July 24th, 2024

REVIEW: ‘Wonder’ brings Super Mario back to his roots, with a few twists

By Curtis Withers, The Canadian Press on October 18, 2023.

Super Mario is returning to his old stomping grounds for the first time in over a decade. Gameplay is seen in a screenshot from the upcoming game "Super Mario Bros. Wonder" from Nintendo of America. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Nintendo of America, *MANDATORY CREDIT*

TORONTO – Super Mario is returning to his old stomping grounds for the first time in more than a decade.

The mustachioed plumber is best known as the prototypical hero of Nintendo’s popular two-dimensional platform games. In fact, he helped originate the genre (in his non-super form) in the 1981 arcade classic “Donkey Kong.”

But in the 11 years since the release of “New Super Mario Bros. U” – the last original side-scrolling platformer in the franchise – Mario has been pursuing other interests. He’s appeared in a handful of 3D adventures, kept up with his lucrative racing career, competed at several Olympic Games and starred in an animated movie that raked in a worldwide box office of US$1.36 billion.

“Super Mario Bros. Wonder,” out this Friday for the Nintendo Switch gaming system, returns the iconic character to his iconic milieu. The result is a game that has all the hallmarks of a classic Super Mario adventure with enough innovation to freshen up the formula.

Mario’s last few 2D adventures were technically proficient and enjoyable, but a formulaic staleness had started to creep in, perhaps due to the constraints of working with a two-dimensional environment. It’s to the series’ credit, then, that the greatest strength of “Wonder” is its ability to demolish those constraints and constantly spring creative surprises on the player.

The game’s story begins with Mario and his friends from the Mushroom Kingdom on a diplomatic visit to the neighbouring Flower Kingdom. All is going well until recurring series villain Bowser shows up, takes over the kingdom’s royal castle and starts making a mess. Mario and his pals ally themselves with the Flower Kingdom’s Prince Florian and set out to defeat Bowser and restore the realm.

As is custom in Super Mario titles, the adventure takes place over several distinct worlds, each with their own levels. These stages offer unique challenges but the goal is the same – to reach the end of the level in one piece and collect a “wonder seed.” These can be used to unlock more levels and will be necessary to advance to a world’s final stage.

Quality level design has long been the hallmark of Super Mario’s outings, and “Wonder” is full of new mechanics and monsters to challenge even seasoned veterans of the series. But where the game really shines is when the player collects a “wonder flower.”

These hidden items can be uncovered in most stages, and when collected they play havoc with the environment, essentially opening up a level within the level.

The wonder flower’s effects will treat the player to arguably the most creative, manic moments the Super Mario series has ever produced. Sometimes walls, floors and pipes come alive, either to help or hinder the player. Others may spawn a stampede of enemies or transform Mario into a monster and change his abilities.

Completing a wonder flower segment rewards another wonder seed, and even players who have all the wonder seeds they need will likely still want to uncover the secrets of every wonder flower.

“Wonder” also introduces badges, which bestow various benefits as the player explores the Flower Kingdom. These have useful abilities, like being able to survive an otherwise fatal fall or starting a level with a super mushroom. Using the right badge can help overcome even the most troublesome stages.

Super Mario games are often defined by the power-ups they introduce, and here “Wonder” has mixed results. The elephant fruit, which transforms the player into a powered-up pachyderm with a deadly trunk, is loads of fun. At the other end of the spectrum is the bubble flower, which imbues the player with the awesome power to, well, shoot bubbles. It has its place in the game, but it falls a bit flat compared to the “wow” factor Mario’s power-ups normally provide.

Still, the amount of creativity and imagination crammed into “Super Mario Bros. Wonder” makes it easy to recommend to anyone who has longed for Mario to return to his side-scrolling 2D roots.

“Super Mario Bros. Wonder” is rated E, meaning suitable for players of all ages, and retails for around $80.

A digital version of the game was provided for this review.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Oct. 18, 2023.

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