Yes, it’s a review of a pretty new game. Enjoy!
Title: Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Release Date: October 20, 2023
Developer and Publisher: Nintendo
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the latest game in the Mario series from Nintendo. This game is a 2.5d platformer, somewhat like the New Super Mario Bros. games of past years but better. It released on October 20, 2023 and I bought it on release day and finished it last week. I have now beaten every level in the game, though I haven’t 100%ed the game yet; there are some collectible and such I didn’t get. I’ve played about 20 hours according to my Switch, but my actual play time is probably a bit below that because of some time the system was on but I was doing something else. I might go back to get more of the stuff in the game. This game has been getting some pretty high acclaim, and after playing it I can see why, it’s quite good. It isn’t flawless, though. In short, SMBW is a great game and is the best non-Mario Maker 2d or 2.5d Mario platformer in 30 years, but it does have its share of flaws. The main flaws are low difficulty and lacking boss fights.
There is a lot more good than bad about this game, though. The best thing about Mario Wonder is that it is wildly creative in its level themes and visual design. The mostly younger team leading the creation of this game were given free reign to come up with new ideas for Mario enemies and stage ideas, and they ran with it and thought up a lot of very clever ones. I’d love to go in detail about some of the better and more interesting stage concepts and will later in a spoiler section, but I will not detail that here because anyone who hasn’t played the game should not read it because it’s best by far to go into this game not knowing what to expect, it will be a lot more fun that way. Know that this game has a whole lot of new enemies and new stage ideas that have not been seen in Mario games before, along with other returning ones, and most of the content here is good to great. Playing the levels, exploring them, experiencing each level’s Wonder flower effect and section, finding the secrets, and experiencing the interesting platforming sections within is the best thing about this game and I very highly recommend it for that. Wonder is a great platformer with a lot of great ideas.
In terms of challenge, Mario Wonder was designed to be accessible to all. Nintendo clearly aimed for a lower difficultly level in order to have anyone be able to play and enjoy this game, and they achieved that goal. Most stages are moderate in difficulty at most, so anyone experienced at platform games should get through the game fairly easily. Even the hardest levels are easier than those hard levels that occasionally randomly show up in endless Normal in Mario Maker 2. And while most levels are far better designed than most Mario Maker levels, there are a few I will mention later that I greatly dislike. Even so, the brilliantly original stages are this games’ great strength. All gamers who enjoy platforming at all will surely love many of the stages here, from running on flying bulls to dodging enemies that expand in height when you stand up but shrink down when you crouch and so, so much more. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is, well, wonderful most of the time.
The Main Game Structure
The core structure of the game is familiar, with worlds made up of levels. There are two kinds of levels, smaller ones and full levels. Smaller stages have only a single flower coin to collect, which you get by completing some challenge. Main levels, however, have not only a main exit with one Wonder Flower, a Wonder Flower somewhere in the middle with its own special section using some kind of usually interesting stage concept, and in a few cases a second hidden exit with its own Wonder Flower. The game also notes if you completed a stage by landing on the top of the flagpole — and note you cannot go over the top, anything above the top stops you there and drops you on the top, if you completed it with the three badges that make levels harder, and if you got the three hidden giant coins that every level has, in that New Super Mario Bros. style. The game does NOT have any kind of timer and does not keep track of your time in the levels. It would be nice if it did that in order to increase the games’ replay value, but it doesn’t. It does have two currencies though, with regular coins giving you a life for every 100 as usual and purple coins and coin tenths being used in the shops that scatter the overworld. When in the overworld the R and L buttons bring up a map and a stage list, respectively, to help you quickly go to any stage or view the world design.
Graphics, Sound, Controls and Characters
When it comes to platforming games, the most important elements are the controls, the smoothness of play, and the level designs. Super Mario Bros. Wonder does all three elements extremely well. I will start with the technical element. The game runs at a smooth and stable 60 frames per second, at the Switch’s maximum resolution of 1080p, or 720p for handheld mode. This game looks about as good as a Switch game can, and runs extremely well. On the audio side SMBW is fine, but I don’t think any of its music is particularly memorable. I beat the game fairly recently and can’t remember any SMBW songs offhand. It’s all decently good stuff which fits the game well, though.
The controls are pretty much flawless, too. As in a 2d Mario game this game has digital controls, so you either are moving or stopped, with buttons for run, jump, twirl, and ‘use stored powerup’. The physics are fantastic, and feel very similar to the NSMB and Mario Maker games. If you are used to those physics you’ll be able to pick this game up instantly, it tweaks a few things but is very familiar. The controls in Mario platformers are always great and this game is no exception, Mario is the standard bearer of the platforming genre not only because the early Donkey Kong and Mario games created the platformer as we know it but because the series has kept at the top of the genre in controls and responsiveness.
One of the better things about this game is that it has a lot of playable characters. Instead of playinga s only Mario, or as Mario or Luigi, in this game you can play as Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, blue or yellow Toads, Toadette, and four easy mode characters who cannot take damage or pick up powerups in red, blue, or yellow Yoshis and Nabbit. Yes, Daisy is playable here for the first time in a Mario platformer. That’s really great, I love it. Somebody who worked on this game clearly loved the Mario Land games, because there are more references to those games in this title than this. Some stages and enemies (of sorts) are clear Mario Land 1 and 2 references as well. It’s great stuff.
Here I must mention though, probably the most controversial thing about SMB Wonder is that longtime Mario voice actor Charles Martinet, who had voiced Mario, Luigi, Wario, Waluigi, and others for over 30 years, was fired or forced to retire this year, and new voice actors voice all of the characters in this game. The new actors are fine, and I am not one to almost ever care much at all about who voices videogame characters, but getting rid of Martinet in the way they did seemed somewhat disrespectful, and disappointing beacuse the new voices are a small downgrade from his. Oh well.
Anyway, the way they include so many characters in the game is because all characters control identically. Yes, the character-specific jumping styles of past games like Mario 2 (USA) are not character-specific anymore. This was the right decision for sure because it finally allows them to put playable Peach in mainline Mario games, something they had not done in the NSMB or Mario Maker games in part because they knew people would expect her floating jump and they didn’t want to have that in the game. I love that they finally decided to figure out a way to get more playable characters into Mario.
The Badge System
Because you see, moves like Peach’s floating jump or Luigi’s higher jump are not gone, they are just made optional. Instead of having each one tied to a character, this game has a Badge system. Badges are items you unlock from special stages in the game. Badges do various things, including giving you those various alternate jumps that make the game easier, making you run fast, making all powerups give you some powerup you like, or making the game harder in several ways. You can equip one at a time and can choose which badge you have equipped in a menu before entering a stage. The badge system adds a highly customizable level of difficulty to this game. Most of the stages are easy to moderate, but children or people inexperienced at platforming or just anyone who wants an easier time can use badges that make things simpler to various degrees. Or you could use one primarily not because it makes the game easier, but because you like that form of jumping. Or you could make it harder with the three hard mode badges. Can you beat the levels… while invisible so you can’t see yourself? It’s an option. The badge system is absolutely fantastic and is one of the best new features of this game.
Now, I do need to say, despite my complaining about this game being too easy most of the time, I admit I did use a pretty good badge: the one that gives you a double jump at any point in your jump. Once I unlocked that I stuck with it almost all of the time. The enhanced traversal this badge gives you makes some challenges much easier, but once I was used to having it I didn’t want to go back to the default, even if it made the game easier. So yeah, is complaining that the game is too easy while using a badge that gives you a double jump somewhat hypocritical? Perhaps, but it’s my position anyway.
I think that this is a defensible position because even though that badge certainly saved me from deaths, not having it wouldn’t make the game THAT much harder. It just reduced the frustration of having to retry sections more. Apart from the lost progress dying doesn’t mean much in this game, you can get extra lives so quickly that I never got even remotely close to running out of lives. Even had I never chosen a jump-enhancing badge, I’d never have gotten a Game Over in SMBW, of that I am sure. The core challenge of this game is what it is. The badges modify that in a really interesting and well-thought-through way, though, to make it easier or harder depending on what you want. And they bring in the variety of character jumping types that SMB2 (USA) and such had, without forcing you to use just that one character to play that way…
… Unless you play as the Yoshis or Nabbit, who are locked into not being able to take damage or die any way other than falling into a pit, and in not being able to pick up powerups. Why wasn’t this an option or special badge? I’d like to be able to play as Yoshi without it removing almost all challenge from the game, but you can’t. This is not one of SMBW’s bigger flaws, but this is an issue others have mentioned and that I entirely agree with.
A major part of each Mario game is its powerups, from the original Super Mario and Fire Flower and beyond. Super Mario Bros. Wonder has five powerups, two classic and three new. The Super Mushroom to turn big and the Fire Flower to be able to shoot fire return, of course. The three new ones are Elephant form, which turns you into an elephant-person about double or more the size of a regular super Mario and which can pick up and toss water or break blocks in front of you with your trunk; Bubble form, which allows you to shoot bubbles forward that you can jump off of and that also trap enemies in them if they touch them, defeating those foes in a hit; and Drill form, that Japanese gaming staple for whatever reason, which allows you to drill into the ground and move along straight paths hidden out of sight on the floor or ceiling, and damage enemies that you jump up into with the drill on your head.
The three new powers are all great and useful throughout the game, I like all of them quite a bit. I’ve seen some criticism of the Bubble form, but I think it’s quite useful really, those bubbles float on the screen for a while so it is often a better option for defeating enemies than the Fire Flower. My only possible complaint about the powerups in this game is that enemies never use their own versions of any of these powers. You won’t be fighting elephant enemies or anything, and there’s nothing like the final boss of Mario Land 2 where Wario fights you with each of that games’ powerups. That is a minor issue, though. Nintendo did a good job with coming up with powerup options in this game that are new and interesting, and that add new forms of movement without just involving flight or something like a lot of the powerups of the late ’80s to early ’90s, since the Badge system does so much to modify traversal.
Skip this section if you want no spoilers.
Once you begin, the simple little intro cutscene plays. Our heroes from the Mushroom Kingdom are visiting another land, the Flower Kingdom, but just as they arrive Bowser and Bowser Jr., along with Kamek, show up, and using the power of the Wonder Flowers that are all over this kingdom, merged himself with their castle. Your goal is to free the castle from being merged with Bowser. He also stole all the special flower coin things and locked them up across the kingdom, conveniently in or at the ends of the stages you’re about to visit. And he let Bowser Jr. loose to mess with the people of the land and cause chaos, which the kid will do in several of the areas you will visit.
Beyond this, though, Bowser doesn’t really do much in this game. Bowser Jr. is wandering around, and you save a flower person from captivity at the end of each stage, but Castle Bowser himself is just sitting there doing nothing. For the most part I rarely felt like Bowser was actually threatening much of anything here. Bowser is a bad guy in Mario Wonder, but he’s less bad than usual, I thought. I mean, come on, he just wanted to be a music star, and you ruined the party! And he got tired of Bowser Jr.’s nonsense too, as shown in an amusing way near the end of the game.
I’m not calling for ‘bring back the kidnapped princess plot’, of course; quite the opposite, I’m thrilled that it’s finally gone! However, I felt kind of bad for Bowser at the end of this game. He can’t be allowed to kidnap castles, but perhaps a bit more of him doing something more would have been good. Essentially, Bowser sounds like he wants to be a music star and put on a show, or something like that. Sure, he does mix in some with vaguely threatening ‘you’ll all be forced to attend’ comments which are not good, and of course he kidnapped their castle, but still I felt like it wasn’t enough to convince me that he was as much of an immediate threat as the game wants you to think. It’s fine though, this is a Mario game so it’s not like story is important. Quite the opposite, the story is just an excuse to play the stages, and it does a perfectly acceptable job of that.
As I said previously, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a game I think players should experience without spoiling its level concepts and ideas for themselves. The stages are the best thing about this game and a lot of them are fantastic. So, this section will stick to just talking about the structure of the game, for the most part.
I discussed the core structure near the beginning, but to go into more detail, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is broken up into eight worlds. There is an initial numbered stage, a hub world with its own levels, five more numbered stages, a final Bowser section with a few levels and the boss that I guess could be considered the end of the hub world, and a bonus world of hidden levels unlocked by getting all wonder flowers in the regular stages. Yes, unlike Super Mario 3D World, Bowser doesn’t have a full world to his own this time, only three stages then the final battle. Oh well. World have varying numbers of levels, with some being longer than others. The game has an interesting mixed structure where sometimes you move along paths from stage to stage, while other times you move freely around open areas. It’s a good mix. There are secrets to find in the overworld, as well, which is pretty nice.
However, some of the worlds in the game definitely feel too short, while others are full-length. It’s odd and uneven in this regard. The visuals are beautiful and varied in the overworlds and levels alike, but there should have been a little bit more here, to flesh out the lacking worlds up to the standard of the better ones. Why are some worlds literally twice the length of others? The levels in this game are fantastic and maybe they couldn’t come up with any more ideas, but if so then stage locations should have been moved around or something to make each world about the same length. A few more stages, either main or side, would be ideal though.
On Hidden Things
There is one trend in SMBW stage design that I hate and must mention: hidden blocks. This game has hidden blocks that have items in them scattered around in usually out of the way places in the sky, each only visible to a certain character. This is pretty annoying design I dislike. The idea was probably to reward those playing in multiplayer, but the result is to obnoxiously hide items for no reason.
That’s not the worst thing, though, the worst are the Search Party levels. These side levels have a smallish several screen area with hidden blocks and paths all over that you must find, because you need to find five 10-coins and they are hidden. Again some blocks will appear depending on your character choice, but if you’re playing solo having to come back wtih all of the characters is obviously not feasible, so you’ve basically just got to randomly jump everywhere, push against pipes because this game amusingly lets you move them sometimes, try everything you can think of, or give up and look up the locations in a guide online. And that is what I did, I looked up guides for several of these utterly abysmal disasters of stages.
Yes, the Search Party levels are, in my opinion, the absolute worst levels ever to appear in any Mario game with levels made by Nintendo. They should not hae been included, what is this, Mario Maker? I mean, I love Mario Maker a lot, but mandatory hidden blocks are one of the absolute worst things about that game, and having them infect mainline Mario game like this is incredibly disappointing and should never, EVER have happened. Most of the levels in this game are good to great, with clever layouts, unique obstacles, secrets hidden in various clever ways, interesting Wonder effect sections that start off probably too short but get longer and more satisfyingly involved the farther you get into the game, and so much more, but the Search Party levels are irredeemable trash.
More positively though, much like in Super Mario World and Super Mario Land 2, Mario Wonder has alternate secret exits to find in some levels. I really like their inclusion, though I think the game should definitely have had more of them, there are unfortunately few to find. The ones that there are are great, though. You can guess at which levels have secret exits by which worlds seem to have areas that you haven’t gotten to yet, I didn’t need to look up a guide to know which stages to search for secrets. What great world design! Perhaps the most interesting possible Mario Land reference in this game is that six levels in SMBW have hidden exits. That’s the exact same number of secret exits as, yes, Super Mario Land 2. I doubt this was a coincidence…
The Wonder Effects
As I said, every main level in this game has a Wonder Flower hidden somewhere in the middle-ish of the stage. Once you find and touch this flower you are sent into a weird and wild stage section of some kind. Once you complete the section you get one of the stages’ two or three reward items, depending on if it’s one of the stages with a secret exit or not. These start out short and simple, too short. Most Wonder sections in the first world are so simple, basic, and short that I was kind of disappointed. I’m sorry, but the section with the dancing Piranha Plants did little for me, there was virtually no interesting gameplay to be found in that Wonder section and wanting to experience the usually great gameplay is why I’m here playing this game.
That disappointment turned around later on, however, as Wonder sections got longer and more involved. Some take up entire stages of challenging platforming! The Wonder effects are not all original, as you will see some repeated more than a few times, but each time they mix things up with new ideas in the Wonder section, so I almost never felt like I was wishing for another totally new Wonder concept instead of an old idea returning but with more to it this time. The first of the ‘you move around the background as if it’s and overhead game instead of a side view platformer’ section was really short and kind of lame, but the last one was quite tough indeed. Wonder effect sections were a great idea that this game mostly implements well.
Indeed, of the things to find in each stage beyond the regular goal, Wonder effects are the best by far. The regular three NSMB series-style hidden giant coins are standard stuff, fun to find if you want, but the Wonder sections are inventive and interesting most of the time. My only real criticism is that too many use timed music style effects, I don’t like music that way so they lost me with how much of that stuff this game has in it. Most will disagree with me about this I am sure, but it’s my opinion; this game has too much music level style stuff, I don’t like it much.
Considering how many stages this game has and how many varied effects there are, though, this is a pretty minor complaint. There are probably dozens of levels in this game with great, interesting Wonder Flower sections that I greatly enjoyed finding and playing through. I highly recommend finding all of the Wonder flowers, it’s worth it!
Maybe This Games’ Biggest Flaw: The Boss Fights
Now, however, I need to talk about probably the worst thing about this game. This is something other reviews have mentioned, and they are entirely right! Yes, I’m talking about how bad, or absent, the bosses are in SMBW. In this whole maybe 20 hour game with eight worlds and scores of levels, there are a total of five boss fights. Total, in the whole game. And four of them are against Bowser Jr. What about the other three worlds, you say? Well, two of the six numbered worlds don’t have bosses, and the bonus world doesn’t have a boss either. It was very disappointing to finish what was mostly a pretty good and interesting world only to find that there wasn’t a boss, it just ended abruptly, gave me a royal seed as a reward for victory, and sent me on to the next world. After you beat each world, one of these snakes guarding Castle Bowser is destroyed. You’d think that Bowser would protect the things which protect his new castle form, but nope, he didn’t bother to protect them all with anything. It’s really strange and makes the game feel incomplete.
And as for those fights, the four fights against Jr. are quite conventional. The designers tried to mix things up a bit by modifying the stage with things like giant bubbles floating around in the boss room you can move around in, but on the whole these are extremely standard “bop him on the head a few times and dodge his attacks” battles, almost exactly the same as NSMB boss fights of years past. Except those games had a boss in every world and a lot more boss variety, so bosses are the one thing that Wonder can’t match the New series in, that’s for sure. The Bowser fight at the end of the game is much more unique, but while somewhat conceptually interesting though unfortunately the music theme returns here with a vengeance, I found it oddly easy; I beat it first try. So yeah, boss fights are not Mario Wonder’s strong suit. Ah well.
In addition to the five regular boss fights, there are also boss rooms of sorts at the end of each of the several airship level that Kamek teleports in. These have a robot Bowser head at the end of a two screen long area, with obstacles in the way. The problem is, these aren’t really boss figths because all you do is go right for a couple of seconds, maybe avoid the obstacles or maybe damage boost through them, jump on top of robo-Bowser, jump on the red button on top of its head once, and you win, level over. These rooms are conceptually interesting but by making them only seconds long with virtually zero challenge in any of them, I’m honestly not sure why they even exist. Why tease these interesting encounters then instead just have something so basic and probably easier to beat than some regular enemies? SMB3 or World’s bosses aren’t the hardest ever, but they put up more resistance than these rooms. You need to hit them three times each, for one thing, instead of only once.
Also, the the two worlds without bosses are the worlds with the fewest stages and wonder flowers or seeds in them. This makes the game feel almost rushed. Nintendo said that the development team for Wonder had as much time as they needed, so perhaps not, but the game suggests otherwise. I have a hard time believing that the game was intended all along to have such huge disparities in world length, with one having a mere 17 wonder flowers to get while others have 30 or more, and with several not having bosses either. Despite Nintendo’s words maybe the game actually was rushed? I have no idea, but whatever the cause of this it’s really unfortunate and hurts Mario Wonder.
Additionally, it’s particularly weird that you don’t fight Kamek, because the guy appears in the game, summoning airships for you to face and more. But you never fight him in any way yourself. It’s really strange, how did the game ship like this?
Multiplayer and Online
SMBW has local and online four player co-op multiplayer. Unlike Mario Maker 2 or the NSMB games, however, in this title you can’t interact with the other players, they are like ghosts, kind of like human verisons of the AI ghost you could race against in the Super Mario Bros. Deluxe (GBC) multiplayer levels. This decision removes some of the fun of multiplayer, but also a lot of the frustration, and overall was probably a good idea. The game doesn’t have any kind of ingame chat of course, but this is a Nintendo game, none of them do. You can only play with people you have listed as friends outside of the game or randoms.
In addition to the multiplayer, this game also has an optional online component to its single player mode. If you go to the online towers in the levels, you can enable online features. Do this and you will sometimes see the ghosts of other players going through levels as you play. You can leave Standees for other players as well, cardboard cutouts of sorts with an image on them. These can help other players at tricky areas. You can resurrect players who are knocked out, too, if you wish.
You start with only one standee to place, but can buy more through a random draw gatcha in the shops, spending 10 purple coins for each attempt to get a new one. Each character has a bunch of different poses to unlock. If you get one you already have, too bad, you get nothing. Yes, you can’t just buy the standee you want. In the postgame bonus world you do get a new shop with more expensive gatcha draws each for one specific character, but still the result is random. It works, but is a pretty annoying feature, why does Mario have random draw rewards in it? You probably should have just been able to buy them if you want for more money, or use a random draw for less. You get a lot of extra purple coins to throw at this gatcha, though, so you should get a lot of them by the end.
I chose to leave the online features off, because I don’t need the game made easier for me; it’s plenty easy enough as it is, having other players around resurrecting me if I fall or something isn’t the kind of experience I want. But for those who do want that this is a pretty interesting feature for a Mario game to implement and it seems to be done well.
Overall, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a fantastic game. The game has some issues, but the vast majority of the game is fantastic fun. This isn’t a forever game like Super Mario Maker 2, it’s something to play for a while, finish, and move on from unless you want to go back to collect absolutely everything, but that’s fine; there is absolutely nothing wrong with a standard single player experience meant to be played through and completed. As someone who for some years now has spent way too much time with online forever games and not with actual completable experiences, including Super Mario Maker 2, Splatoon, Dead or Alive 6, 3DS Picross titles and their huge amounts of puzzles to get through, and such, having something that I can play, finish, and mostly greatly enjoy in a relatively short amount of time is great.
On the main issues I covered, I think that Mario Wonder has enough content for the most part, and the challenge level is enough to keep the game fun most of the time. I wish that there were a few more stages and secrets in several of the worlds and a few more bosses, but even as it is this is a truly fantastic game that stands near the peak of the platforming genre. the new enemies are interesting and amusing, the Wonder effects varied and mostly good, the absence of a ‘rescue the princess’ plot welcome, the visuals rock-solid in framerate and as good looking as the Switch can do, the art styles varied and often new for the series, and so much more! Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an experience not to be missed. There’s more than enough here to charm and enthrall just about anyone for a while. I give it an A rating, close to an A+ but not quite.
Comparing this to the other Mario games of the past few decades, as I said at the start I’d put it above all NSMB games by a good margin. I don’t think it’s quite as amazing as Mario Galaxy or Mario 3D World, but I definitely do like it more than Odyssey. It’s great.