Super Mario Wonder released on October 20th and so far has proved to be yet another solid entry into the franchise. Wonder is a new side-scrolling platform that see’s Mario and friends visiting the Flower Kingdom and its monarch, Prince Florian when the spiky-shelled menace, Bowser, shows up again to try and claim power for himself. The game shines as a reminder that Mario remains as the king of the genre with a focus on technical proficiency in a child friendly format.
Wonder offers a remix on the tried and true formula through the major macguffin introduced early on: the Wonder Flower. Wonder Flowers are found in most of the traditional levels in each world, and most excitingly offer players a chance to acquire an additional Wonder Seed (items needed to progress in the overworld, unlocking new levels or freeing up passages). The Wonder Flowers have a varied effect, each offering a unique augmentation to the individual level, but one thing is certain: they will change the world in a drastic manner! So far I’ve had Wonder Flowers summon waves of bison-like creatures, turn me into a spiky-shelled monster, or even change the game into a temporary rhythm based platformer with Koopa Troopa background dancers!
While some folks may believe the Wonder Flowers to be a “gimmick” I actually believe it to be a bit more thoughtful, and I enjoy them thoroughly. One thing to note about Wonder Flowers and their strange effects, they actually always fit thematically into the context of the levels and worlds you visit. When approaching a Wonder Flower, you should take stock of what the world seems to be all about. Do you see fish (Cheep cheeps) and swimming elements? The Wonder Flower is sure to incorporate them! Wonder Flowers also do not seem to be required to complete Worlds, too. Players could avoid the Wonder Flower altogether, completing the level in very much a traditional way, jumping for the Goal Pole. Completionists however will want to make sure they grab the Wonder Flower, as they always reward you with additional Power Seeds (only one extra) and then scores of Flower Coins and regular coins.
Players looking for a challenge are sure to find it in this game as well. Mario Wonder adds many options to augment how you're able to experience each world. Your choice of character defines your experience, with many characters offering no special powers. However, younger or otherwise inexperienced players might find a Yoshi or Nabbit easier to play, as they can only die when falling into a pit trap. However, those looking for a punishing challenge can find the Challenge World. I myself spent a particularly grueling 3 hour session trying to perfectly nail a rhythm level and jump sequence that saw a rising tide of deadly purple goop punish even a second's-hesitation.
Further augmenting the experience of the game is the introduction of Badges. Acquired throughout the adventure, players can attach Badges to Prince Florian (a constant companion) which grant various special abilities. Some are life-saving, like giving a single bounce when falling into a pit trap. Others can reward you bonus coins for slaying enemies, or giving you a free super mushroom at the beginning of every course. Some are even difficult to master, but rewarding when done so - I still have trouble with a Badge that makes your feet springy, turning every movement into a mini-jump.
The actual in-level power-ups are refreshed in Wonder, too. Staples like the super mushroom and fire flower return. New and notable power ups are the Elephant Fruit, Bubble Flower, and Drill Hat. My favorite aesthetically is the Elephant Fruit, turning any character (except Yoshi’s and Nabbit) into a Elephantized mutant! Using your trunk to smash through blocks or trunks to spray water is quite fun. However, the Bubble Flower is very fun, shooting out bubbles that trap and defeat enemies. The colors are quite adorable, with a pink and blue hue.
Villains return, such as Bowser and Bowser Jr. The encounters I’ve had so far have been fantastic, invoking the reality-warping powers of the Wonder Flowers. Players are sure to have some memorable and engaging boss battles while playing this game. Perhaps one of my favorite updates in this franchise has been adding difficulty gauges to each level or challenge. When approaching the level, you’ll be presented with a preview of the world, how many Wonder Seeds are available, a small image, and then the aforementioned difficulty level. A number of stars will indicate how challenging one may find the level. In general, experienced players will find the 4 stars and fewer levels to be as challenging as your standard-fare. However, 5 stars and higher may even prove quite the test for seasoned players! Consider too that in most worlds you can decide to forgo any Badge, meaning you have some control over your personal experience.
Overall, I think what Mario Wonder has to offer for another side-scrolling entry into the franchise is the ability to curate your experience. With features being optional, one could attempt a rather straight-forward foray into the Flower Kingdom. Levels can all be completed without interacting with the Wonder Flower, and Badges can be removed. If you desire to hunker down as Mario and plunge into a typical romp, that option is there. On the other hand, if you want to pick Yellow Toad as I have, and slap on the “floaty high jump” badge, you can do just that! Mario Wonder can be a very standard entry if you so choose, or you can take a walk on the wild- or Wondrous- side and stampede through as an Elephant Princess Peach! If you were on the fence, this is my recommendation to take the chance on Mario Wonder.