It’s been too long since we got a proper Mario platformer, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder is finally almost upon us, and it’s looking like it could be a pretty meaningful update to the decades-old formula.
With a new visual style and twists layered into most of the levels I’ve been able to try out, Wonder seems to be shaping up as a real treat for Mario fans.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Wonder feels superb to play, and while I was only able to try a handful of stages, they bode extremely well for the full game, which I can’t wait to get stuck into.
- Lovely new visual style
- Really fun courses so far
- Great modern features
Welcome to the Flower Kingdom
Super Mario Bros. Wonder opens just as some of its recent trailers have indicated – with a brief explanation of Mario and his pals’ visit to an all-new kingdom, the Flower Kingdom, as honoured guests.
Bowser crashes the party, as is his wont, though, and steals the power of Wonder from the reigning King Julien, a little caterpillar fellow who promptly hops on Mario to join him on an adventure to set things right.
I’ve been able to play the first chunk of levels in the Flower Kingdom, a pretty well-calibrated introduction to Wonder’s movement and systems, and while that hasn’t brought a great deal of storytelling beyond that opening sequence, it’s pretty clear what we can expect.
Story isn’t exactly central to a Mario platformer, but it’s nonetheless told in Nintendo style, with sprightly writing, a family-friendly tone, and the odd surprisingly clever little joke.
The Flower Kingdom is a little like a remix of the Mushroom Kingdom, with the equivalent of Toads having little flower buds on their heads instead of fungi, buds that burst open into bloom when they’re pleased or empowered.
It looks like a fun canvas on which to paint a variety of levels and environments, but we’ll have to wait for the full game to really see how well this is handled.
Planting a seed
What the few levels I’ve been able to play do make clear, though, is how Wonder is switching things up and bringing its own ideas to the table.
The classic Mario move set is still present and correct, of course, with floaty-but-precise jumps, and classic options like ground pounds and dashing all here for you to use at your will.
However, it’s augmented by a new badge system that lets you equip one bonus ability to a badge worn by King Julien – basically a single extra perk. This could be the gift of a Super Mushroom every time you respawn, for extra durability, or it could be something more game-changing like a Parachute Jump that lets you glide after a jump, or a Wall-Climb Jump that lets you get extra height off walls.
These start off as ways to offer powers that used to be locked to particular characters (like Peach’s longer jumps) to any player, but pretty soon they give you tools that you immediately think you should be going back to previous levels to explore with.
I’ve only had a few levels to go on, but it’s looking like a genius addition at this stage, and it’s clear that Wonder’s designers have layered its stages with secrets for different badge users.
To amp this up even more, there are Wonder Seeds – this game’s version of Stars, and the thing that you’re looking for most keenly in any level, with one awarded automatically for finishing.
Pick one up midway through a course with some smart sniffing out, and you’ll immediately see things change into a fun warped version of what they were before.
A few charging bulls might become a stampede, Piranha Plants might hop out of their pipes en masse and start singing a marching tune as you progress, or any number of other twists.
From the handful I’ve seen, these are brilliant fun and I can’t wait to see how their ideas hold up through the whole game.
Wonder is the first new 2D sidescroller for some time in the Mario series, and thankfully it’s also refreshing things visually – even if it is still very recognisable at a glance.
There are new looks for Mario and all his friends, with new animations and sprites to finally move on from the long-in-the-tooth 3D shininess of the New Super Mario Bros. era.
They’re all pretty gorgeous, with amazing stop-motion style effects when you grab a power-up and lovely touches like Mario grabbing his left-behind hat as he whizzes into a pipe.
Enemy variety has expanded massively to accommodate characterful new animals, too, and the Flower Kingdom plays host to levels with more detailed backdrops than I can remember in a 2D Mario game, for a really nice impression of detail.
With only a few stages to play, of course, the jury remains out on how Wonder’s visual updates will fare overall, but my early impressions leave me very hopeful indeed.
The early stages of Super Mario Bros. Wonder hold enormous promise, beckoning in a game where levels aren’t what they seem, and Badge abilities can completely change your approach and experience.
I can’t wait to play more, and with Wonder’s release now right around the corner, it thankfully shouldn’t be an interminable wait.