Friday, November 3, 2023

Super Mario Bros Wonder Review

Developer: Nintendo EPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Switch
Price: $59.99

For a while there, I thought Nintendo was going to keep pumping out New Super Mario Bros games every other year, but it's been 10 years since New Super Luigi U came out in 2013, The Year of Luigi. It's been nothing but 3D and Mario Maker games since then. So how does Nintendo top the creativity we saw in Odyssey and Mario Maker? Not by making another NSMB.

Super Mario Bros Wonder is 2D Mario after taking off the training weights. It's not held back by the rules and conventions of previous games. It feels like Mario with the freedom to do anything as creative as Odyssey, and well, you don't even get the tools to do most of this stuff in Mario Maker.
The main thing that lets SMBW do whatever it wants is the Wonder Flowers. These are unique items found in most levels. Sometimes they're hidden and finding them is a puzzle unto itself, and sometimes they're in plain sight. Some show up at the beginning of a level and some show up near the end. You don't even have to use them to finish most levels. Their implementation alone is unpredictable, and what happens when you touch them is even moreso.
Wonder Flowers might turn you into a Goomba, flip the water and sky, or even turn the level into a musical performance. There really are no rules to them, and they just keep throwing new wacky ideas at you throughout the whole game. A few of the Wonder effects are repeated a few times, but since the levels are so different, you're never just doing the same thing again. Even bosses use Wonder effects, so even though you're just fighting Bowser Jr over and over, each fight is very different.
Wonder Flowers aren't the only thing used to make levels unique, though. There's also an equippable badge system that gives you different perks and abilities. You get badges after beating specific test levels and can equip one at a time. You can get the ability to swim against currents like the frog suit in Mario 3, use your hat to slow fall, charge high jumps by crouching like in Mario 2, and a bunch of other moves. There's also badges that let you start with a Super Mushroom, attract coins like a magnet, give you a secret item radar, and other cool things that aren't moves.
Each badge is introduced in a level designed around using that badge and there's also harder levels designed around mastering the use of each badge. Sometimes you need a specific badge to reach a collectible or secret exit, but that doesn't happen often, and you never need a specific badge to beat a level outside their test levels. Some badges are never needed at all, or even very useful outside those levels. I think badges are a cool way to make different kinds of levels without having to give you all of these abilities at once and designing levels around a character that can do anything.
Another tool in SMBW's toolbelt is the new powerups. SMBW introduces the Bubble Flower, Drill Mushroom, and Elephant Fruit. Of course, the classic Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Super Star are back, too.
The Bubble Flower gives you the ability to shoot bubbles, which do damage to enemies, and can be jumped on, like enemies. This basically gives you the ability to place a platform to bounce off wherever you want. I just love that idea. It sounds so overpowered in a platformer. It's not, but this is still my favorite new item.
The Drill Mushroom gives you a drill hat and a drill effect on your butt stomp, so you can attack enemies above you with your head and get the ability to burrow into the floors and ceilings, like a mole. It's similar to one of the powerups from Super Mario Galaxy 2. This item is really cool if you know how to use it, but it's by far the least used of the new items.
The Elephant Fruit is by far the most common of the new items. It gives you extra strength to push objects around, the ability to break bricks and spray water with your trunk, and it makes your stomps do more damage. It's a very useful powerup because it comes in handy for solving a lot of the puzzles. I think it's the least exciting of the new powerups, though. I just don't think it's as creative as the other 2 and it's used everywhere in the game.
I feel like they really went out of their way to push the level design past what other Mario games have done with this game. There's regular levels with Wonder Flowers, Badge tests, Wiggler races, levels focused on Zelda-like puzzles, and even one screen levels. The way the game only uses an idea a few times, or in really short levels, reminds me a lot of SMB3, which never feels like it's overusing ideas or has big levels simply for the sake of having big levels. This game just just does the thing it wants to do and moves on, and I love that about it.
Continuing the on-again, off-again trend of having lots of playable characters in Mario platformers, SMBW has a total of 12 playable characters. Two of them are male Toads and 4 of them are Yoshis, but still. Everyone controls the same except for the Yoshis, who get all the usual Yoshi abilities, like the flutter jump, tongue grabs, and spitting. You can even ride Yoshi in multiplayer. Neither Yoshi or Nabbit take damage, but they still die if they fall in a pit, and they can't use transforming powerups, like the Fire Flower. They're the closest thing to an easy mode the game has.
I did try the online stuff, but didn't find it very interesting. There is no online co-op here, but you can connect to the Internet and see other people running around. They look like ghosts in Mario Kart or something, but they are actually people playing at the same time and they can also see you. You can't really interact with them, but you can leave cardboard cutouts of your character around to mark stuff and revive people's ghosts when they die. Do I wish the game had real online multiplayer? No. I remember the online multiplayer in Mario Maker 2, and it was a laggy mess. If they can't get it to work better than that, then don't even bother.
One of the things I kept hearing people ask for in a new 2D Mario was a new art style. Well, this is a new art style. It's just not that different from NSMB's. Mario's head is a little bigger and everyone looks a little cuter, but that's about it. The biggest difference is in the animation. Everyone has so much personality and there’s a lot more squashing and stretching now. It's much more cartoon-like than NSMB, and the character designs are very reminiscent of old Mario art. Mario and Luigi reach out of pipes to catch their hats, Yoshi's nose gets red while flutter jumping, and even Goombas open their mouths in horror right before you jump on them. Of course, the game also looks amazing. The backgrounds especially blow anything in other Mario games out of the water. The game also runs at a solid 60 FPS and feels super responsive.
I don't think the music is bad, but it's just so mellow and low-key most of the time. Even the new versions of songs from previous games sound like the chill Reggae remix or something. I think I want Mario music to be more upbeat. Maybe they just wanted to get as far away as possible from the WAH-WAH sounds of NSMB. As far as Mario and Luigi's new VO goes, the new guy does a pretty good impersonation of Charles Martinet, but he ain't no Charles Martinet. It's fine, but I won't be upset if they get someone else for the next game.

I also have to mention how good the HD rumble in this game is. It actually plays music as you run over music note blocks. Yes, the rumble plays music. You can feel your character's feet as they land jumps, go in and out of pipes, slide down walls, swim, and all sorts of stuff. I haven't felt HD rumble this cool since Mario Odyssey. You should definitely turn it on for this game.
I think this is the best 2D Mario game since Super Mario Bros 3. I'm not a NSMB hater, I just love this game that much. Everything about it just feels like it has been carefully crafted and refined to perfection. That's why it reminds me so much of SMB3. There are very few things about this game that I think are annoying, should have been left out, or aren't worth playing. This is one I just had to 100%. Now I just want more. Hopefully there's some kind of expansion, or maybe a new Mario Maker with stuff from this game.