Monday, June 17, 2019

Super Mario World Review

Super Mario World was the game included with the SNES when it launched in North America in August 1991. It was first released in November 1990 alongside the Super Famicom in Japan, around 2 years after the release of Super Mario Bros 3 on the Famicom. Super Mario World feels like a game trying to one-up something that was already nearly perfect. It's a game trying to be bigger and better than SMB3 by using the power of the then brand new SNES hardware to include bigger levels, higher quality music, and better graphics than any Mario game before it. It also has dinosaurs because everyone loved dinosaurs in the 90s.

After saving the Mushroom World in Super Mario Bros 3, Mario, Luigi, and Peach needed a vacation, so they decided to take a trip to Dinosaur Land. Apparently, they left Toad in the Mushroom Kingdom. While Mario and Luigi were napping on the beaches of Dinosaur Land, Bowser kidnapped Peach again. Mario and Luigi tried looking for her, but all they found was a giant dinosaur egg in the forest. Suddenly, the egg hatched and Yoshi popped out of it. He explained that Bowser sealed him in the egg and did the same to his Yoshi friends. Mario and Luigi put two and two together and figured Bowser must have taken Peach, too. With absolutely zero evidence, I might add. Now it’s up to Mario and Luigi to save the Yoshis and rescue Peach again.

I just played Super Mario Bros 3, and the most jarring thing about playing Super Mario World right after it is the controls. Super Mario World feels much faster and more responsive than SMB3. It's a little hard to handle at first. Mario has a lot more air control during jumps, he turns around quicker, and doesn't slide around the floor as much as in SMB3. It feels very different, but still feels like Mario, unlike SMB2 USA. It just takes some getting used to. A lot of that has to do with the animations. SMW still looks like a Mario game, just faster. Aside from the extra speed and responsiveness, Mario controls a lot like in SMB3. The only major new moves he gets are the ability to throw things up in the air and the spin jump, which he can use to break blocks under him as Super Mario. Mario can climb fences in SMW, but that really isn’t much different from vine climbing, it’s more of a graphical showcase thing. He can punch Koopas climbing on the other side of a fence; though, which is new. He can also duck while he's small Mario, which really isn't that useful.

The biggest new thing in Super Mario World is Yoshi. I feel like the Yoshi hype might have been forgotten over time, but Yoshi was a huge deal. It wasn't just that he was a cool power up, he was also super cute and marketable. He was all over the place. He was on the cover of Nintendo Power with Mario, in the cartoon, the comic strip, he had his own games, his own soft drink flavor, and he was in Link's Awakening. In-game, Yoshi is Mario's ride. He's basically a horse. I've heard Miyamoto originally wanted to give Mario a horse. Link beat him to the punch, though. Yoshi is a power up that gives you an extra hit point on top of your Mushroom, Fire Flower, or Cape. You can also keep getting him back after getting hit, like rings in Sonic games. He runs away when you get hit, but you can hop back on him without penalties if you can catch him. He can also jump on spiky things, like Spinies, and Mario doesn't take a hit while riding him. If Mario has a Fire Flower and is hit while riding Yoshi, he won't lose the Fire Flower and become small. Mario controls the same while riding Yoshi, but he can't climb vines or glide with the cape while on him. You also can't take Yoshi into castles of ghost houses. Yoshi's main skill is the ability to eat small enemies. He can eat pretty much anything around the size of a Goomba or Koopa. Yoshi also gains special powers for short periods of time when he eats Koopa shells. He just spits green shells back out, but yellow shells give him a ground stomp, red shells let him spit 3 fireballs out, blue shells let him fly like the P Wing in SMB3, and flashing rainbow shells give him all the powers at once.

Super Mario World brings back the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower, but gets rid of all the cute suits from SMB3. Yoshi is the only one allowed to be cute here. Besides Yoshi, Mario’s only new power up item is the Cape Feather, which is a lot like the Super Leaf from SMB3. In fact, early screenshots of SMW showed Mario just using the Racoon suit. The Cape allows Mario to fly and do a spin attack that works just like Racoon Mario’s tail swipe. The Cape has a few tricks that set it apart from Racoon Mario, though. The Cape changed the flying controls so Mario can now fly and float down by simply holding down the jump button, instead of mashing it. The Cape can also be used as a paraglider/parachute hybrid. After flying up, you can press back on the d-pad as Mario starts coming back down to catch some air and fly back up a bit. Mario can stay airborne by doing this as long as he doesn’t get hit or run into something, so you can literally fly over entire levels sometimes. The Cape also gives you a diving ground stomp move, called the “body press”, which hits all enemies near you when you hit the ground. Overall, the cape is more powerful than Racoon Mario, but also more exploitable, and not nearly as cute.

Another big item-related change to the game is the removal of the inventory box from SMB3. Toad Houses and card minigames are gone, too. You can't carry 28 backup items around anymore. You can only carry 1 backup item now, but you can use it during levels by pressing Select. This backup item box is filled with any extra power up you get when you are Fire or Cape Mario, and the item is overwritten with new power ups, or your current one, when you get something else. For example, if you get a Feather as Fire Mario with a Feather in your box, your Fire Flower will overwrite the Feather in the box, and if you are Fire Mario with a Feather in your backup item box and get a Mushroom, that Mushroom will overwrite the Feather in your box. Yes, you can get a Mushroom from an item block when you're already Super Mario because a lot of item blocks have preset items in them that never change. It might sound like this change to backup items makes the game harder, but it actually helps make the game easier. Being able to have a backup item and Yoshi gives you a lot of room for error. I think they tried balancing this out by making you go straight to small Mario after being hit as Fire and Cape Mario, instead of going to Super Mario, like in SMB3, but that's not enough to offset all the extra hits you can take when you can keep getting back on Yoshi or keep getting backup items.

The overworld maps return in SMW, but SMW's world isn't split up into self-contained Lands, like SMB3. SMW's zones are all connected to each other, and you can freely move between them as long as you have finished the levels in your path. There is never a point of no return in SMW. You can always go back to any previous level, and unlike in SMB3, you can replay any level as many times as you want. In fact, you're encouraged to do that, because some levels have multiple goals or exits. Levels with multiple exits are marked with red dots on the overworld map. SMW's map gives you even more freedom to go wherever you want than the recent Mario games because, in addition to the world being connected, there is a zone called the Starworld, which lets you take a shortcut to any zone in the game, and it's available pretty early on. You can take a shortcut right to Bowser's castle if you want. It's basically SMW's version of SMB3's Magic Whistle. It's possible to finish the game after beating only 11 levels this way.

Super Mario World feels like an evolution of SMB3 in a lot of ways, but the level design is completely different. Super Mario Bros 3 was mostly about quick platforming challenges. Most levels were small, focused on a few obstacles or ideas, and could be beaten in under a minute. The levels in Super Mario World are much bigger, made up of multiple sub areas that focus on different challenges, and they have a new element of exploration. These levels are so big that they added checkpoints to them, which were definitely not in SMB3. Levels with multiple exits require you to either find a second goal hidden in a sub area, or to find a key and use it to open a lock to exit the level. Sometimes you need to bring a Cape or Yoshi from another level to be able to reach a hidden key or goal, sometimes you have to use a P-Switch in the right spot to reveal a hidden door, and sometimes you just have to find the right pipe to go in. Different exits open up new paths to new levels and switches that activate new blocks in the levels, so getting all the exits isn't just for completionists. I really like the exploration element of the game. It kind of feels like the groundwork for what Super Mario 64 would be like with multiple goals in a level.

At the time the SNES launched, this was one of the best looking console games I had ever seen. Arcade games like Street Fighter II blew it out of the water, of course, but nothing on Genesis or TG16 compared. F-Zero and Pilotwings were impressive because they were 3D games with 2D graphics, but SMW was the game you could show your friends because everyone could clearly see how much better it looked than SMB3 on NES. Super Mario World also has a much better looking art style than F-Zero or Pilotwings. SMW had more colors, bigger and more detailed sprites, more frames of animation, awesome scaling effects (AKA Mode 7), it used more screen real estate, and the framerate was much better than in SMB3. Sure, it doesn't look as good as a lot of other SNES games that came later now, but it still looks good because of its great art style.

Super Mario World's soundtrack is good, but it feels more like a showcase of the SNES' sound hardware at times. Nearly every song has like 3 or 4 different versions played with new instruments and at different speeds, and you can't unhear it once you notice. The main athletic theme has more like 10 versions, and different versions of it play in pretty much every level that isn't a ghost house or castle. It sounds great, though. I really like the ragtime sound of that main Athletic theme. The ghost house theme is also very memorable.

Super Mario World is a wonderful game in its own right, but it's not in the same league as Super Mario Bros 3. It's not even in the same ballpark. Super Mario Bros 3 is clearly the better game in my mind. Super Mario World feels like was supposed to be bigger and better than Super Mario Bros 3, but it didn't really end up that way. It has bigger levels, but it has less levels overall, less power ups, less level types, less music, and less level themes. It kind of feels like it was rushed at the end. It needed a little something more to surpass SMB3. And while I like the exploration element of SMW, I don't think it's as fun as the quick hit pure Mario platforming of SMB3.