Wonder how I'll survive until launch...
I have nothing against the ‘New’ line of 2D Super Mario games. I’ve played them all to 100% completion and enjoyed every second of them. That said, there was always one element that stuck out like a sore thumb to me.
From a personality standpoint, the entire ‘New’ series came off as rather bland. The aesthetic and overall presentation was completely fine when the series debuted back on the DS, as that’s when it really was ‘new’. As I realized Nintendo would be running with this ‘New’ series of games as a style, I couldn’t help but feel a pang of regret. Again, from a gameplay perspective, I was all-in. Gameplay is certainly most important in my book, but I was honestly somewhat surprised Nintendo was offering a series of Mario games that were considerably uninspired in presentation.
While it seemed like there’d be no end in sight for the ‘New’ series of 2D games, Nintendo recently decided to surprise everyone 6+ years into the Switch’s lifespan. Super Mario Bros. Wonder was revealed just a few months back, and not only did it show us a brand-new 2D Mario outing, but a full-on revamp in visual approach as well. That 2.5 minute debut trailer was so staggering from a presentation standpoint that it literally brought me to tears. This is what I had been waiting for from 2D Mario games…this is what had been missing for decades.
I’ve had the honor of going hands-on with Super Mario Bros. Wonder recently, playing just a small taste of what the full game has to offer. All it took was that short hands-on session to help show me that my visceral reaction to the game’s reveal was not only justified, but perhaps understated as well. This approach to style, presentation and vibe in Super Mario Bros. Wonder isn’t just pleasing to the eyes; it influences the game’s design in a litany of ways that make it, for me, the most promising 2D Mario in ages.
A quick sit-down with Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s early levels was not anywhere near enough to fully appreciate what the handful of stages had to offer. To say that this game is teeming with life is to miss the point almost entirely. Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels like a moving, breathing world that screams off of the screen. Every 2D Mario game always gives the player a ton of platforming bliss, peppered with secrets, nice little touches, and memorable moments. Super Mario Bros. Wonder takes those Mario hallmarks and cranks them way past eleven.
The depth of content there is to discover in every single stage I played in Super Mario Bros. Wonder was ludicrous in the best way possible. Not only are stages jam-packed with all the kinds of run-and-jump action you’d expect, there’s so much more you’d never see coming. Every few feet through a stage, I was greeted by a bit of background foliage I’d never seen, a platforming challenge that felt fresh, a new enemy, a secret area locked off in a head-scratching way, and so on. If the early stages I played are any indication, each one is going to require multiple playthroughs to discover everything it has to hide.
Of course, that sense of wonder (pun definitely intended) is amped up to the next level when you collect a Wonder Seed. As you’ve no doubt seen in trailers, grabbing a Wonder Seed will cause a level to warp and twist into something completely different. In the stages I played, picking up a Wonder Seed caused pipes to undulate and crawl along the ground, send out a stampede of Bulrushes intent on flattening you, tilt an entire level in a way that completely alters platforming, and more. As if the levels weren’t already virtual playgrounds filled to the brim with things to do and see, these Wonder Seeds are going to introduce absolute pandemonium that’s sure to excite and overload the senses.
All of this is well and good on its own, and would easily make for a Mario game that is worthy of double the excitement any Mario game generates. This is where I circle back to the style of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, as it’s not there as nothing more than window dressing. The attention to detail in every character, enemy, set piece and everything in-between takes this experience so much higher than even I expected. It’s a full-on injection of personality that makes an already amazing adventure almost immeasurably better.
The joy I got from watching every little interaction and animation as I worked my way through my demo session…I don’t know that I can put it into words. What I can say is that I was almost uncontrollably giddy taking everything in as I went. Seeing the unique ways Mario handles every encounter is truly wonderful. He reacts with shock, surprise, a tinge of anger, jubilee, and so much more depending on the situation. Jumping, going down a pipe, bouncing off an enemy, running across terrain…it all looks so damn good. I honestly don’t think we’ve ever seen this level of personality from Mario ever, and the fact that it’s all done through animation and not speech just makes things all the better in my opinion.
This same attention to detail is present in NPCs and enemies as well. Just like Mario (or whoever you’re playing as), everyone else you’ll come across will act/react to whatever you’re doing. Koopa Troopas will mill about with more personality than ever, but once Mario gets near they’ll completely change up their demeanor. The new Skeddadlers always look a bit nervous no matter what’s going on, but once you get close enough to them, they’ll run at top speed in absolute horror as they try to escape their all-but-certain fate. Even the Talking Flowers will unleash a myriad of reactions, and not just through speech as well!
Simply put, even though I only got to check out 3+ stages in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, I didn’t have nearly enough time to explore all those stages offered. You could have given me a half hour with those 3 stages and I’m almost sure that wouldn’t have been enough time to see everything and explore them fully. Nintendo has stuffed these levels to the brim with personality and content, and they mix together into a 2D Mario adventure that hearkens back to the Super Mario Bros. 3 days. Since I’m a billion years old, I remember those days very well, as I do my personal excitement as I worked through that game. Even with my short time with Super Mario Bros. Wonder, I have less than zero doubt this title will live up to that high-water mark for the franchise, and with ease.
Of course, the question is will Super Mario Bros. Wonder surpass the series’ best 2D outings? I’ll need a lot more hands-on time with the final version of the game to find that out, but based on what I’ve seen and done so far, I’d say the odds are pretty damn good.