Super Mario Bros. Wonder Preview – Making Mario wonderful again

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There was a time where Mario really was at the pinnacle of video games, pioneering brand new technology and paving the way for countless others to follow. These days, we’ve seen all of his tricks before. Oh sure, his games are still fantastic, but it’s like a latter day Roger Federer in familiar excellence. Can Super Mario Bros. Wonder restore some of that, well, wonder to the series?

At the fundamental level, there’s plenty of Super Mario Bros. Wonder that isn’t particularly wondrous. It’s hardly ponderous and there’s still plenty of joy and satisfaction to be had with the finely honed platforming, but it’s still built on the oh, so familiar core 2.5D platforming of New Super Mario Bros. games from the past 15 years. It’s the new ideas that Nintendo has added into the mix that really plant a smile across your face as you play.

At the forefront of this is the Wonder Flower, a collectible that sends the world and level into a dreamlike overdrive. Everything is ramped up to an extreme or given an unexpected twist, so horizontal pipes will start to inch across the level like a caterpillar, while upright pipes push up higher and move around as you approach. Levels that feature charging bulls suddenly have a whole stampede that sweeps through – though one that you can ride on the back of to grab more coins – or one that prominently has you dodging dropping blocks will turn into a nightmare with a massive block crushing down on the world, which you have to race to stay ahead of.

Super Mario Bros. bull rush

You never know what to expect, even if it’s just a shower of shooting power stars, and it absolutely goes hand-in-hand with the new selection of power-ups in the game. Elephant Mario was a real stand-out from the game’s announcement, and it’s a quirky and dumb(o) as you’d hope, jumbifying your chosen character (that isn’t Yoshi or Nabbit) and letting you crush through blocks, suck up and unleash squirts of water to stun enemies. We also got to check out the Drill hat, which lets you drill into both the ground and ceiling and then burrow along the surface, sneaking through secret gaps in certain places.

Before you get into a level, though, there’s Power-Up Badges that you can earn as you play by completing special challenge levels sprinkled throughout the game, and give you a little augmentation and boost from then on. You can only equip one at a time, but there’s always something useful to having a large parachute cap to call upon, a wall-climb jump that lets you scoot up a wall one time before the usual kick-jump pushes you away, or the crouching high jump lets you pause and charge up for an extra high jump compared to usual. There’s other badges as well that give more straight up assists, and will certainly be handy for younger players.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder co-op multiplayer

Of course, then there’s just co-op multiplayer, which we had the chance to check out in two player. It adds just a little bit of extra chaos and unpredictability into the game, especially as you pick different characters to play as. A Yoshi cannot be hurt from falling into lava, for example, but then can’t pick up an elephant power-up – as much as I want to see elephant Yoshi. Other characters can also ride on a Yoshi’s back and be carried along through a level, which is initially quite fun to accidentally end up doing, but again, sure to be great for helping younger players through a level.

Everything we’ve seen of Super Mario Bros. Wonder so far has been simply delightful, the art style taking a few steps to imbue that 2.5D visuals with more of an animated movie style – the quirky little hat grabs and animations when going into and coming out of pipes are just one key example of this. It’s really all about the Wonder Flower transformations for me, though, chucking a real unknown element into the tried and true platforming.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder yoshi

It certainly felt as though Nintendo had wrung everything they could out of the New Super Mario Bros. line of games, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder shows there’s clearly plenty of creative juice to be found in the humble side-scrolling platformer.

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