After years of New Super Mario Bros., we finally got a…new Super Mario Bros. game (I had to make the joke, I’m sorry). So here it is, the first original 2D Mario game for the Nintendo Switch, and it only took them way longer than any of us were expecting. However, given Nintendo‘s very open philosophy about trying to crack down on crunch time and experimenting with new ideas, I would rather have a good game that fills my soul with happiness than a bland and repetitive batch of corporate slime, which is what I feel like we have been getting from 2D Mario platformers since the Wii era. We have had the 3D titles, which have been amazing, but how does Mario’s new 2D outing hold up?
Honestly, this is a solid return to form and a much-needed spark of joy for the franchise. Mario platforms have never been bad; Nintendo might as well have patented the formula for what makes a successful 2D platformer. My disdain for the New Super Mario era comes from its plastic aesthetic, lack of charm, and inability to revitalize or reinvent certain ideas for a modern audience. We’ve seen Nintendo‘s other recent franchises push themselves away from falling into a rut, and now Mario gets his chance to join them. Not only does this game feature the most extensive cast of playable characters I’ve ever seen in a Mario platformer, but its ability to cater to various players makes Wonder stand out.
Most levels start as standard 2D Mario levels with marching enemies, blocks to jump on, and purple coins to collect. The assortment of power-ups, from the drill cap to the now-famous animal morphing fruit that turns you into an elephant, are a joy. You can tell the developers had fun crafting these levels because it feels like you have more influence over the design than ever before. Enemies react to you, and you can take advantage of that by pushing them into a corner, or when you’re in the elephant mode, you can do things with your considerable strength, like push pipes together or out of the way. There are some 2.5D segments where you’ll swap between the foreground and the background. Controls are incredibly responsive, and while almost every character pretty much plays the same way, some characters like Yoshi and Nabbit do have certain gimmicks that make them perfect for beginners, such as their ability to shrug off enemies so you can plow through the level without having to worry about them.
Identical character gameplay might seem like a regression when previous Mario games featured individualized strategy, but the badge system remedies this concern. Super Mario Bros. Wonder allows you to collect badges that you can equip to acquire specific abilities that can completely change your playthrough experience. These badges can range from helping you start over with a power-up immediately to changing your overall control scheme. There are badges to help you jump higher, collect more coins, and glide across the level design. This way, players can pick whatever character is their favorite and equip them with a badge to accommodate a specific play style. You can tackle a level at different difficulty curves in dozens of ways! At least until you get to the boss fights, which are all the same Bowser Jr. boss fight copied and pasted with slight tweaks. It’s a shame since so much of the game is so varied.
One of the main defining gimmicks of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the Wonder Seeds. There are at least two Wonder Seeds per stage, one at the end of a level while others are somewhere towards the middle of the level. The middle-level seed is obtained upon finding a Wonder Flower. It causes a strange, mysterious effect that can completely change how the level is played. The level geometry can shift around, hordes of enemies can come out of nowhere, or maybe the level itself will go through a completely different stylistic change. You can avoid these flowers and play a standard Mario level without gimmicks. Still, these flowers are another great way of breathing new life into already fun, albeit standard, Mario gameplay. The Seeds are necessary to unlock other worlds, but you don’t have to acquire all the Seeds to make it to the end of a level, so there’s also replay value in what levels you tackle. Moreover, every level comes with a difficulty display, so you can plan your route accordingly based on how easy or hard you want to take it.
On the topic of music, the best way I can describe it and the overall sound design is just charming. The sounds that all the characters and enemies make are adorable, and the soundtrack itself goes for this lovely blend of comforting yet exhilarating. It’s like being on a relaxing amusement park ride. The music also seems to be influenced by certain in-game elements, like acquiring a Wonder Flower. The music can get more hectic and upbeat to match the stylistic change.
And since we’re on the topic of sound, yes, this is the first Mario game in decades to feature a different voice actor. Charles Martinet has hung his red plumber’s cap to make way for Kevin Afghani, who I thought did an outstanding job in the role. It’s obvious that he was directed to emulate Martinet to the point where many people, myself included, even questioned whether or not Martinet was replaced before the official statement came out. But the fact that I was unsure for so long is a testament to how good of a job Afghani did. Mario’s voice has become so ubiquitous in most people’s brains that doing anything radically different would’ve turned more people off. But I like Afghani’s little extra effort into the voices of Mario and Luigi. Combine that with the additional little facial and hand animations for the characters whenever they do something seemingly innocuous, like poke their head out of a pipe or wave goodbye to somebody, and what you have is a game that is just all-around charming.
Overall, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is another solid game in the pantheon of Mario’s legacy. I am on the fence about its price point, but I also know that’s a bit hard to bring up because it’s very rare that Nintendo puts their games on sale, unfortunately. Still, if you were a Mario fan or were getting sick and tired of Mario platformers before, I think this game does enough to revive your faith in the franchise. It’s not a massively bold step forward, but it is a confident yet firm step in the direction that I think Mario was always headed in. As I said, Mario always seems to have this formula for success, and this game does an excellent job of presenting that formula to us once again with a new coat of paint.