I’ve never played a game that’s made me smile as fast as Super Mario Bros. Wonder. From the moment you set foot into the moustachioed plumber’s latest 2D side-scrolling, platforming adventure, the vibrant, cheery colors, upbeat tunes, and overall sense of (dare I say it) wonder is overwhelming.
Let’s get one thing out of the way. Since the release of Super Mario Maker and its sequel, which allow fans to create their own unique side-scrolling levels, complete with pretty much whatever enemies and power-ups they want, some have argued that there’s no longer a need for a new 2D Mario game when we can play through an endless stream of high-quality user-generated content. However, from what I’ve played so far, Wonder quickly shuts this argument down and offers plenty to set itself apart from previous entries in the series.
As you’d expect, Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s titular Wonder Effects are one of the main changes to the usual 2D Mario formula. By discovering a Wonder Flower in a level, you can trigger a bizarre Wonder Effect that can transform how the level looks or acts. We highlighted some of these in our Nintendo Live demo preview, such as the wiggling, sentient warp pipes that can be ridden in one of the first world’s courses. Still, one later level transforms an enemy - which is essentially an angry, living stamp - to be absolutely enormous while you’re stuck in a cave filled with rocks and crystals of different heights. Faced with this, you must figure out safe places to crouch while the foe crushes everything else in its wake.
Visually, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a delight. Mario, his friends, and the enemies that fill the game have never looked more alive, with fluid animations and subtle but endearing expressions to react to the events going on around them.
Characters using the Elephant power-up (a new ability which transforms characters into large, elephant forms, complete with a trunk) struggle to squeeze through pipes. At the same time, regular-sized Mario and Luigi can be seen grabbing their hats as they dive through them. Throwing a shell in the direction of a Koopa Troopa will visibly spook them, even if it doesn’t land. When approaching an enemy unarmed, you can see their brows lower as they get serious about causing one of the main cast to lose a power-up (or life).
Speaking of power-ups, the Elephant, Drill and Bubble abilities are all exciting additions which help spice up the 2D platformer. Elephant-form characters are vast and powerful - they can smash through multiple blocks at a time with a swing of their trunks, which can also be filled with water to spray onto things (such as dried-out plants, which grant rewards when watered). Meanwhile, the Drill power-up allows characters to dig and travel below ground or in the ceiling, which is very handy for discovering otherwise hidden areas or secrets. Bubble can be used to - you guessed it - fire out a stream of bubbles, which can be used to capture, stun, and eliminate enemies, or even form temporary platforms (which pop as soon as you bounce from them).
It’s not just the usual Goombas and Koopa Troopas that Mario and his friends are faced with, though - there are several brand new enemies to cause trouble, too. The cute, bull-like Bulrush is a sturdy foe who’ll charge mercilessly in your direction as soon as it sees you - but it can also crash through otherwise unbreakable blocks while doing so, so make of that what you will. Blewbirds, on the other hand, shoot out straw-like tubes from their beaks, which will damage you if you get in the way, but they can also stick to walls and be used as platforms to hop to new parts of the level. My personal favorite, the Maw-Maws, are hungry fellas who stretch their huge mouths open and run at things they want to eat, including other enemies and even precious collectibles.
Players can collect several Badges throughout Wonder, each of which grants a different ability. The Parachute Cap Badge proved to be my go-to in the earlier levels - it allows any character to glide after they jump, which is very useful for traveling more considerable distances and making it to the top of the Flag Poles at the end of courses. However, it’s far from the only highlight, as numerous abilities can be utilized to customize your character’s movement, make things easier for yourself, or even add some extra challenge.
For example, the Wall-Climb Jump Badge provides the ability to bounce up a wall instead of just pinging off of it with a regular wall jump. However, it can still be executed before a wall jump to traverse particularly tricky terrain. Meanwhile, the Safety Bounce is perfect for anyone who finds themselves regularly falling down pits, as it’ll save you from fall-related deaths. The Invisibility badge does exactly what it says on the tin and makes you disappear from the screen. While this means that enemies can’t see you, you can’t either, which can make navigating gaps particularly treacherous.
There’s still plenty for me to discover in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, but the experience so far has been utterly joyous. It’s got its hooks into me, and I’m super keen to discover what other Wonder Events await and sniff out any secret paths and courses hiding on the overworld map. It remains to be seen if it has what it takes to be one of the best Nintendo Switch games, but it’s shaping up to be incredibly promising.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is one of this year’s most exciting upcoming Switch games. If you want to kit yourself out with some top-notch hardware ahead of its release, be sure to take a look at our roundup of the best Nintendo Switch accessories.
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Catherine is a News Writer for TechRadar Gaming. Armed with a journalism degree from The University of Sheffield, she was sucked into the games media industry after spending far too much time on her university newspaper writing about Pokémon and cool indie games, and realising that was a very cool job, actually. She previously spent 19 months working at GAMINGbible as a full-time journalist. She loves all things Nintendo, and will never stop talking about Xenoblade Chronicles.