Super Mario Bros. Wonder review: 2D plumber perfection

Super Mario Bros. Wonder review: 2D plumber perfection
Nintendo

Written by 

Dani Cross

Published 

24th Oct 2023 18:38

I knew Super Mario Bros. Wonder was going to be incredible when a troupe of piranha plants suddenly sprouted into song in the second level. Watching the world morph as the usually vicious flora turned to pitch-perfect vocalists was an instant highlight, and that was just ten minutes into the game. As you might expect from a Mario title, that’s only a taste of what’s to come.

That hasn’t always been the case though. When New Super Mario Bros landed on the DS in 2006 it was a fresh take on the classic Nintendo platformer. Then the same formula stuck for New Super Mario Bros Wii, which introduced co-op play and a ton of excellent levels. 

The innovation didn’t really extend past there though - New Super Mario Bros 2’s emphasis on coins wasn’t one of the plumber’s most exciting gimmicks. By the time 2D Mario made it to Wii U, things were getting stale. I picked up New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe on the Switch and found it to be extremely predictable. The worlds felt too similar to previous games, the new power-ups weren’t very memorable and the sense of joyous artistry shared across the 3D Mario titles was pretty absent.

Wonder is the creative kick the 2D Mario games needed. From new animations to wild level design and even a new voice for Mario, this game is the evolution I’ve been longing for.

GGRecon Verdict

The more I played Super Mario Bros Wonder, the more I fell in love with its whimsicality and endless redefinition of what Mario can be. It’s a glorious reimagining of Nintendo’s most iconic franchise. It takes the ingenuity and innovation that made Mario’s 3D escapades some of gaming’s greatest achievements and finally introduces them into the side-scrolling world. Wonder is everything I wanted it to be, and might be the most inventive 2D platformer Nintendo has ever made.

Levelling Up

Fluff Puff Peaks from Super Mario Bros Wonder
Click to enlarge

The recipe Nintendo has been relying on for 2D Mario has been re-imagined with a fresh batch of ingredients. 

Instead of a snow world and a sky world, we have Fluff-Puff Peaks, which combines the two into a pastel wonderland. Some levels are entirely edible, with trees topped with sprinkles and icing. Every Mario game has to have a desert world, but beneath Wonder’s shimmering white sand lie hidden treasure vaults and gleaming palaces full of dancing ninjas.

Some worlds don’t even end in a traditional castle and boss fight. Shining Falls is an ascending series of trials overseen by the region’s master. Then after completing a world, you’ll head back to Petal Isles, a sort of hub in the middle of the map, to progress to the next one. There are some fun levels here, but overall these sections are almost like interludes between the more fully-formed worlds. By changing up the scenery more often Wonder feels even less like the 2D Mario of old.

Daisy dodging lightning in Super Mario Bros Wonder
Click to enlarge

The levels themselves are varied and exciting. Some feel like fresh takes on classic Mario levels, while others serve as breaks between the meatier challenges. It has puzzles, races, rhythm challenges and even gladiatorial combat. Wonder never sits on one idea for more than a few minutes before eagerly showing you the next great thing it has in store.

One starts off on a sunny beach, then a storm rolls in and you’re carried away into a lightning-dodging minigame. Another introduces “Hoppycats”, enemies who jump when you do, making the mere act of leaving the ground a new challenge to reconsider. It’s a constant joy to see all the new sights and ideas the game has to offer.

Some even feel inspired by Rayman Legends’ musical levels, where you’d have to jump in time with the beat as you move forward. Mario has done music levels before, but here they’re more exciting and fast-paced than ever. Good music-based levels are some of my absolute favourite things in platformers, so naturally, these moments are some of my favourites in Wonder too. Nostalgic tunes can even be found in bonus stages - I was delighted when Delfino Plaza’s theme started playing.

  • Check out our review for another top-notch Switch title, Pikmin 4

Wonder-ful

A wonder flower from Super Mario Bros Wonder.
Click to enlarge

At times Wonder is more reminiscent of the 3D games. By picking up a Wonder Flower, levels twist and morph into wackier versions of themselves. Enemies might grow to immense sizes, or the game might contort into a top-down view. The unpredictability brings to mind the dizzying pace at which games like Galaxy introduced new mechanics. 

You’ll even transform into enemies or objects just like Odyssey. I’ve been a balloon, a gooey blob, a bouncy platform and all kinds of other weird things. Each transformation completely changes how you need to look at the level.

An easy highlight for me is the level “Maw-Maw Mouthful”. It starts with a few basic enemies, the aforementioned Maw-Maws (goofy monsters with gaping mouths). But when you grab the Wonder Flower you’re transformed into a Goomba.

You’re now at the mercy of these hungry creatures. And, after they gobble up a couple sleeping Goombas on a platform just off to the side, it’s immediately apparent that this is now a stealth mission. You have to hide behind candy-coated trees, staying in the shadows until the Maw-Maws pass by, before making a dash towards the Wonder Seed.

Peach as a goomba in Super Mario Bros Wonder.
Click to enlarge

It’s amazing how every single new idea feels like a natural extension of the gameplay rather than a gimmick. None of these wacky moments are a distraction from the rest of the game. It all just works, and almost every single level is memorable because of it.

The enemy design in Wonder is a different class too. Even in the early stages of the game Wonder hits you with a bevy of brilliant enemies, from singing Piranha Plants to rolling hippos and charging bulls. Each new design has entire levels designed around it. This isn’t an entirely new concept, but here they’re more creative and captivating than ever. I wouldn’t be surprised to see many of the new designs become staples of the series.

The old favourites get just as much love as the new ones. A haunted mansion full of Boos has a secret path that left me stunned. Wiggler races are super fun to play, and returning boss fights against Bowser Jr are more interesting and clever than before.

Power Trip

Toadette as an elephant in Super Mario Bros Wonder.
Click to enlarge

The new power-ups are perhaps the best selection yet. The classic Fire Flower and Star return, and the new Drill, Bubble and Elephant power-ups all earn their place. Certain power-ups in Mario games have a bit too much going on, but rather than giving you simple, strong abilities, these new power-ups offer you the chance to get creative.

The Bubble Flower is an easy highlight. You can create bubbles and bounce on them, essentially creating your own platforms. This encourages you to interact with the level in new ways, and when you reach a place you couldn’t get before using some precise bubble movement it feels really rewarding. 

The Drill Mushroom is a ton of fun too. It turns your hat into a spiky drill, perfect for knocking out enemies above you, but the real fun comes when you tunnel into the ceiling or floor. If you’ve ever wanted a Monty Mole power-up, this is basically that.

Finally, the Elephant Fruit is the most iconic new power-up thanks to its absolutely bizarre transformation. Elephant Mario became an instant meme, but the gameplay is super fun. I was worried it might make you slower than usual in exchange for more power, but it actually keeps your normal speed and gives you extra moves like a trunk attack and the ability to spray water. Crucially, it’s not overpowered either.

Life in the Flower Kingdom

A dark level from the Fungi Mines in Super Mario Bros Wonder
Click to enlarge

Even the animations are full of life. When you emerge from a pipe your character does a quick glance around to check their new surroundings. It’s not just the amazing level design, but the small details that set this game apart from its predecessors.

The visuals are a huge step up from the archaic rolling hills and safe art style we’ve seen before. Each environment is bursting with joy, and the introduction of a new Kingdom to explore is a necessary step to ensure Wonder is constantly treating you to new sights.

The tweaks made to the overworld even make exploring outside of levels fun. I found a ton of secrets in the Sunbaked Desert map before I even set foot inside its many courses. And of course, all of it is playable in co-op if you want to enjoy it with others.

The Badges are another great way to spice up the gameplay. These serve as both collectables and gameplay modifiers to spice up Mario’s movement or make things a little easier for you.

The best is the Grappling Vine. Every game nowadays needs a grappling hook apparently, and I’m all for it. The freedom it gives you to navigate levels differently is impressive. Other Badges let you survive falls or jump higher, making the game a bit easier for those who don’t necessarily want to turn on the true easy mode (playing as the invincible Yoshi or Nabbit).

That brings us to the characters, which are easily the best crop in a Mario platformer yet. Normal characters include Mario, Luigi, Peach, Toad, Toadette and, for the first time, Daisy. Then there’s Yoshi and Nabbit, who don’t take damage. One player can play as these two while another plays as a regular character, ensuring players of all ages and skill levels can enjoy the game together.

The Verdict

I really didn’t expect Wonder to be quite a huge leap forward for the series. It’s been going since the 1980s, which makes Nintendo’s ability to constantly evolve the gameplay even more incredible. Everything, from the gameplay to the music, is polished to perfection.

The more I played Super Mario Bros Wonder, the more I fell in love with its whimsicality and endless redefinition of what Mario can be. It’s a glorious reimagining of Nintendo’s most iconic franchise. It takes the ingenuity and innovation that made Mario’s 3D escapades some of gaming’s greatest achievements and finally introduces them into the side-scrolling world. Wonder is everything I wanted it to be, and might be the most inventive 2D platformer Nintendo has ever made.

5/5

Reviewed on Nintendo Switch. Review code provided by the publisher.

Dani is a Guides Writer for GGRecon. She graduated from university with a degree in Broadcast Journalism, then worked as a freelance writer before joining the GGRecon team as a full-time writer in 2023. In her opinion, the best game of all time is Elden Ring – but her favourite is Halo: Reach, a game that created lifelong friendships and somehow started her down the path to a career in media. She’s also way too invested in Pokemon cards, and a big fan of guinea pigs, cats and other cute creatures.