When we heard Nintendo had named its next Mario platformer 'Wonder' we thought it could never live up to such an audacious title. It was promising us never before seen levels of creativity and somehow, Nintendo's delivered on a game that not only lives up to its title, but excels past it and only asks you to take a seat and enjoy the ride. If you're a Mario fan that's still on the fence about picking up Wonder, bite the bullet. You won't regret it.
Fun fact: Mario’s full name is… Mario Mario. Now that we’ve upset your day, here’s our review of Super Mario Bros. Wonder – Nintendo’s last big hurrah for the end-of-the-world-stopping plumber on the six-year-old Switch before it moves onto bigger and better things.
Nintendo has proven that the Switch is the perfect console to keep the Mario series alive. It pulled off something truly brilliant with 2017’s Super Mario Odyssey, a game that set the bar so high, Nintendo spent six years at the drawing board cooking up Wonder. Just as well the company likes to take its time, or we might have missed the privilege of playing the next best Mario game to date.
Seriously, there were times throughout Wonder’s nine-ish hour playtime that we couldn’t wipe the stupid grin off our face. Nintendo’s made that a habit for most of its games at this point. It’s got charm, enough vibrancy to give a blind man a seizure and some superb couch co-op. We’re not saying it’s got the minerals needed to be a real contender for Game of the Year, but it definitely deserves a mention in that conversation.
Act surprised: Bowser is back, again
Wonder’s best quality is its constant flow of action, right from the game’s opening credits where – massive spoiler – Bowser injects himself into the story as the game’s ‘main’ villain, taking over the Flower Kingdom’s Wonder powers, before Mario takes it upon himself to sort him out. Were this any other game, we’d call that a weak attempt at a ‘story’. When it’s a 40-year-old plumber that’s never not facing Bowser, we’re not so fussy when the introductions are skipped and we get to the action sooner.
Which there’s no shortage of in Wonder. There’s hardly time for introductions before players are thrown into the deep end and told “Go nuts” in the game’s first level ‘Welcome to the Flower Kingdom’. From the moment Nintendo says go, you’re running through the most colourful Mario game and creative levels we’ve ever seen. It’s got all of what makes Super Mario Bros. so iconic but throws in a ton of fresh ideas (over 2,000 of them, apparently) that keep the formula from going stale.
Case in point, the second level is a musical, complete with singing piranha plants that’ll serenade you before trying to put you six feet under. And that’s just the second level. Wonder has so much more lurking in its later levels that we won’t spoil for you. Just take our word for it that Wonder is pure, unadulterated fun that’ll keep children and adults alike entertained for hours.
We mean that literally, we beat the main ‘story’ in just under nine hours, but perfectionists can expect to spend at least a few more delving into Wonder’s numerous hidden rooms and a million other little secrets. It’s also got six different worlds to play through with a modest number of levels to conquer in each.
That’s all without even doing a second or third run-through with your friends if you have the necessary controllers and a couch big enough to accommodate up to four players. You’ll also need four friends.
A who’s who of who’s who?
It might be a Super Mario Bros. game and yes, we’ve spent all our time as the titular character, but Nintendo’s got options for everyone. Enter Luigi, Peach, Daisy, Toad, Yellow Toad, Toadette, a variety of colourful Yoshis and Nabbit – the purple rabbit thief – who’s a recent addition to the lore.
You’ll be picking who to play as – swapping as often as you’d like if you want a generous rotation. It might not seem like a major decision – all the characters handle the same – but it is. Players picking a Yoshi or Nabbit are condemning themselves to the game’s ‘easy mode’ with those characters not being able to take any damage other than fall damage. They’re also prevented from picking up the game’s million different power-ups that can turn players into elephants, flame-throwing weapons of mass destruction or bubble-spouting heroes.
It’s a small problem that’s clearly designed to give younger kids a fighting chance, but we’d have preferred the invincibility mode be a toggle for each character rather than limiting the already quite small pool of characters.
On top of choosing a character, players are left in charge of the sort of powers they’ll be using for each level. We’re not talking about the fire- or bubble-fied power-ups but rather Badges – collectables that’ll let Mario turn his hat into a parachute or gain the ability to jump up walls. You’ll be collecting (or buying) them for most of the game with most levels requiring specific powers to beat or find the secrets within. It’s a well-executed addition and something we’re hoping Nintendo won’t chuck out the window by the time the next 2D Mario debuts.
Your main objective in Super Mario Bros. Wonder isn’t just being the quickest over the finish line. That might work in the beginning, but you’ll soon find yourself returning to levels to reach the game’s real goal: the aptly named ‘Wonder Seeds’. They’re the key to everything – new levels, story progression, and a sense of accomplishment that’ll finally make your parents proud of you… we think. We might be confusing that last one for medical school.
Whatever the case, you’ll want them. Wonder hands out a seed just for turning Bowser’s flag red at the end of a level, but those are gimmes. The others require a shade more skill to get hold of and can only be earned by activating each level’s Wonder Flower – essentially short bursts into the psychedelic – and drastically changing up the level’s hierarchy. Suddenly you’re at the mercy of Wonder’s developers, wading through something new every time in search of a level’s Wonder seed.
It might be something as simple as catching a ride on an extremely fast (and flying) Bulrush stampede with goop threatening to swallow you whole or traversing through desert areas with the world quite literally turning on its axle. It gives players a break from the regular Mario gameplay by encouraging experimentation to find all the seeds.
That’s all made more difficult by the game’s overwhelmingly vast influx of new enemies. We won’t get into them all here, but you’ll never get bored of looking for something to fight. Whether it’s the blue-feathered straw-shooting birds or the Hoppos that aren’t exactly hostile but don’t mind squishing you into the floor if you get in the way.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder verdict
We were never going to have a bad time playing a Mario game, 2D or otherwise. Nintendo’s pretty much got the formula nailed on the head, even if that formula does occasionally go flying out the window in Wonder. It’s overflowing with creativity that’ll keep anyone playing on their toes for hours.
Where Nintendo’s kept the formula alive is in all the stuff you’d expect (and want) to remain the same; plenty of stages with differing personalities, a visually explosive art style that we never grew tired of and some of the best couch co-op we’ve had. We’d have liked the difficulty to be turned up a smidge, though that problem does abate in the latter half of the game’s levels.
If you’re a Mario fan who somehow doesn’t already have Wonder installed, we’d advise changing that as soon as possible. It’ll cost you R1,100 to own, sure, but when you compare it to something like New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, it’s quite a steal.