A lot of people thought when Super Mario Maker released that Nintendo was telling the player base, “Go make a 2D Mario yourselves.” Many thought that Nintendo had finally given up on 2D Mario, but after spending a number of hours with Super Mario Bros. Wonder, that’s clearly never been the case. Nintendo decided that it’s time to have an adventure in the Flower Kingdom, where Bowser gets turned into a floating castle, Mario is turned into a variety of things including platforms and Goombas, and we get quite possibly one of the most memorable Mario adventures of all time with one of the largest playable casts.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder will feel almost immediately familiar to anyone who has played any of these Mario games before. You begin on the world map, where you can select which stage you wish to play, and clearing stages will unlock more levels for you to clear. Every single action stage will have a Wonder Flower to find, and grabbing it will cause wacky things to happen to the level you’re playing. In some stages, the pipes will come to life and move along an acid river like inchworms, while in other stages you may suddenly wind up moving along the background of the level, controlling like a top-down Zelda from 1992! The developers really went out of their way to change up the scenery, controls, and objective once the Wonder Flower was found, so in some stages you may turn into a ball of goo that can stick to the ceiling, but in another you may need to run along a rapid-moving series of missiles through the sky to reach the Wonder Seed.
The objective of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is to acquire Royal Seeds at the end of each world, and to access the castles where they’re held, you’ll need to collect Wonder Seeds which are like the Stars, Shrine Sprites, and Moons from other Mario games. You’ll always get at least one Wonder Seed for reaching the end of a stage, and finding the Wonder Flower and making it through whatever wondrous event transpires will net you a second Wonder Seed. Some stages even have a third Seed due to having an additional exit hidden somewhere in the level, and there’s also purple coins to collect in each level for the completionists. In order to challenge the boss in each world you’re in, you’ll need to acquire a minimum number of Wonder Seeds, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder is very forgiving with how many you have to acquire, for example, a world with 30 total Seeds may require you get just 16 of them to challenge the boss.
The level design of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is top class, as per usual. It does a great job at introducing you to new mechanics through its different types of stages, such as a level that raises platforms if you jump with the beat of the music, before putting you into a position where you need to use that mechanic or die. It’s charming how many different mechanics and stage elements Nintendo came up with for a 2D Mario game after many of us, including myself, thought that Super Mario Maker was effectively going to eliminate the need for Nintendo-crafted 2D Mario, but there’s a reason that Nintendo makes video games while I don’t have a job predicting the future.
Each world you visit will have some number of hidden stages, and at least one with a secret exit, so you can access the Special World’s more challenging levels. The Special World houses the most difficult stages in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and the in the very final of them, the reward for collecting every Wonder Seed and purple coin likely had me lose more than 30 lives before I finished that very final level. So, it’s not as if there aren’t challenging levels, but there aren’t many, and they’re entirely optional if you didn’t enjoy a challenge like Champion’s Road from Super Mario 3D World.
If there’s any one part of Super Mario Bros. Wonder that’s subpar, it definitely lies within most of its boss battles. At the end of four of the major worlds, you’ll encounter a castle that’s usually fun enough, but the boss at the end is always going to be Bowser Jr., and it’s always a variation of the Boom Boom fights from Super Mario Bros. 3. Bowser Jr. starts off spinning at you in his shell, and you bounce off his head. He performs some Wonder effects that may make the floor uneven or summon spheres of water to swim in to avoid Jr. as he spins at you menacingly, but it’s generally the same thing for four separate boss fights. Two of the worlds don’t even have boss fights, they just hand you the Royal Seed and let you leave.
The boss fights in 2D Mario titles have generally never been anything to write home about, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder definitely feels like it was fulfilling a boss fight quota for these four Bowser Jr. fights. Of course, the four boss fights make up such a tiny percentage of the game that it winds up being inconsequential in the long run, but it’s strange to have level design that’s so impressive and unique, but not extend that incredible design sense to four of Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s boss fights. What’s even more wild is that the final boss is actually very impressive and uses a mechanic only seen a couple times throughout the title, making it incredibly memorable. However, it’s clear to see that the level design and its multiplayer integration was probably the focus of development, as a whole.
The multiplayer in Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a bit of a strange one. You’ll see ghosts of other players who are playing the same level you are, and you can use a limited wheel of emotes to signal to other players. You can set down a standee by pressing a button, and the entire purpose of the standee is to revive other players if they happen to die. When a player dies, they become a ghost and can be revived if they touch another player or a standee before their 5 second timer is up- this can create fun piggybacking moments where players can save one another and leapfrog through difficult parts of a level.
There were actually a few moments where I saw a player struggling to make a jump around a number of enemies, so I just waited to allow them multiple tries to get past that segment and revive themselves if they failed. After he finally made his jump after a number of attempts, I successfully made my way through to discover that he sat there on the other side, waiting for me just in case I didn’t make it either! You can also guide other players to hidden blocks or secrets, which I found myself doing a number of times in the Search Party levels.
That’s right, Super Mario Bros. Wonder also has a great amount of variety in its distribution of levels, too. You have your standard stages you play through where you collect coins, defeat enemies, and grab the flag pole at the end, but there are also Search Party levels where you need to find five coins to collect the Wonder Seed, Arena levels where you take out a group of enemies as quickly as possible, as well as Break Time, Badge Challenge, and Wiggler Race levels to give you some variety in gameplay.
The badge system of Super Mario Bros. Wonder allows players to customize their experience to what they’d like, and it’s a system I hope they flesh out and have return in later Mario games, because it’s amazing. The abilities you get from the badges can be relied on throughout much of Super Mario Bros. Wonder if you’re not confident in platforming, as you can use the parachute cap badge’s glide to help you make tight jumps, the boosting spin jump basically gives you a double jump with a press of the R button, but it’s not as if those are the only useful ones. You can use a vine to grab walls which is extremely helpful for levels featuring vertical climbs, and there’s even a badge that gives you a one-time mulligan if you fall into a bottomless pit.
The customization, combined with the wacky level design from the Wonder effects, does a lot for Mario Wonder’s replayability. Replaying a random level just to show other players where a secret is hidden, relaxing with your friends, or simply spending some quality time with a child are all great ways to enjoy Super Mario Bros. Wonder. The customization of this title can also help younger players make it through platforming sections they may struggle with, as well.
People who find themselves having difficulty due to being new to platforming games can also try playing as any of the Yoshi characters or Nabbit, who are impervious to enemies and traps and only lose a life if they fall into a pit. These kinds of options are great for players unfamiliar with platformers, as you can change your badge or even which character you play to overcome something you find too challenging. Meanwhile, for those of us who prefer the standard challenge level, we have 7 other characters to play and enjoy, which is the highest offered in any 2D Mario game yet.
The animations and visuals of Super Mario Bros. Wonder are like candy for the eyes. Every character has distinct, emotive animations, filled to the brim with personality. Mario looks absolutely mortified when he runs into an enemy and wiggles his legs to climb up through a pipe. Characters using the new Elephant form might get stuck walking through a door, so they have to do a quick wiggle to fit: those kinds of small touches really do a lot to make the game feel so much more expressive and alive. The bubbly, cheerful art style and beautiful backgrounds also make Super Mario Bros. Wonder a joy to look at.
It’s also worth noting that after 17 years of New Super Mario Bros. style soundtracks for 2D Mario games, we finally have a new approach to background music in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and it’s superb. The usage of leitmotif throughout a number of Wonder-only songs is phenomenal, plus there are some great remixes of age-old themes that nearly everyone knows, too. There are also a number of levels that use music in lockstep with actions the player is performing or sung by enemies on-screen, meaning that if you kill the enemies, the song will suddenly have missing parts. It’s just impressive how dynamic the soundtrack is.
All in all, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is an absolutely amazing time. A few poor boss fights can’t offset a title filled to the brim with fantastically designed levels, a great soundtrack, and skillfully updated visuals which all quite possibly makes for the most innovative 2D Mario in years. There are a number of options to make Super Mario Bros. Wonder more accessible for less experienced players, and this could make it great to play with your child, siblings, or maybe your wife of 20 years who has never before touched a Mario game in her life! It sure is wonderful to have an excellently crafted 2D Mario title again, especially in an all-star year like 2023.