"In a word, yes."
There’s every chance you weren’t actually curious what step Nintendo would make with their next installment in this plumber’s franchise. Mario, like any culturally-installed icon, is inevitable. That leaves us with the question: Is it any good?
In a word, yes.
Super Mario Wonder was handed over to a new creative team, and as a result we got three things: What we wanted, things we didn’t know we needed, and a few things that are pretty useless. Make no mistake: Super Mario Wonder is a home run. Unfortunately, it might be the kind of home run that happens while everyone is doing something else in the backyard.
They were listening to the audience when they set Super Mario Wonder in Prince Flora’s kingdom with a brilliant new aesthetic that is both simplified and expressive. Bowser is in pursuit of the Wonder Seeds and he creates quite a spectacle along the way. The art stye is a visual treat without being overwhelming. The Switch has never looked this good on your screen.
Meanwhile, the Wonder Seeds integrate minigames into the flow of each level. Most of the time this works very well, and when it overstays its welcome they can be ignored. Nintendo set the difficulty bar pretty low, so everyone can jump in comfortably. This matters for reasons I'll get more into later. This particular outing has addressed many of the concerns that New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe left us with, previously. Including absurdly long titles.
It was essential that four players simultaneously make a return in friendly style, this time. Interactions between players are limited and cooperative. The roster of characters is greatly expanded. New to the series is Daisy; two toads and Toadette; four differently colored Yoshi and then Nabbit. The latter two characters are immune to most damage but can’t use powerups. There are other clever and useful interactions that you’ll enjoy discovering, as well.
A lot of thought seems to have been put into cooperative experiences between parents and children, and the game is better for it. This brings up another big change: Who is in the lead during play. A crown over the character’s head will show you who the camera is following. Camera control can be passed between players with a button press.
I want to say this game has both flourish and polish, and is a finished product. This defies the ongoing trend of developers to use their players as Quality Assurance teams. The flourish can be seen in all the clever animations and details that occur everywhere. After a while I lost track of how often I would exclaim in delight about a refined mechanic or…well, everything. Super Mario Wonder is a delight from start to finish.
Leave it to Nintendo to strive for excellence in its music just after having set the industry standard, again. Their team managed to approach familiar genre themes with a gentle and even humorous touch that will never grate on your nerves. Even when you’re struggling with that tenth or twentieth death. Wonder has its moments of challenge, and gives players something to strive for with new platforming mechanics. For anyone with series familiarity, it’s just comfortable enough to be cozy, but not so much that you’ll doze off.
No outing is complete without a few bumps on the trail, however. I was excited to see the repurposing of Mario & Luigi’s RPG badge mechanics. Each badge gives you a new option to work with, such as a cap that enables you to float. You can chose an item sensor, or even a swimming badge which is more useful than it might sound. There are quite a few badges to collect and equip, individually, but most of them are either underutilized or even annoying. Admittedly it is nice to see this level of experimentation within the brand.
Nintendo isn’t known for its implementation of DLC in these titles, but I count myself among the advocates who would like to see more opportunities to play with some of these fun digital toys we’ve been given in Wonder. Players have been scratching their heads about bosses and the overall difficultly, as well. I’ll say that this game is notably easier than Mario titles with much longer names. That does invite younger players and let more people in at once. It’s the promise of the Wii U delivered much after its passing.
The sociability of Nintendo games has always been a facet of their success. Even more than previous titles, Wonder is an effective gateway into Nintendo’s gaming ecosystem. Let’s not forget that there are more games available on the Switch compared to any system in Nintendo’s console history. In the gaming bubble, Wonder distinguishes itself seemingly aware of its situation.
Mario has never been more visible than now, and so the brand must remain fresh while maintaining its identity. When my wife and I sat down to dive into Wonder, we were impressed by how much it seemed to be interested in growing up. For years Mario has suffered the slings and arrows of not keeping pace with other platformers. Nintendo proved here that they are willing to clear the floor and start fresh, just as they did with Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
There seems to be what I would call “soft controversy” about the new Elephant Apple powerup, but you know what? Fun is the rule, and the new powerup is a riot. There are so many new ideas and mechanics in this game that a sequel is almost a requirement to properly explore them. There are a few ideas that are either underexplored or seem a little rushed in implementation. Perhaps we get to look forward to “Another Wonder” in the future.
In the meantime, we have a game that lives up to the nostalgia.
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Community review by hastypixels (January 31, 2024)
Wisdom comes from effort and mistakes.
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