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Super Mario World (SNES) artwork

Super Mario World (SNES) review

"Nintendo augmented the platforming formula just in time to show off the potential of their "new" hardware..."

Nintendo gave us everything we expected and more with Super Mario World, but just how did they accomplish this? Rambling on about the cheery music, colourful sprite artwork and excellent level design could serve a retro review pretty well, but there’s more to the success of this title than mild doses of what is familiar and new to the seasoned gamer. Just why is it so highly regarded, and how well has it aged, really?

Pretty darn well, in fact. As the pack-in title for the Japanese and International launch of the SNES, this game had one job: Sell itself to kids who would then whine and cajole their parents into the purchase of another console. Why replace the NES? Any young player immediately knew why, but they weren’t making the purchase decision, typically. In a nutshell the SNES was just better.

Fortunately that wasn’t very difficult to demonstrate to dubious parents. The environments of Super Mario World are brighter, more vividly detailed and the Bros control markedly more smoothly than they do in previous instalments. All with the more advanced SNES controller, no less. So much more is happening on screen as well, with platforms moving in multiple directions at once sporting an attractive range of colours. Pixel art ages exceedingly well and stands out as some of Nintendo’s finest work to this very day, after all, who doesn’t recognize that moustache and overalls?

What the NES struggled to draw the SNES renders with a vibrant stroke and nary a flicker. Large enemies populate the screen without hindering the action or its responsiveness. Super Mario World promises undreamt of gaming potential and its understated soundtrack ventures into thrilling new territory: Digitally sampled audio. Koji Kondo’s bouncy, energetic style brings a new motif and guitar-like themes that fascinated players as they explored this vast array of levels connected in ways never before seen.

Kondo’s playful themes are above all fun to listen to, which is essential when you’re a player grappling with mechanics so far removed from anything the NES could manage. Never once was I tempted to stop playing out of frustration even though I could spend as many as 20 consecutive lives on a single level whilst attempted to get a series of jumps just right. Super Mario World’s levels are notably short, having a hard limit on the amount of content due to memory constraints, but it works to the player’s advantage by treading lightly on their patience.

It’s notable that by modern standards Super Mario World isn’t considered to be difficult, but you’ve got to shift your paradigm to a player who has just mastered all that Super Mario Bros 3 has to offer. Yoshi, for instance, requires you to commit a new series of button sequences and mechanics to muscle memory and has you adopting new platforming strategies. So much more is happening on the screen at once that tracking all the objects is going to result in unavoidable death. It’s no coincidence that extra lives are so easy to obtain, especially when you know where to look.

Graphically the game separated itself from the pack - heh - and though scaling, blending and layering tricks were all of the New Kit On the Block’s wheelhouse, the development team had more tricks up their sleeves. On NES, Super Mario Bros 3 gave the player their choice - on occasion - of which level to play first, but progression was always fixed on a given path. On SNES, Super Mario World took the mechanic to its next logical step: Let the player choose entirely optional routes with several branching off points triggered by multiple level exit points.

This is what effectively set the world on fire where the SNES was concerned. I remember seeing kids gathered around lunchroom tables discussing secrets they’d discovered in earnest. Occasionally a Nintendo Power magazine was involved, teasing new routes and explaining power ups. When I got my SNES, joining the excitement and spending uncounted hours exploring the seemingly massive map of this game has left me with fond memories indeed. Meeting Yoshi and encountering the many new gameplay mechanics were chief among those.

The cape feather was particularly difficult for me at first, and it wasn’t until several years later that I got the hang of falling with style. I could suggest that it was even underused, especially since it was never picked up in any of the many sequels, but I suspect that Nintendo understood that heavy reliance on such a new mode of travel would prove more frustrating than rewarding and tarnish the positive trend that the game furnishes. They provided other ways to explore flying, anyway.

Speaking of notable side content, Luigi was as forgettable as ever, but Yoshi added a new dynamic for us to delve into. No longer were you hoofing it alone through the Mushroom Kingdom. Whenever you would free Yoshi from a block, he would hatch from his egg and hop in anticipation of joining you on your quest to free his captured brothers and sisters. Doing so demonstrated the SNES’ ability to alter the music dynamically according to gameplay by adding a matching tempo bongo drum accompaniment that just feels good.

All is not ideal in this retro-spectacular, however. In a calculated move, Nintendo designed Super Mario World with a low difficulty level and minimal curve. It was by necessity, however, and is consequently an excellent entry point for newcomers to the franchise and even more fun than current instalments for more recent consoles, I’d suggest. That said, the mini-bosses are little more than a footnote, and Bowser’s kids, the Koopalings, are pushovers. They’re no more challenging than the mini bosses in Super Mario Bros 3, who require no more than three well timed bops on the head to defeat. Each one adds a wrinkle to this scenario, but the only thing that may catch you off guard is the timing, not much else.

Nintendo took this opportunity to add a feature that has become a franchise staple: A relatively easy straight path to end game with bonus content hidden behind levels of much higher difficulty. Delving into the branching level options on the map can grant you access to the Star Road, where you can obtain different coloured Yoshis and another area with levels of even greater challenge. It was exciting to discover how all the pieces fit together, and the reward was possibly my first experience with the idea that modding was possible on consoles. It was satisfying and something I’d recommend to anyone.

Super Mario World is synonymous with the SNES, which a was game changer, bringing with it the kind of co-processing horsepower once reserved to the C64 and Amiga computers. It was accompanied by a sense of wonder I have seldom experienced as a gamer. You know, the first time you witness a new possibility of interaction that you hadn’t imagined before, when it just hits you that you're looking at it. Nintendo’s ability to make gaming personal ranks among the highest of all the game and console developers in the world, and this particular game marked a shift in complexity and accessibility that doesn’t happen very often. Don’t miss out on your chance to play this marvel of game design if you haven’t already!

hastypixels's avatar
Community review by hastypixels (April 26, 2019)

At some point you stop justifying what you play and begin to realize what you're learning by playing.

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Masters posted April 26, 2019:

Nice words, and an interesting new path to the waterfall.
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hastypixels posted April 27, 2019:

Thanks. We need more nice words these days.

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