It’s hard to believe that the last brand-new 2D Mario game came out more than 10 years ago. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate updates to classics like Super Mario 35 or remixes such as the Super Mario Maker series. But without a fresh entry to the franchise, it felt like there was something missing. However, after getting a chance to go hands-on with Super Mario Bros. Wonder ahead of its official release on October 10th, it feels like the magic is back.
By shifting locations from the Mushroom Kingdom to the Flower Kingdom Nintendo gave itself the freedom to update practically every aspect of the game, while staying true to the core formula that is running, jumping, smashing blocks and collecting everything in sight. There are power-ups like the new elephant suit that lets you bash enemies with your trunk. And while classic items like the Fire Flower are still around, there are refreshing twists like the Bubble Flower that give you the ability to both attack and reach new heights by jumping on the orbs you shoot out.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder also boasts the largest roster of characters in any Mario sidescroller yet, including the 2D return of Daisy along with, Peach, Luigi, Toad, Nabbit and multiple colors of Yoshi (the latter two having some important gameplay implications). Unlike the others, Yoshi and Nabbit can’t transform, but they also don’t take damage from enemies, projectiles or even the environment (like falling debris). Not only does this provide an easy way to adjust game difficulty on the fly, it’s also the perfect way to introduce 2D platformers to a new generation. After all, think about how many kids whose first glimpse of Mario might have been in a movie theater instead of on an 8 or 16-bit console. And if that’s not enough, Wonder even provides individual difficulty ratings for every level.
Mario’s horde of enemies has increased as well. There are Koopas wearing roller skates and herds of angry rhinos to contend with. We’ll even see entirely new genera of foes like Goombrats, which look like Goombas if they were based on tomatoes instead of mushrooms.
Aside from in-game power-ups, there’s also the new badge system which is divided into two types (Action badges and Boost badges), giving you yet another way to customize your gameplay. Action badges like the “Wall Climb Jump” and the “Floating High Jump” can make it easier to reach secrets while Boost badges like the Coin badge and the “Add ! Blocks” badge can change how you traverse a stage. And because you can swap in new badges before starting each level, it adds another measure of gameplay customization and replayability. Unfortunately, my preview didn't show how new badges are earned, so that's something we'll have to figure out when the game officially goes on sale.
The most impactful new mechanic though is Wonder Flowers, which can completely turn a level on its head. Suddenly, warp pipes are crawling around on the ground like worms while Super Stars fall from the sky. Day becomes night and in some levels you might even find yourself floating through the sky. The effect of Wonder Flowers on each stage is different, but no matter what happened, I found myself smiling at the delightful subversion of my expectations.
On a more granular level, I love all the little details and animations Nintendo has added. This is easily the most expressive 2D Mario game yet. Mario’s face changes the faster he runs while his hat flaps around in the wind. Meanwhile, small gouts of flame pop off your feet every time you jump with a Fire Flower equipped. And in the background, there are happy little flowers that cheer you on as you speed by. Everything looks sharp and snazzy to the point where I feel like I’d be happy just sitting there watching someone else play. It’s a real treat for the eyes.
Finally, while it’s not as big a part of the game as in something like Super Mario Maker, I enjoyed Wonder’s online multiplayer. You can play with up to four people online (or up to two locally with another two online) in two different modes. There’s a straightforward race mode similar to time trials in Mario Kart with ghosts (or in this game, shadows) that show the progress of other players as you zoom through levels. There’s also a more collaborative mode that allows you to see how other players tackle certain challenges, but more importantly, they can even help you out by hitting checkpoints so you don’t have to go all the way back to the beginning of a stage if you die.
With Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Nintendo has managed to reinvent its platformer for a new generation while keeping all the charm and playfulness that made the series a classic almost 40 years ago. And, even though I only got a quick preview of what’s in store, Nintendo’s next 2D sidescroller already feels like an instant buy.