so I found myself sticking to a few that supported my playstyle. Hopefully the next Mario Wonder-type game will incentivize switching it up more or allow you to equip more badges before a level.
On top of the badges and Wonder flowers, the introduction of three new power-up items—Elephant fruit (prominent in all the marketing material), Bubble Flower, and Drill Mushroom—brings a delightful twist to Mario’s arsenal. The elephant stands out with its charming transformation and was a huge hit with my son, showcasing Nintendo’s knack for introducing endearing and inventive gameplay elements.
The return of local cooperative mode for up to four players amplifies the joy of playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder. The decision to eliminate collisions between players streamlines the experience, ensuring a cooperative rather than competitive dynamic. While some may miss the chaotic interactions of previous titles, this adjustment aligns well with the game’s focus on exploration and enjoyment.
I was a little disappointed when I read that Mario, Peach, Luigi, and Toad will control the same (context for those not familiar with older games, Mario is an all-rounder, Peach can float a little, Luigi jumps a bit higher, and Toad is a little faster) but once I started playing, I realized there were badges that gave the same abilities, so character choice was largely cosmetic. I also appreciate that Yoshi and Nabbit don’t take damage, which makes them perfect for younger or inexperienced gamers (was a little difficult explaining to my son why he couldn’t be Mario all the time, but he just enjoyed being able to play with me).
I don’t want to struggle when I game (not a Dark Souls type fan), so I appreciate when games have an easy mode to encourage you not to give up. One of the reasons I really appreciated the addition of Funky Kong in Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze is that it allowed me to overcome a difficult level and complete the game.
The online interactions bring a unique twist to Mario’s multiplayer experience. Shadow versions of other players add an asynchronous cooperative element, providing the opportunity for revival and item sharing. However, the ability to drop standees in levels, while offering assistance, also introduces distractions that may disrupt the immersion for some players. I only played online for the purpose of thoroughness, so I can comment on it here.
The sound design of Super Mario Bros. Wonder contributes significantly to its charisma. The lively, varied soundtrack dynamically adapts to the gameplay, enhancing the overall experience. While not surpassing the most iconic Mario melodies, the new compositions complement each phase, creating a perfect harmony between audio and visual elements. The decision to introduce talking flowers, coupled with the change in Mario’s voice actor, may take some getting used to for long-time fans.
The only thing I would have changed in the game are the mini-boss battles. I don’t want to give any spoilers, so won’t go into it too much, but apart from that, it’s a nearly flawless game. It’s been five years since my wife and I played the same game at the same time without it being co-op (we usually split our time between consoles and TVs, so while she plays something on Playstation, I’ll play something else on Xbox or Switch) but we didn’t want to play anything else this December but Super Mario Bros. Wonder. That game from five years ago… Red Dead Redemption 2.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder stands as a testament to the enduring brilliance of the Mario franchise. Its ability to surprise, innovate, and deliver an unparalleled platforming experience makes it a must-play for both long-time fans and newcomers. It has rekindled the magic of side-scrolling platformers, offering a fresh, daring, and immensely enjoyable adventure. If Wonder is indeed the swansong for Mario on the Nintendo Switch, it’s a swansong for the ages, leaving players with a sense of wonder and joy that will endure for years to come.
Recharged is an independent site that focuses on technology, electric vehicles, and the digital life by Nafisa Akabor. Drawing from her 16-year tech journalism career, expect news, reviews, how-tos, comparisons, and practical uses of tech that are easy to digest. email@example.com