It's been a while coming, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder is finally here to give the 2D side of Mario's lineage a long-awaited update and inject it with some new ideas.
The immediate good news is that it's a total success. Wonder is a seriously delightful entry that brings some great new approaches and impressive innovations while offering up some of the best courses I remember Mario ever running through.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Deceptively simple brilliance
Wonder is a beautiful thing, a game that totally and confidently carries off its new ideas while remaining immediately and clearly faithful to its heritage. It's a must-play for Mario fans and Switch owners.
- Movement feels so perfect
- Amazing courses
- Plenty of customisation
- Fun multiplayer options
- Occasional courses spike the difficulty
A new Kingdom
Super Mario Bros. Wonder opens with Mario and his ever-expanding gang of pals (we're talking Peach, Luigi, Daisy, a collection of Toads and even some Yoshis) arriving in the Flower Kingdom, an all-new world.
They're here for a party with the local king, a kindly caterpillar called Julian, but, in true Mario style, Bowser's also snuck along to ruin everything, snatching the titular Wonder power, turning himself into a giant floating castle of doom and threatening to change the whole Flower Kingdom to his twisted ends.
Cue Mario (or whichever of his friends you'd rather control) hot-footing it to start chasing him down, with King Julian in tow. This means a journey through a handful of world areas, all clustered around Bowser's malevolent presence in the centre.
You'll head through meadowy beginnings into frosted cloudy peaks, bubbling toxic mines and a few others we won't spoil, each visually distinct from the last and bursting with ideas.
These environments don't necessarily rip things up and tread massively new ground, but they're quaint, cute, and full of really nice little touches.
In particular, a wide range of new enemies (and returning ones, of course) make for a sense that you are indeed in a new place, and fun exchanges with the flowery denizens of this world are also wittily written.
There are also absolutely loads of secrets to uncover - most levels have at least some sort of hidden mechanic, generally tied to their Wonder Seeds (more on those soon), but some conceal entirely different exits that can give up extra rewards or even reveal whole new hidden routes on the world map.
Do it your way
Wonder Seeds are the new key item for Wonder - they're the level goal each time you load into a new stage, and, in most cases, you'll get one automatically just for finishing successfully.
The real fun of Wonder, though, lies in finding the Wonder Seed that is almost always hidden somewhere in the second half of a level - this seed will warp and change the level around you or transform Mario himself to give you a totally different goal.
You might become a sticky slime sticking to walls and slipping about or a spiky rolling ball bowling through obstacles. You might, instead, find yourself looking at Mario from a top-down perspective as he navigates a maze or fleeing from a giant King Boo as it sings opera to you.
The variety and consistency of these mid-level switch-ups are amazing, and pretty much every single one is delighting me as it happened. Some keep the challenge really low and are almost just a quick joke (like marching Piranha Plants singing a band tune), but others offer up surprisingly fiddly challenges to master.
These twists don't even tell the whole story, though - if you were to remove them entirely, Wonder would still stand as a pretty brilliant platformer since the base levels are already winding and challenging in a way that feels perfectly judged.
King Julian, who rides along with Mario, brings the ability to select one badge to use for any level you start, a sort of perk that you select from a list as you collect them. These could give you a slightly longer jump, a faster dash or other more familiar choices, but other options are more out there.
You could have the ability to shoot a vine out horizontally to grab onto any surface you can reach and reel yourself into it, or give yourself a challenge by making Mario permanently bouncy, and there are plenty of other super interesting options, with some mitigating difficulty, too.
It's a fun new system that lets you approach levels in new ways and dip back into them to see if you could reach extra areas with a different Badge power.
On top of that, you can select from different characters, and there are options in the Yoshi gang that will protect you from damage (but not death pits) - a great way to make the game easier for younger or less experienced gamers.
It all adds up to the most player-empowering mainline 2D Mario ever, which can only be a good thing.
Mario and his friends also don't look exactly as they did the last time we got a completely new 2D adventure (it's been ages) - the design era that arrived back with New Super Mario Bros. has finally ended.
The new looks aren't revolutionary, but they're a lot more detailed when you pay attention to minutiae - in particular, animation variety is just great.
This sees Mario doing little things in a variety of situations, like leaving or entering pipes, hitting that final flag, and reacting to dialogue or events in the level, all with great expressions and slapstick body language.
It works a treat and adds to the sense of hand-crafted love that a good Mario game like Wonder really oozes with.
That's helped further by a typically lovely soundtrack with enough variety to keep you on your toes and some truly catchy little jingles that will stay in your head after any proper play session.
The game looks great in docked and handheld modes, with nice, vibrant colours and an unsurprisingly rock-solid framerate.
There are also some fun multiplayer options - including the ability to play each and every course in up to four player coop, a brilliant inclusion for families and friends.
Even more new are the additions of Dark Souls-like player ghosts that move around levels with you if you're online, and you can even benefit by finding signposts they leave behind with the ability to revive you if you die.
It's a lovely new system, albeit one that will only look properly populated once the review period ends and everyone gets their hands on the game.
Wonder is a total gem, a brilliant platformer with varied challenges depending on who's playing it and what they want from it - it's perfect for beginners to learn with but also has some really tough optional areas for experts.
With charming music, a whole heap of options to make it play how you want, and a brilliant list of levels to conquer, it's the latest in Nintendo's seemingly neverending lineup of bangers on Switch.