Review – Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Wonderful!

Overview

Developer Nintendo
Publisher Nintendo
Genre Platformer
Platforms Switch
Release Date October 20, 2023

Super Mario Bros. Wonder was an unexpected announcement this year, and even more unexpected was the trippy style, talking flowers, and the new elephant power-up. Certainly it looked like a change of pace, but for better or for worse? Let’s take a look!

Wonder seeds are the new star coins, or moons, or what have you.

Content Guide

Other than the psychedelic look and attitude the game takes on, there isn’t any offensive content here, unless you have a problem with spiky-shelled talking turtles, powerful mushrooms and the sundry magical elements that have always pervaded the Mario franchise. It doesn’t get particularly scary, either, compared to some titles – I think it’s appropriate for ages 5 or 6 and up.

Review

I have to admit, when I saw the first trailers for Wonder I was less than enthused. It looked like the developers were on drugs, and en route to ruining the franchise. Well, only one of those things is (possibly) true, because Wonder is the best video game I’ve played in years.

The vine is one of the new badge abilities.

Mostly due to the move to 3D, I would split most mainline Mario games into two categories. There were performative games where the point was to accomplish difficult jumps, dashes and attacks until you reached the flagpole, and explorative games where players were more focused on platforming puzzles and a smidge of logic to investigate their way through the scenarios. I would argue that this latest installment has created a whole new genre of Mario games: wonderful. 

And I don’t mean that in the sense of “amazing” or “great”. I mean that in the true sense – a sense of wonder, as the name of the game implies. By the third or fourth level, I found myself thinking, “I wonder what will happen this time?”. Every time I touched a Wonder flower and the stage transformed into something ridiculous and unexpected, I had a moment of pure joy. Not just fun, nor excitement, nor happiness, but joy. My biggest critique of the game is my smidge of disappointment during the maybe one or two times a gimmick was repeated – and just how unfair is that to the developers?!

Toadette with the new bubble power.

There were plenty of other great things about this game, of course. Nintendo continues to make great graphics by focusing on fun and art style over resolution or realism, and it pays off. Mario is as expressive as ever, and the color palette of the stages and world come alive. I really enjoyed the map screen and the green check mark that confirmed you found everything in a stage. (I will warn that if you plan on 100%ing this game, the last secret stage is several orders of magnitude more difficult than the other special world stages, and probably took a year off my life.) The audio was also fantastic, and while I’m pretty bad at rhythm games, the few rhythm-based stages were easy enough to follow and very enjoyable and funny. New mechanisms like badges, new enemies and the new power-ups were mostly positive, and even the middling options were unobtrusive – you experienced them once or twice and never had to think about them again. I spent most of my time with the first badge that lets you hold your cap to float, something I hope becomes a new Mario staple like the ground pound or spin jump. 

If I had something negative to say, it’s that multiplayer is not good. The online system where players leave standees to help you out is actually kind of cool, but local multiplayer is strictly worse than in the past. Players who “bubble” have 5 seconds to be popped, or the players collectively lose a life, which is far more punishing than the past “New” Super Mario games. This makes difficult stages nearly impossible to do together, especially when there is a wide skill gap. I wanted to play this game with my young daughters, but it ended up being near impossible to do, which was a big disappointment for them.

 

Online play.

Even then, I’m not sure I can complain too much about the multiplayer. I would encourage you to play Super Mario Bros. Wonder by yourself. It’s such a special, treasured thing to experience that I value the fact that I experienced it alone. In some ways, this game transformed my entire outlook. It changed the way I was teaching my Calculus II class, and the way I was thinking about my faith journey. I started focusing more on inviting students into that sense of profound wonder at God’s creation and the mysteries of mathematics at a high level. I encouraged my colleagues to get students to that place where instead of dreading class, students found themselves asking, “I wonder what we get to do today?” I could not tell you the last time a (new) game was such a transformational experience for me, and I certainly did not expect it from Mario. For that, I can’t help but give this game the highest marks possible. 

The Bottom Line

 

Transformational, joyful, wonderful.

 

10

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Derek Thompson

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