where a sad man writes sad things

Things I Am Enjoying: Super Mario Wonder

This game is fuckin’ rad. I always enjoy a 2D Mario game (the 3D ones are hit or miss, though the most recent [Odyssey and 3D World] were fuckin’ great), but the last few, while technically excellent, have felt a bit… samesy to previous installments. The 3DS run of New Super Marios and their Wii sequel (then also remastered for the Switch) were good fun, but mostly iterative on the original design.

So, what to do for what will probably be the last big first-party game on the OG Switch? I am fucking LOVING the answer Nintendo came up with:

What if Mario took acid once every level?

That, right there, is the gist of Super Mario Wonder.

And my gods it works. Once a level, you touch the Wonder Star and Shit. Gets. Weird. Will you ghost-ride a stampeding herd of freak bulls? Dodge subterranean terror sharks that drill through the earth and then fill half the screen? Bounce from bubble to bubble almost entirely without control trying to grab treasure?

Yes. Yes, you will. And much more.

They’ve also added 3 features that are genuinely new to the series, all of which improve it over its predecessors, vastly:

  1. Badges: a sort of “row your own difficulty” beyond the basic “choose Nabbit or Yoshi if you want Easy Mode”. Badges, of which there are many, give your character a special ability. Dolphin Kicks, for example (great on water levels). The Blocks Badge spawns extra blocks in a level to make the platforming easier and help you reach secrets. There’s a Wall Jump Badge… you get the idea. Without the outright “this is for your 5 year-old to get through the game” assist of the Easy Mode Characters, you can still modify the challenge in a way that integrates wonderfully into the gameplay without making it too easy. Great addition.

  2. Often, in past games, you’re on a linear world path save for the occasional “secret exit leads to entire secret world you then proceed through linearly” or “you can pick the next world or a bonus hut” choice. Now, entire swaths of the map are open at all times. One 4-star level kicking your ass? Go clear a couple 1 and 2-star levels, or do a badge challenge, wherever you want. Basically, the only hard gates are the boss levels, and there’s otherwise always a couple different things you can choose to do, all over the map. Really alleviates the “this level sucks enough that I don’t care to beat it and am therefore done with this game” that has happened to me with older games in the series.

  3. NO MORE TIMER. Seriously. The timer, a relic of decades past in level-based progression games, is finally fuckin’ outta here. There was always a tension between “I think there’s a secret here but it’s going to take some time and attempts to figure out” vs. “shit, I’m down to 50 seconds to clear the rest of this level… did I even hit the mid-level flag yet? FUCK” choices in past Marios. And it usually just pissed me off, because it was a VERY artificial limitation. “Oh, thanks for crafting this beautiful level with a ton of shit going on, shame I can’t appreciate any of it because I have to bolt for the end flag in 180 seconds”…. just not great design, that I’m pretty sure was kept around solely due to “that’s how it’s always been in Mario games”. They got rid of it in Wonder, and it does nothing but improve the experience.

I’m turning fucking FIFTY in a week and I’m still having an absolute blast with this cheerful, colorful, no-bloodshed experience. The charm they’ve loaded it with is irrepressible (I kind of downright ADORE the little flower dudes who just toss a comment at you when you pass by). The first time I dropped acid, er, hit a Wonder Star and the Piranha Plants, old bad guy staples of the series, did a fucking song and dance musical number, I laughed out loud. Great stuff.

Anywho. If you’re sick of grimdark Elden Ring shit or 240fps head shot-a-thons or Diablo’s oh so serious hellscape thing or even Baldur Gate 3’s excellent but Very Thinky classic RPGing, give this game a spin. It’s an amazing amount of fun clearly designed by people who love the series and have infused this edition with a newfound sense of joy and originality that is almost astonishing for a game series this old and established.