Disclaimer: Writer is an investor in Nintendo.
⭐ Games that receive this star have a score of 95% or above. This is purely from a game design perspective and is not in any way related to our morality evaluation.
I have been waiting 11 years for this.
Yes, it has already been that long since New Super Mario Bros. U was released alongside the Wii U in 2012. I can still remember playing through it for the first time on Christmas day with my brother. I’m pretty sure we found a few secret shortcuts and shot straight to the end, which is definitely not the best way to experience it. Our 3rd grade minds were not the sharpest…
Once we had finished it, we of course moved on to some other games, with the expectation there’d be another entry sometime down the road. At that point in time, new 2D Marios were regular, and this was the third one we had played over the past three years. Surely the next one was coming soon, right? Right?
Years went by, and nothing. Super Mario Maker was awesome, but it definitely wasn’t a mainline entry. I was in middle school when Nintendo revealed the Switch, giving a renewed hope of the next Mario sidescroller – but the years went on, and none were to be seen.
It eventually reached the point where we had not only received two new 3D Mario games in the meantime but also two in the Mario Maker series. It was around this time that I considered 2D Mario effectively dead. Yes, it would probably return in the future, but not on the Switch. I was now in college and for all I knew, it’d be my children enjoying the next entry.
Lo and behold, in the year that was already gracing us with a Zelda game, Nintendo announced Super Mario Bros. Wonder this past June. I was ecstatic – Super Mario, my favorite video game series in the world, had been missing one of its halves for the last decade. And judging by the trailer, it was about to make a triumphant return.
Well, the long wait is finally over. It’s time to deliver my most anticipated review of the year!
Plot and story haven’t traditionally been of great importance in Mario games (aside from some of the early RPGs) and things are not much different here. This game takes place in the Flower Kingdom, which is close by and in some ways a parallel to the famous Mushroom Kingdom that we know and love. Mario and his crew were invited there by Prince Florian, but just as they meet him Bowser swoops by and grabs a Wonder Flower, transforming him into the terrifying… CASTLE BOWSER!
With the power of “Wonder” in his hands, Castle Bowser poses a threat to the Flower Kingdom. Unsurprisingly, the mustachioed plumber offers his services, and sets out with Prince Florian on a quest to stop the King of Koopas’ reign of destruction.
And.. that’s about it for the story, seeing as there’s not really anything significant that happens after the introduction. I certainly wasn’t expecting much going in, nor do I think this fails to trump the “narratives” in the New Super Mario Bros. series*. And while I do think it makes sense for a Mario platformer to have a light story, I really don’t see why they couldn’t have done with a little more. Seriously, just throw in some interesting tidbits about the new characters, enemies and environments on the load screens. I don’t think it would do anything but add to the experience.
*The four New Super Mario Bros. games released on the Nintendo DS, 3DS, Wii and Wii U.
Although Super Mario games tend to be light on the narrative, they do not hold back when it comes to platforming gameplay. The series is famous for being packed with ideas and concepts that are introduced, built upon, and then discarded at a lightning pace. This time, not only does each level follow this rock-solid formula, but shakes up the gameplay once in each level with the addition of Wonder Flowers.
Wonder Flowers are basically an excuse to let the developers transform the world around Mario at a moment’s notice into anything they were able to dream of. You really don’t ever know what’s going to happen when you pick up one of these, and there were multiple occasions that my jaw dropped when I saw what happened. If only some of these hadn’t been spoiled by the trailers!
Also new to Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the addition of a main collectible from the 3D games. The developers said in interviews that they took a lot of inspiration from those titles, and it shows. Just like in Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Odyssey, much of the progression is locked behind collecting something – this time Wonder Seeds – rather than beating specific courses. They’re typically given out for beating a level or surviving through the chaos that ensues upon picking up a Wonder Flower, but can also be earned in a few other ways, such as purchasing one from a shop for some flower coins.
Newcomers or less skilled players will probably enjoy such features the most, as it sometimes means you can bypass a level that is giving you trouble. More experienced players will find that it helps make repeat playthroughs more interesting, but overall doesn’t change much if you’re like me and intend to beat every level anyways.
The last brand new thing concerning gameplay that I’d like to cover is the badges. I think this might just be the single biggest addition, even above the Wonder effects. Badges are unlocked in a variety of ways, mostly via challenge stages or by purchase with purple coins.
There are 3 types of badges:
– Action badges, which typically add to your moveset
– Boost badges, which might give you an extra powerup or make more coins appear
– Expert badges, which gives some sort of major advantage that is typically outweighed by a larger disadvantage. For example, the invisibility badge makes it impossible for enemies to see you, but you also can’t see your character. These are mostly intended for people who want to make a special challenge for themselves.
It’s completely up to you to decide which one to use – and I found this to further increase gameplay variety as I continually changed my selection between levels. Some are certainly better than others, but enough of them are viable that I didn’t find myself using just one throughout my whole run.
A few minor disappointments I’d like to mention before we move on – first, the boss variety. Now, I’m glad Bowser and Bowser Jr. are in this game, and wouldn’t want it any way else. However… they don’t need to be the only big bad guys. Every boss fight in this game is against Bowser Jr. (except for the final one, of course) and they frankly aren’t that interesting. Yes, some things are different each time, but it’s nothing too crazy. I feel like the New Super Mario Bros. on the DS still has the best bosses after all this time, each one being a unique type of enemy.
My second upset has to do with something so simple that it almost boggles my mind. You can only have one save file per user in Super Mario Bros. Wonder. This isn’t Pokémon – it’s the type of game many will play multiple times. You can beat it in under 10 hours, and the expert badges seem like they were made with repeat playthroughs in mind. I’ve now got two new profiles on my Switch that exist for the sole purpose of harboring additional saves for this game. It’s still more of a nitpick, but not the type I’d expect to be dishing out in 2023.
Ok – there’s more I’d like to talk about such as the new power-ups and online play, but that’d make this section a bit too long. Let’s move on to what impressed me the most about the game: its visuals.
I knew before going in that this game looked amazing, but I did not realize to what degree until I finally got a chance to play it. I’m not joking, this might just be the best looking game I’ve played on the Switch. You know how advertisements for games tend to use renders that aren’t completely representative of how the game actually looks? Well.. in this game, mostly everything looks like those images. Seriously, I’m not sure how you could make 2D Mario look much better without just upping the resolution past the 1080p that the Switch can output.
The developers took it a step further still and added a bunch of clean animations for all 12 characters. For example, entering a pipe will no longer cause Mario to stand still as he moves up or down – instead he faces the camera and smoothly jumps in. If he enters a sideways pipe, his hat will fly off and you’ll see his hand reach out to quickly grab it. No kidding, my entire playthrough I was looking closely at the animations and was always on the lookout for new ones.
From a faith perspective
I’ve actually known what I wanted to talk about here since the game was announced, and that is the way in which we limit the potential of God’s creation. Oftentimes when hearing the many wonderful stories of the saints, I can find it hard to believe that everything that is said about them is true. And let’s be real, I’m sure there are some stories that really are just legends. But on the other hand, we can’t disregard paranormal events just because they seem fantastical. Could St. Benedict really summon a dragon? Did St. Denis of Paris actually preach with his head cut off?
Well, on their own, of course these men couldn’t do such things. We don’t have good evidence of the existence of dragons, and I don’t need to explain why attachment of one’s head is necessary for speech. But these saints were (and still are) close to God, the creator of the universe. He can give gifts that are not bound to the laws of the physical as we are.
I actually think the Wonder mechanic is a good representation of the attitude we need to have about the possibility of supernatural occurrences. While plaything through the game, much of the time we know what to expect. Pressing B will cause Mario to jump. Question blocks contain coins and items. These basics hold most of the time and are therefore worth understanding and mastering, but sometimes you come across a Wonder Flower. And when you do, you’ve got to be ready to toss out anything you thought you knew and prepare for the unexpected. Perhaps pipes will begin to move, or your character won’t be able to jump. Maybe the genre of game you’re playing will switch entirely!
We must look at our existence on Earth this way. We hold fast to the laws of physics and mathematics, trusting that pushing the brake on our car will slow us down and avoiding heights for the risk of falling. And when something strange happens, it’s reasonable to look for natural explanations first, because that’s often the case. However, sometimes God decides to work a miracle, and when he does, things are going to get weird fast. So let some wonder into your life – you’ll find things will get much more interesting.
Scoring: 97% ⭐
Graphics: 5/5 (One of the best-looking games I’ve ever played)
Violence: This is a Mario game, and thus the violence is very light – enemies and the player will disappear or fall off-screen when defeated. Bowser is out to harm the flower kingdom, but you only see this to the extent of the residents being locked away.
Magic: Kamek, Bowser’s trusty wizard, is present in this game so he does some light bippity-boppity-boo magic.
Superstition: One of the talking flowers mentions shooting stars bringing good luck.
Online connectivity: There is an online mode which will let you see other players’ potentially inappropriate usernames.