Super Mario Bros. Wonder is bursting with brilliance. Not to forget Super Mario Maker and its underrated sequel, it’s hard to believe that it has been 11 long years since New Super Mario Bros. U. We’ve had many chances to return to the Mushroom Kingdom on Nintendo Switch, but, with this latest adventure, Nintendo is at its creative best in its effort to once again redefine our expectations.
After receiving an invitation from Prince Florian, the moustachioed plumber and his pals visit the Flower Kingdom for the first time. Only a “short hop” away from the Mushroom Kingdom, their warm welcome is short-lived when King Bowser crashes the party to steal a Wonder Flower. Inadvertently using its power to merge with the Flower Castle, the spiny-shelled menace transforms into a threatening floating fortress.
With the royal caterpillar-like critter as your guide, it is up to the Mushroom Kingdom gang to once again put a stop to Bowser’s power-hungry antics. That adventure will take you from bounding through the flower-laden Pipe-Rock Plateau to the candy-floss-coloured clouds that surround Fluff-Puff Peaks and beyond. You must work to recover the Wonder Seeds needed to unlock the path forward, and the Royal Seed from clearing each World’s palace, in your effort to thwart the troublesome giant Koopa’s plans.
The word “Wonder” perfectly embodies the experience that lies before you. Nintendo has worked hard to subvert your expectations from what they have delivered before in their 2D side-scrolling adventures, so much so that it seems a shame to spoil anything. Surprises await you around every corner, making for a game that’s hard to put down as I always felt the need to sneak in another course before I stopped playing just to see whatever wackiness came next.
Away from the three new power-ups – whether that be guzzling up water with your trunk after gulping down an Elephant Fruit, shooting bubbles with the Bubble Flower or burrowing around after chomping on a Drill Mushroom – it is the Wonder Flower hidden away in each course that soon proves to be the star attraction to Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
Nintendo has always encouraged you to explore every nook and cranny of its games to uncover. That’s the same here with hidden courses and exits to discover, but never has there been as great a reward as the Wonder Flowers. Often found in suspicious-looking locations, these act as a portal to the weird and wonderful – the team unleashing its most fantastical ideas in ways that never failed to make me smile.
The team’s creativity unbound, Wonder Flowers allow the Flower Kingdom to come alive in unexpected ways. Once static Warp Pipes bend and wriggle their way along the course, a sudden Bulrush stampede can rapidly force you forward, you could transform into a defenceless Goomba or your character could balloon up and start floating into space. Nintendo has purposefully kept quiet about many of its wilder ideas for these Wonder Effects and understandably so, as I would want you to be able to have the same jaw-drop reaction that I had in places.
Wanting to offer a breather from your main adventure, the team has also added brief “Break Time!” levels. These often musical interludes can make use of the HD Rumble in yourJoy-Con or Nintendo Switch Pro Controller, turning the whirring of their haptic feedback into magical melodies. This constant playful invention elevates Super Mario Bros. Wonder to offer a world that is a joy to exist in.
I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to play as Luigi, but you’re also free to choose between Mario, Peach, Daisy, Yellow Toad, Blue Toad, Toadette, Yoshi, Red Yoshi, Yellow Yoshi, Light-Blue Yoshi and Nabbit. Selecting Nabbit or any of the Yoshi characters takes any danger out of the experience as they can’t take damage, the main downside being that they are unable to transform whenever they pick up a power-up. That said, having four players as Yoshis in local multiplayer is a choice that is as chaotic as it is fun.
Speaking of multiplayer, connecting your game online will soon see what Nintendo describes as “live player shadows” start to appear. Whether these are actually people playing at the same time as you or stored ghost data is unclear, but they can help to point you to hidden secrets or can help to revive you if you die. It will also see Standees pop up in courses, which anyone can place by crouching and pressing the X Button.
Nintendo sees these as a way for you to leave a sign to say “I was here” to other players. These can also revive you but, from my time playing through the game, can also be smartly left in places to hint at the location of hidden blocks and other secrets. It continues to breathe more life into the Flower Kingdom as you explore it, helping the courses to come alive even when playing solo.
Another major addition is Badges, which fall under three categories: Action Badges, Boost Badges and Expert Badges. These come as a reward for completing specific courses, Badge Challenges or can be bought from a Poplin Shop with your amassed Flower Coins. One Badge can be equipped at any time with their effects varying, and if you’re unsure which to choose Prince Florian can make a random choice for you or even recommend a specific Badge in some courses.
Under Action Badges, Parachute Cap lets you open your hat in midair to float slowly downward, Dolphin Kick lets you unleash a brief burst of speed underwater or Grappling Vine can let you sling a vine that can grab and pull you towards a wall. Boost Badges are more passive, such as Coin Reward which lets you earn coins for defeating enemies, rebounding from pits, lava or poison swamps with Safety Bounce, or Sensor which detects nearby Wonder Flowers or 10-Flower Coins. The only Expert Badge that I can talk about is Jet Run, which will see you dash continuously and even momentarily when you run off an edge at which point you can jump in midair. It’s fun to experiment with them all, and I’m sure that we’ll see speedrunners, in particular, start to find inventive ways to use them.
The new art direction is gloriously colourful and the animations much more characterful. The course design is inventive and playful, knowing to go big for the boss encounters. And there’s a real sense that the team has looked to approach this latest 2D adventure with the unshackled creativity usually expected from their moustachioed icon’s 3D outings. I went back to New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe and, despite its own merits, was astounded at how bland and predictable it felt in comparison.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder left me spellbound. Nintendo remains at the top of its game, and the Flower Kingdom is the perfect playground for its sprightly reinvention of what we have come to expect from setting out on a 2D side-scrolling adventure with Mario and his pals. This world of wonder comes crammed with the most whizz-popping surprises, making for a kaleidoscopic trip to the Flower Kingdom that is simply unmissable.
Version Tested: Nintendo Switch
Review copy provided by Nintendo