Super Mario Bros. Wonder Preview

It’s the little things in video games that always bring me the most pleasure. Blockbusters are frequently obsessed with laser-focusing our attention on the next big set piece, but for me, a greater sense of satisfaction can be drawn from ogling environments or coming across small interactions with NPCs that only a small percentage of players will ever discover. The human touch that brings our favourite games to life is worth celebrating, and nowhere does that ring truer than in Super Mario Bros. Wonder. After spending a couple of hours with a selection of different stages, I came away transfixed by a platformer that lives up to its wondrous namesake. Nintendo has reinvented 2D Mario in ways that are both familiar and fantastical.



With a friend by my side, I selected Daisy as my playable character, and we quickly jumped into one of the earlier stages. Luscious green fields are flanked by patrolling koopas, all of which are seemingly in tune with the funky soundscape emanating from the world. There is more life in a single frame here than the entire line of New Super Mario Bros. games, as if the unpredictable exuberance of Odyssey has been injected into the veins of a stagnant titan. It aims to surprise at every turn, eliciting a smile at the smallest of interactions no matter what.

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For a few solid minutes – levels no longer have timers – I hopped in and out of pipes, laughing at how characters now look around in suspicion to make sure the coast is clear, rather than just lazily moving out of the tube each time. It’s a small touch, but one that generates so much personality. The same can be said for crouching and moving, watching in delight as characters try to protect their sensitive noggins while tottering along the floor. Collecting new power-ups, snapping up coins, and defeating enemies are ripe with so many animations I have never seen before that merely marching about the place feels rewarding. The saturated colours and unorthodox designs of the levels only take this idea further.

Everything feels new, despite the fact that much of what you’ll be doing isn’t at all that far removed from the 2D Mario games we’ve been playing for decades. You’ll be collecting a bunch of coins, picking up cool new items, and seeking out pesky secret areas found both deep beneath the ground and high up in the clouds. There’s a familiar chaos to it all, further compounded when you stumble across Wonder Flowers. These are basically the Flower Kingdom’s equivalent to a really strong edible. You think they ain’t shit, but suddenly pipes are walking around on newly grown legs and piranha plants are bursting out into song. You never know what’s going to happen next, and these moments aren’t free from challenge either.

You’ll need to traverse these ever-evolving landscapes in search of a Wonder Seed, which returns the level to normal. There’s a possibility that the stage is also traversable in a normal state if you don’t decide to get high, but I’ll admit that thought only crossed my mind as I wrote this very sentence. Far too much temptation can surface from picking up a Wonder Flower, and Nintendo has clearly tried to make each one memorable in its own way, whether you’re trundling through a never-ending parade of charging bulls or suddenly transformed into other creatures. You’ll also partake in becoming an elephant, which seems to be the biggest addition in terms of power-ups this time around, along with a new suit that can blow bubbles. You can spray streams of water from your trunk and bounce over enemies and obstacles with ease. I demanded of the person I was playing with that we crawl onto the ground and touch trunks. Which we did.

Mario on a herd of rhinos in Super Mario Bros Wonder

Nintendo took us on a whistle-stop tour of various levels from different worlds set across Flower Kingdom, of which I believe there were five. I wouldn’t be surprised if some bonus additions await once you’ve beaten the big bad though, especially given that Wonder has already proven it wants to keep subverting our expectations. There’s a shocking amount of variety to be found, including unique challenge levels where you can both learn new skills and earn new badges – these badges modify gameplay to make levels easier in places, or help reach hidden areas. Not that it’s especially hard, unless you decide to play in multiplayer, where unintended deaths and rampant mischief becomes the only route forward. It’s not frustrating though, because Nintendo has removed much of the competition in favour of co-operation.

Replaying levels with new characters was immediately tempting, knowing we stand a solid chance of uncovering secrets or coming across some new detail that slipped by the first time around. There’s so much to see and do in Wonder that it feels irresistible, even if the framework holding it together doesn’t really change much at all – but I’m not sure if we’d ever want it to. This is a 2D Mario game, and that’s what players should expect jumping into it, but it also takes enough risks and introduces so many new ideas that it feels fresh. We’re in a new kingdom where anything is possible, and I hope those ideas are taken even further in the full game. And with more than just elephants…

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