Super Mario Bros Wonder is finally here, which means it’s time for Retro Dodo to give our honest opinions of the new game in our Super Mario Bros Wonder review!
Despite only being announced in June, it feels like it’s been the most anticipated Nintendo Switch game for a while now. A part of the reason for that is probably due to the fact that it’s been quite a long time since the last mainline 2D Mario game.
And, if we’re being honest, it’s been even longer since we had a 2D Mario that was actually good.
But here we are in the year 2023 and we’ve been blessed with not only a brand new 2D Mario, but one which drops the ‘New’ title and mixes up the formula to finally give us a fresh experience which stands toe to toe with the best entries in the entire series.
Let’s dive right into our Super Mario Bros Wonder review and get stuck into the most imaginative Mario game yet!
Table of Contents
Super Mario Bros Wonder – The Mario 2D Formula Reinvented
The story of Super Mario Bros Wonder is about what you’d expect at this point. Mario and his friends arrive in the Flower Kingdom and, upon meeting Prince Florian and exchanging pleasatenries, Bowser crashes the party.
King Koopa steals an arbitrary collectible in order to take over the world, and it’s up to you to traverse the land, reclaim the collectibles and bring Bowser down.
I suppose there’s a bit of a twist this time in the way that Bowser transforms into a literal castle, but that doesn’t really add much to the plot beyond making him maybe slightly more imposing than usual.
To be fair, he was pretty big already!
I also appreciate that he isn’t kidnapping Peach this time due to her being a playable character. And actually, this game features the most playable characters out of any previous 2D Mario games, having a whopping twelve of them to choose from.
Admittedly, three of these are Toad variants and four are Yoshi variants but still, that’s a big roster!
What Do The Characters Offer In Super Mario Bros Wonder?
Most of the characters all play exactly the same; it’s not like in Super Mario 3D World where each character has a unique ability.
So it’s just basically a cosmetic choice you’re making based on who you like the look of, but this actually isn’t the case with the Yoshis or Nabbit.
Playing as these effectively turn the game into easy mode with them taking no damage from enemies but having the negative effect of not being capable of using power-ups.
This is a great idea considering a lot of people will be playing this with younger kids, but I do wish that this was an optional thing you could activate across all of the characters.
My favourite characters on the roster are Yoshi and Nabbit and I feel like I can’t use them because I want to experience the game in what’s probably considered the intended way, with damage and power-ups active. So that’s a bit of a bummer, but I’m sure I’ll get over it.
But let’s stop nitpicking about the story and characters and get into the reason we’re all here. What’s the actual gameplay like?
Getting To Grips With The Gameplay
This game is an absolute delight. Nintendo once again prove that they’re at the top of their class here by creating a game which feels familiar in a lot of ways but mixing up the formula to such an extent that you never know what’s going to happen next.
The big gimmick with Super Mario Bros Wonder is based around the Wonder Flower collectables. There’s one of these placed in every main level of the game, and whenever you touch one, the world around you transforms in some way, offering a completely new gameplay style, dramatically altering the level design or giving you a much greater degree of challenge.
It’s impossible to predict exactly what’s going to happen when you touch one of these; sometimes you’ll inflate and slowly float up into space while having to avoid obstacles looking to pop you, while other times Piranha Plants will start bursting from pipes and sing a musical number as you move forward.
And sometimes a whole stampeed of Bulrush enemies will appear and start blasting through the level as you ride on top of them.
I won’t ruin more of the surprises here because a massive part of the game involves being caught off guard by what you’ll experience.
It’s not only these Wonder Flower sections that make the game stand out though. The standard unaltered levels offer an unprecedented level of variety in a 2D Mario game with all of them throwing something fresh at you.
I don’t think I’ve come across a single level which feels like it’s rehashing the same ideas during this Super Mario Bros Wonder review. Even on the very infrequent occasion a level does revisit a particular mechanic, it completely re-contextualises it or uses it in a far more challenging way which makes it feel distinct.
A lot of the time this variety is implemented into the levels through a new type of enemy, new power-up or new element of the level which can be interacted with in some way.
For example there’s a level which has platforms which can only be jumped on a certain number of times before they disappear, which is then combined with falling enemies that reduce said number if they land on the platform. So, you’ve got to balance defeating and avoiding enemies while also avoiding jumping around too much.
There’s a level where there’s Hoppycat enemies will jump whenever you jump, forcing you to pay extra attention to your movement and the placement of enemies to avoid taking damage. And then there’s the new power-ups like turning into an elephant, being able to shoot bubbles and getting a drill hat!
The Famous Elephant Power-up & Other Abilities
Despite the elephant power-up being a massive part of the game’s marketing, it’s arguably the most mechanically boring of the power-ups, basically just giving you a short ranged trunk attack and allowing you to suck up water and shoot it at flowers to reveal items.
The most interesting power-up is the drill hat which allows you to dig underground and pass under enemies and find secret areas. You can even use this to drill into walls and the ceiling which allows for some interesting vertical level design.
The game is filled to the brim with ideas like this and I’m not exadurating when I say that every single level features something new like this.
Adding to the already insane level of variety on offer here is the plethora of bonus levels.
There are a tonne of different types of bonus levels here, from KO arenas where you need to run through a gauntlet of enemies and defeat them as fast as possible to get the best prize to Search Party challenges where you need to find five extremely cleverly hidden tokens to finish the level.
There are more standard bite-sized levels which consist of a short platforming challenge, and we also have the Badge Challenges.
Badge Challenges are different from a normal bonus level because these revolve around mastering a particular equipable ability which the game calls a badge.
These badges can give you access to passive abilities like getting more coins for defeating enemies or being able to survive a fall into a pit or lava a single time during a level.
But the more important badges give you access to new movement abilities such as floating through the air with your cap, getting an additional boost of height when you kick off of a wall, or even gaining a super high crouch jump move.
Our Honest Thoughts On The Badge System
I’m a bit conflicted on this badge system in all honestly. It’s a great idea in concept, but it’s somewhat constricted by the fact that you can only equip one of them at a time, and you’re free to use whichever you want across any level.
This means that a lot of badges feel incredibly under-utilised because the level design can’t accommodate them all, and the developers know that every player will have a different badge equipped at any given time.
I almost wonder if a better system would be to scrap the passive badges entirely and have players unlock new abilities as permanent upgrades which stack on top of each other, slowly expanding your moveset as you play through the game.
That way, the later levels could take into consideration that you have access to every single one of these moves and create even more complex platforming challenges based on that.
The overarching issue with the current badge system is that you’re not going to bother using the more context sensitive badges because not every level needs them, so for the most part, you’re going to just use the floating cap one because it’s by far the one that comes in most handy in every level.
Beyond the standard levels and bonus levels though, you also have boss levels. And unfortunately this is probably where the game is at its weakest.
Not only do I think that the boss fights are far too easy, but they’re also very repetitive and don’t even feature interesting characters. The main boss levels have you fight Bowser Jr. Who uses the power of the Wonder Seeds he’s stolen to give him powers that alter the boss arena in certain ways.
The problem is that his attacks always just revolves around him spinning around in his shell for a little while and then popping out, leaving himself vulnerable to attack and then rinsing and repeating.
The arena changing doesn’t really affect the fight as much as I would like and I would have liked for these fights to have the same degree of awe that the main levels have.
It would have helped if they made some new interesting characters to battle against too, but instead it’s just the standard Bowser Jr., Kamek and crew that we’ve seen a million times before.
Purple Coin Problems
Another element of the game I feel could have potentially been altered slightly is with the main side collectable. Every level features a number of Wonder Seeds which are the main collectable required to unlock the path forward to progress through the game.
These are perfectly fine because they have an obvious use and there’s a reason to go out of your way to collect them. The issue is with the purple coins, of which there’s normally three per level.
Often these are the most difficult things to collect either because they’re placed in difficult positions or require you to find and explore secret optional areas.
The issue is that the only thing to spend these on are the Popplin Shops where you can straight up buy a limited number of Wonder Seeds and Badges with passive effects or something the game calls Standees.
These Standees are clearly the main thing you’re supposed to spend your purple coins on and, despite it being satisfying slowly filling in a big checklist of them, they don’t really do anything particularly interesting and in my opinion this reduces the value of the purple coins.
I would have prefered the Popplin Shops to offer more variety of unlockables, like maybe costumes for the characters Super Mario Odyssey style or something like that.
Super Mario Bros Wonder Multiplayer
While we’re on the topic of the Standees though, I should probably explain what they actually do, which ties into a pretty major component of the game which is of course the multiplayer.
It’s sort of expected at this point that a 2D Mario game will feature local multiplayer options, and of course Super Mario Bros Wonder is no exception to this, allowing up to four players to run through the Flower Kingdom together. This works slightly differently to the New Super Mario Bros games though, not allowing you to jump on each others heads, pick up and throw each other or collide with each other in any way.
This makes the game much less chaotic and closer to the single player experience. And, it arguably makes it a better co-op experience in general.
However, I do have to admit that the chaos caused by the fact that you could get in each others way so much in the New Super Mario Bros games is particularly what made them so fun. They were absolutely infuriating to play with more than one player, but I feel like that’s where a lot of the enjoyment was found.
Maybe that’s just me though – I told you this would be an honest Super Mario Bros Wonder review!
The more interesting element of the multiplayer we found from our Super Mario Bros Wonder review comes from the online component. Not only does the game feature online co-op with friends as well as a competitive race mode to see who can finish the level the fastest but it also has a passive multiplayer mode which is somewhat similar to how Dark Souls works.
And no, I’m not just saying that for the memes either.
Giving Up The Ghost
Basically you can turn on an online mode which allows you to see the ghosts of other players who are roaming the world at the same time as you. These ghosts are people playing the game alongside you in real time, and this has this strange effect of making it feel like you’re taking part in this community experience despite the fact you’re literally playing the game in single player mode.
Playing in this mode has some additional benefits though, because you can actually interact with other player’s worlds, and they in turn can interact with yours.
The main thing here is that if you lose a 1-UP, you’ll turn into a ghost. But, you can be revived if you make it to another player and they touch you.
This actually allows you to completely cheese certain levels, because you can grab a collectible, fall into a pit, get revived, and keep the collectable. You can obviously choose to not do this and just give up rather than be revived, but it’s another way the game offers a helping hand if you’re struggling.
You can also give extra power-ups to other players to offer a helping hand and place the Standees we mentioned earlier, which will appear in their world. These can revive other players if they turn into a ghost, basically acting the same as being touched by another player.
So if you place these in a difficult area, you could be helping out loads of other players by allowing them to quickly respawn if they mess up.
You might be wondering what the benefit of doing this is, because clearly being a nice helpful citizen of the Flower Kingdom just isn’t enough for you, you greedy little cretin!
Well luckily for you, there’s a new online ranking system which goes up the more you help other players, so you can show off just how helpful you are if you choose to play in this online mode a lot.
It doesn’t actually unlock anything, but it’s just an additional thing to aim for while you’re playing which is nice.
I love this online aspect of the game; it makes the levels feel even more dynamic and alive than they already are. But the great thing is that if you opted to just not use this mode it wouldn’t feel like anything is missing either. The game is great with or without this, but it is a really cool extra that I’m glad they implemented.
To end this Super Mario Bros Wonder review, I want to reiterate that it is absolutely incredible. Its greatest strength lies in it’s unexpected twists and turns with its superb level design, but what makes it something special is everything that ties it together.
Things We Love
The graphics are phenomenal, and the character animations are way more expressive than ever before, which gives everyone way more personality than usual.
The soundtrack is filled with catchy upbeat tracks that will stick in your head for days, and there’s even a greater emphasis on humour which mostly comes from the flower NPCs who make comments as you run by them or encounter them in different situations.
This is such a well crafted experience that it’s going to be incredibly difficult to top.
Things We Would Change
Any criticisms I have boil down to minor nitpicks considering how great the rest of the game is, but I do wish that I could play as Yoshi and Nabbit without it forcing me into a easy mode.
I also think that the badge system is slightly flawed in the way that the levels don’t utilise them enough, the purple coins could have done with something else to use them for, and the bosses are a bit too easy and repetitive for my liking.
But it’s so easy to just overlook its shortcomings when there’s so much it gets right.
Personally, I would go as far as to say that Super Mario Bros Wonder is the best 2D Mario game ever made and one of the best Nintendo Switch games that you need in your collection
But let me know how you’ve been feeling about Super Mario Bros Wonder! Have you been enjoying it as much as me and what’s been your favourite thing about it so far?
Do you agree that it’s the best 2D Mario and if not, what’s your favourite?
Give the video at the top of this Super Mario Bros Wonder Review article a like if you enjoyed it, and let us know your thoughts in the comments!
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Rob has a particular fondness for the strange, obscure and quirky side of gaming and loves sharing his knowledge with others. He has been creating content on his own YouTube channel for several years and aims to take his passion to the next level with Retro Dodo.