Super Mario Bros Wonder

Calling this fashionably late would be a bit of an understatement but alas here we are with another review, but this time with a twist! You see the reason why I decided to review this despite it being a while since Super Mario Bros Wonder was released was due to the fact that I decided to play through the whole game with my Wife, who is in no way a fan of games. As such this will come as a review of the game based on it being a good game to play with a non-gaming partner as well as my own views. With that being said, let’s jump in!

Super Mario Bros Wonder’s story plays out about exactly as you may expect any 2D Mario game to go. Mario and friends show up at a place, though this time NOT being the Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser shows up, ruins the vibe for pretty much everyone, this time choosing to transform into a castle of all things, and it’s up to you and co to chase him down and take him out before he causes any further issues. You’re not exactly here for the story, and as such the only real memorable new characters with dialogue is Prince Florian, a caterpillar monarch who is as annoying as he is prevalent, and the flowers that keep popping up on the stages who offer sarcastic and quippy lines that edge into becoming obnoxious very quickly. Me and my Wife very quickly learned to verbally telling these flowers to shut up whenever they offered non-useful advice, which was certainly amusing. Alas if you’re trying to help show someone the complexities of storytelling mechanics in video games and how they can work as a unique medium, I think you picked the wrong game pal.

This isn’t even the strangest thing that can happen in the game

Presentation-wise however this game is top-notch. While it doesn’t attempt to go over the bar and change everything about how Mario games should look in 2D this title has given it a personality unlike any others in the series. It’s wacky, it’s strange and it’s so much more energetic as characters jump and flip about with visual joy, make straining faces when pushing things, grab their hats as they go into pipes and a myriad of other small details that make the characters you play as so much more fun to watch in motion. The world too is a fun mix of the familiar with a huge twist, mostly thanks to the new Wonder Flowers. Every time one of these went into motion you can tell that the designers had a field day with warping everything around the stage to make them so much more visually interesting and fun. It almost made me sad that I couldn’t have these on all the time as the world felt a lot flatter without them. As an example there was a wonderful musical level set in a desert area that had you jumping to the beat of the music to make platforms move which hugely increased not only the visual variety but also integrating the music directly into gameplay which is always a welcome thing. I also enjoyed the music in general, having a much calmer vibe than usual until things start to get weird with the Wonder Flowers which suddenly ramps things up into a cacophony of sound and exhilaration. My Wife enjoyed the general atmosphere of the game, though with so much visual noise going on at times it ended up being rather confusing for her on some levels as she quickly lost sight of her character behind all the sparkles and particle effects. Regardless, it was a nice looking and sounding game which gave a bit of life into the Mario characters, which is always a good thing.

Now for the gameplay, which if you are familiar with other 2D Mario games will feel right at home. You go through levels on a world map, beat stages, get the macguffin, beat the boss. This time however there is the introduction of the previously mentioned Wonder Flowers. These are unique power-ups that are on most stages which drastically change the layout, mechanics or enemies of a level to make them, for lack of a better word, weird. This can be bringing the pipes to life, causing all the enemies to start singing, transforming your character into living slime and loads more. Each of these were a treat to behold and they worked as a way to encourage you to explore each level for secrets as each encounter gave you another resource to continue progressing and a new, fun way to play the level. Alongside this we got a few new powers such as the Elephant Apple, allowing you to becoming an elephant and hit people with your trunk and use a variety of water abilities, the Drill Mushroom which let you dig into the roof or floor for exploration and the Bubble Mushroom which let you shoot out bubbles to capture enemies/items and jump on them for extra height. Each of these were fun, though obviously the one with the biggest amount of work put into it was the Elephant Apple as it’s heavily featured on the promotional material. You also can swap between different characters as the game goes on, with all of the Yoshi characters and Nabbit also being invincible to enemy attacks at the cost of not using power-ups which was a huge boon for my Wife. You also can change up your power set with badges, allowing you to do things such as jump up walls, swim faster, use a vine grappling hook and more. Most of these didn’t end up being that useful but there were a few which ended up being invaluable for our journey. As a starting 2D Mario game I think this was a good choice for my Wife as not only was the gameplay not too complex but the addition of the invincible characters acted as a type of easy mode which allowed her to progress through the game at a nice pace without too much stress present.

I’m getting Little Shop of Horror vibes from this…

The game wasn’t perfect however and this did manifest at various points for us. Firstly while the game played fine for someone like me who is very familiar with 2D Mario games there were various points that ended up being a bit obtrusive for my Wife who has never played one before. Things like knowing that we can backtrack through previous levels to get more of the resources needed to progress or even just finding some secrets in the levels needed us to look to online guides. Looking at you scavenger hunt levels… There was also a massive difficulty spike when it came to the secret levels which were so unbelievably unlike the main game levels that my Wife simply stopped playing as she wasn’t having fun anymore, and I can agree. While enjoying the main game was fine and at times was slightly challenging when you start introducing levels that are more frustrating than fun you can start to wonder what the point of them really was. Finally while the Wonder Flowers are a nice change of pace for the game it’s still a standard 2D Mario Platformer and as such if you aren’t a fan of that gameplay then this won’t be changing your mind anytime soon. Maybe try out the 3D games instead.

Overall then this was a nice experience. It wasn’t anything ground-breaking or profound but it was just a nice game I got to play with my Wife, and that’s just a nice thing to say. I still think it’s one of the best ways to introduce Mario games to someone who isn’t familiar with them, and as such I would recommend it for you if you want to play a game with your partner who isn’t really into games. Otherwise, if you like 2D Mario then here is more of it for you. Just don’t expect too much more.

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