Super Mario Bros. Wonder Review

This is Mario's brain on flowers.
Super Mario Bros Wonder Header

Mario is a bit like a video game Jessica Fletcher. Just as murders always conveniently seem to happen around that fictional author, trouble follows Mario wherever he goes, and it’s pretty much always Bowser or Bowser Jr. shaped. That’s exactly what happens in Super Mario Bros. Wonder as Mario and all his Mushroom Kingdom pals decide to wander on over to the nearby Flower Kingdom and pay Prince Florian and the locals a visit. Big ol’ Bowser turns up, zooms in on his Koopa Clown Car, touches the Wonder Seed that everyone’s marvelling at, and promptly turns into an evil castle. Yes, really.

What follows is an immediately familiar adventure across the Flower Kingdom, running, jumping, bouncing off enemies and generally going from left to right on the screen. This is a Mario side-scroller to its core, and we’ve been here countless times before, but Wonder marks a significant shift, an effort to rejuvenate the gameplay compared to where we last saw it with New Super Mario Bros. U – that game first came out over a decade ago!

More immediate is the renewed visual flair that is shown throughout Super Mario Bros. Wonder. The NSMB era looks plain, boring and flat in comparison, and while the backdrops aren’t going to surpass games like Ori and the Will of the Wisps for wow factor, there’s a pleasing gloss and shine to them that’s appealing. Instead it’s really the character that’s imbued to the game through the animations. As Mario heads into a pipe, his hat flies off and a hand comes back out to grab at as it spins; in elephant form, characters have to squeeze themselves in and out of pipes; there’s fun poses that they take as they pick up power-ups. There’s countless small visual touches that are a simple joy to behold.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder elephant Mario

Speaking of power-ups, there’s the usual fire flower, but alongside that Nintendo has cooked up a fresh batch of abilities including the aforementioned elephant transformation, a drill hat, and bubble blowing. The elephant fruit is easily the best of the bunch, letting you smash through blocks while running, whip enemies with your trunk and send little spurts of water, if you’ve just walked through some. The drill hat has a neat trick of letting you burrow into floors and ceilings, while the bubble flower is… kind of just fine, as it blows bubbles that slowly float along and can neutralise enemies. Whenever I have a choice I tend to pick something else.

These aren’t the only power ups, though. Now there’s badges, which can either give you an extra ability to use on demand, or some kind of assist to help you get through a level. From a giant hat to let you paraglide down, to an improved spin-jump, vertical wall-climb jump, or assists like sensing secrets and making you impervious to damage, each one has a particular use. You can only have one active at a time, so there’s a pre-level (or post-death) choice to be made over what is best and most suited to a stage – water levels will always benefit from having the dolphin kick equipped.

The simple joy of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is not knowing what to expect from each level. Every single one has a clear idea and theme present from the start, whether it’s based around avoiding charging Bulrushes, swimming up cloud waterfalls, or venturing into a cave with a drill hat to counter the Spinys that love to drop from the ceiling. You can play through each one and have it feel like a regular old Mario level with a fun, if safe twist to proceedings, but each main level also features a wonder flower, and if you thought the regular Super Mushroom from the 80s was a metaphor for drug taking, then you’ve got a whole other thing coming.

Super Mario Bros. bull rush

Suddenly that level with the Bulrushes in it has you riding on the back of a whole stampede, or you’re in a shower of power stars, you can take on completely different creature forms, your perspective can switch to top-down, and on and on. There’s no hyperbole in me saying that almost every single wonder flower transforms a level in completely different and unexpected ways. Many times, the flower will be right out in the open, but other times it’s sneakily tucked away, alongside the secret areas hidden behind pipes, vines up into the sky, and the other familiar tricks that Mario games pull.

Adding even more spices to the pot are the small and incidental things you’ll find dotted throughout the Flower Kingdom’s overworld. There’s six worlds joined together by the Petal Isles, and there’s plenty to find around here with mini-stages and quirky one-shot moments throughout. There’s also often a reason to go back into a stage, with a good few secret endings to find.

Since NSMB arrived on the Wii, one of the best ways to play Mario side-scrollers has been with friends and family by your side. Well, so long as you’re playing with people of a similar temperament and a degree of patience. With up to four players on the same screen space, power ups, and some levels picking up the pace, it can be absolute chaos.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder co-op multiplayer

It’s quite forgiving in that death never really matters – whether you slip off the screen because someone’s got a bit too far ahead, clatter into an enemy or fall to your doom, you just come back as a ghost and need to touch another live player to be fully restored. That said, if you’ve got one person who’s determined to be first and fastest, it’s much less fun. Pick your co-op buddies carefully.

Also, there’s Yoshis and Nabbit in the character options, who are great as options for kids, as they cannot be hurt by enemies. Just beware that you will constantly end up jumping onto the back of a Yoshi buddy by mistake – fun as it is to be able to literally carry someone through the game. That family friendly tone is carried through to the talking flowers that are sprinkled through each level, commenting on things that are happening and giving general encouragement. They’re totally inoffensive and easy to ignore, but on the off-chance you do find them a bit annoying, you can turn off the voice acting in the options.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder talking flower

Disappointingly there’s no direct online multiplayer. Online play is a mix of creating rooms for Friend Races where you can synchronously race your friends’ ghosts through a level, and you can enable online communication to see the spectres of other players on the world map. Leaving standees is a light Dark Souls-esque mechanic, which another player can touch in order to revive themselves. We weren’t able to try these features out during our review window, but this is a solo or local co-op game through and through.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder puts a fresh new spin on the classic Mario side-scroller with wild and trippy level transformations. It's still Mario at its core, but it's fun not knowing what to expect from each level. This could be the start of a bright new era for 2D Mario games.
  • Wonder flower transformations are endlessly delightful
  • Lush new graphical style and animations
  • Badges are neat little ability boosts
  • Well judged difficulty for solo and co-op play
  • Online multiplayer options are limited
  • Co-op does need players of similar temperaments
  • One or two more power-ups would have been nice
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