Super Mario Bros. Wonder is so good, it retroactively makes the past worse.
Here is an oral history of Super Mario Bros. releases from a person that has lived through them all.
In the beginning, there was Super Mario Bros., and it was good. Donkey Kong and (Regular) Mario Bros. were curiosities, but OG SMB was like nothing ever seen before. No more was your plumber avatar limited by an inadequate jump and a single screen; no, Mario could run through lengths of entire worlds, and leap high into the sky to vault over Bullet Bills. And this world was strange! Mushrooms made you grow, flowers made you spit fire, and stars transformed you into an unstoppable wrecking ball (but only for a few seconds). Your opponents were turtles, mushroom/chestnut monsters, the practically unbeatable buzzy beetle, and the indomitable hammer bros. A medium-Godzilla stood at the end of every castle, and if you took the right pipes, you could eventually rescue a princess. And it is worth noting that “rescue the princess” was the only part of that description that had ever been seen before…
Super Mario Bros. 2 naturally followed, and it was just as original as its predecessor. A whole new host of baddies appeared, and now living, shades-wearing flame stood shoulder-to-shoulder with masked guys and a three-headed snake. Mario and familiar companions fought back by hurling vegetables freshly plucked from the ground, and the only way you would find a mushroom was by entering a door to a different dimension. Wall decorations could become terrifying while ferrying keys to doors. And on a personal note, I will never forget a friend’s mother reading the instruction booklet description of (a mislabeled) Birdo, and commenting “A boy dinosaur that spits eggs because he wants to be a girl dinosaur? This game is weird.” And, weird or not, we played Super Mario Bros. 2 until we knew every last route to destroying Wart.
Super Mario Bros. 3 was a (heavily advertised) revelation. You could fly. After years of spikes and pits being the bane of many a platforming hero, Mario could just grab a leaf (?), turn into a racoon (?), and soar like a rodent (?) over his enemies and obstacles. Or, to conquer those dreaded water levels, you could swim like a
fish frog. Transform into a statue of some weirdo holding a staff to stomp on a thwomp (a creature best described as angry masonry). You could even defeat shy ghosts and undead turtles by harnessing the power of your opponents to hurl hammers. And Bowser, King of the Koopas, returns! With seven minion-children! In flying ships! No, they’re not pirates, but they do have magic wands that transform kings into spiders and seals. You know, as you do…
Super Mario World launched a whole new generation of hardware with a whole new star. Mario the plumber was now joined by a dinosaur mount. Was Yoshi a single dinosaur that kept getting cursed into an egg, or an entire species of multi-colored lizards? Or just four? Who cares! Yoshi would now eat Mario’s enemies, or glide away by holding a blue turtle shell in his mouth. One of those SMB3 airships crashed and sank by Bowser’s menacing cove, but castles and haunted houses are now available if you need a challenge. And there are multiple routes! The world map is no longer just about whether or not you would like to challenge course 1-3 or 1-4, now there are secret exits that can lead to things like Star Road or a Switch Palace. And speaking of Switch Palaces, you are changing the world as you go, and earlier levels may be modified to “fill in” previously insubstantial blocks. So you have multiple reasons to “retry” old courses! It truly was a brand-new world for Mario.
But, in many ways, Super Mario World could have been released on the previous generation of hardware. Antics with the new buttons on the SNES controller seemed perfunctory, and that cape sure was a slightly modified raccoon tale. For a truly “next gen” Mario experience, we had Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. It was a game so revolutionary, it created its own spinoff franchise. Graphics were not just better, they were displaying a completely different universe, with what could be described as a distinct graphical style for the first time in the franchise’s history. The “coloring book” aesthetic played well with the fact that Mario was now a baby, and Yoshi was your controllable character. And this gave us a dinosaur with all sorts of moves that Mario could only imagine, like directional egg-tossing and butt-stomping. And if you missed Mario’s powerups, Yoshi had the ability to transform into a variety of vehicles for reasons that were never adequately explained. You’re a mole tank now, Yoshi, and that is just something you have to deal with! Combine this all with the collection challenges that gave you a report card for every level, and SMW2 was a new Mario experience that was wholly separate from Mario’s “super” origins ten years earlier.
And then we did not see a new 2-D Mario title for another eleven years.
It is disingenuous to claim that Mario did not change and develop since Yoshi’s Island. Mario 64 is right there, and from that point on, Mario refused to stick to one gimmick, whether that be grabbing a water gun, or gaining the ability to breathe in space. In fact, the greatest change in the franchise may be the moment Mario ascended to the third dimension. But, like Yoshi’s Island, that created a divergent evolutionary path. A 3-D Mario title is neither good nor bad when compared to its 2-D brethren, it is just different. Grabbing and spinning Bowser would not have the same oomph without an analogue stick, but 2-D’s general love of “run to the goal” is completely different when there are real hills and angles involved. It is different. But, different or no, “3-D Mario” has become the flagship of the man, with Yoshi Islands and 2-D adventures in general relegated to the “other” category with Mario’s parties and kart racing.
But all we had for new 2-D Mario in 2006 was the aptly titled New Super Mario Bros. And it was good! And there were cool things in the game! There was great level design, innovative usages of Bowser Jr. / (occasionally dry) Bowser, and a few cool powerups like the shell suit and Mega Mushroom. But it is hard to point to New Super Mario Bros. and say there was anything truly new involved. The (Gameboy) Advanced versions of the original trilogy(ish) introduced how you would implement “collecting” into 2-D challenges, and that returned here. Many monsters from the 3-D universe (like the aforementioned Bowser Jr.) were adapted for this new environment, but anything “new” was curiously forgettable (ain’t nobody searching for snailicorn plushies on Amazon). And, while nobody has ever asked much of a Mario plot (so long as a turtle is punished for his crimes, we coo’), everything here seemed so… perfunctory. A year before Mario’s quest across the stars led to a complete reboot of the known universe, Mario ran left to right in a desert world and a snow world.
Future 2-D Mario games seemed to focus on one overarching gimmick, and were just (“just”) generally good otherwise. New Super Mario Bros. Wii was all about 4-player simultaneous fun and occasionally tossing a “friendly” toad into a lava pit. New Super Mario Bros. 2 took a cue from New Super Mario Bros.’s turtle shell powerup, and highlighted running through stages as quickly as possible for cash prizes. New Super Mario Bros. U dialed everything from New Super Mario Bros. Wii to 11 with four player fun plus Yoshi and squirrels. And its Luigi-based upgrade took all that and added the speed emphasis/challenge of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Considering 2-D Mario has become a Katamari of old ideas combining and growing, we should have expected the next logical step…
Super Mario Maker and Super Mario Maker 2 were exactly where the seams should have become obvious. The appeal of Super Mario Maker (1) was that you could create your own 2-D SMB stages, and Super Mario Maker 2 expanded on that by including practically everything that had ever been seen in a “main” 2-D Mario title. Slopes, powerups, and even Koopalings were all available by SMM2’s finale. But, if you ignored the special “game style” of the Super Mario Bros. Mario 3D World (which, shockingly enough, was originally 3-D) you would notice something very particular: all these iconic “pieces” seemed to date back to Super Mario Bros. 3 at the latest, with an overwhelming majority being there right from Super Mario Bros. (1). Sure, there is a difference between a Yoshi mount and a Kuribo Shoe, but the essentialness of it is right there and apparent in its interchangeability. And.. is this all Mario Bros. has ever been? A collection of swappable pieces rearranged into different configurations and patterns? Some Mario Maker (1 and 2) stages are amazing, but once we are able to see how the hotdogs are made, can we ever not taste the rat parts again?
And now, finally, we have Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and we shall taste rat no more.
Let’s get the bad out of the way first: Super Mario Wonder is easy. The New Super Mario Bros. series took all those Mario “pieces” and used decades of experience to mold them into intricate levels with measurably escalating challenges. Super Mario Wonder lacks a similar difficulty curve, and once you hit World 3 (of 8!) you have seen the most difficult challenges available (aside from exactly 10 “bonus” stages). And speaking of World 3, two entire “worlds”/areas within Super Mario Bros. Wonder feel bizarrely limited. Shining Falls and Fungi Mines are both sections of the game that have plain gimmicks and geographical influences on their individual levels… but the worlds end before they even get started. And they don’t even contain a boss/castle finale! Just a level where the challenge is finding the secret exit! Here is a shocker, Mario producers, I was going to find that secret exit anyway! And while we are on the subject of bosses, Bowser Jr. wears out his welcome after exactly one (1) fight, and every future battle is perfunctory to the point that I am mad at Super Mario Sunshine all over again.
But these complaints feel like picking nits in the face of the fact that this is the first time 2-D Mario has been consistently surprising since 1995.
The central conceit of Super Mario Bros. Wonder is that a whole gang of Mario luminaries (Blue Yoshi is back, baby!) are attempting to save a kingdom from Bowser (shocking, I know), and this latest land contains Wonder Seeds. The purpose of Wonder Seeds in polite society is dubious (I believe the implication here is that denizens of the Flower Kingdom are high pretty much all the time), but within the context of Mario’s adventure, Wonder Seeds mean that each and every stage contains a gimmick where things get weird. In some stages, something relatively mundane happens, like blocks appearing or a warp pipe or seven “snaking” along the landscape. In other areas, Mario and friends are transformed into balloons or goombas or some ill-defined moving platform thing, and gameplay must adjust to this new form. And in the best cases, Mario’s entire world is turned upside down (not literally… though it is possible), and you must now traverse the stage from an overhead perspective, or find a way to navigate a dance party. While a few gimmicks are reused from stage to stage, by and large every level has its own unique wonder effect. Even in situations where something is repeated, there is always a new spin on the concept. Against all odds, a Piranha Plant March feels completely separate from a Bowser Trap Rave. And the mere fact that I am able to earnestly type that sentence fills me with glee.
And, yes, introducing a new gimmick is exactly why Super Mario Bros. Wonder is not difficult. It would be completely absurd to expect even a veteran of the Mushroom Wars to master a new skill immediately in the usual less-than-300-seconds of a Mario stage (though we did at least drop the timer this go-round). But where difficulty is lessened, originality reigns. And entering every new stage and finding some new gimmick or gameplay style is exhilarating. “What’s next” has been a part of Mario since we first learned that the princess is in another castle, and now we have a reason to see what’s next for a reason other than difficulty. Like first learning you could fly over a dangerous pipe maze or being amazed as you discover an entire Tubular special world, Super Mario Bros. Wonder offers marvel after marvel, and introduces entirely new concepts right through to the credits.
And, for the first time since Yoshi inexplicably transformed into a choo-choo, Mario has mastered the unexpected. Super Mario Bros. Wonder brought the wonder back to Mario.
And in nearly thirty years, I never even realized I had missed it so badly…
SBC #15 Princess Daisy & Super Mario Wonder
Princess Daisy in Super Smash Bros Ultimate
- She any Good? I would rather have Echo Daisy than no Daisy at all, but she should have had her own moveset. Daisy barely knows Toad! And the “Daisy Bomber” lessens the butt-pun of Princess Peach. The ol’ general consensus is that she should have repped the “sports/karts” sections of the Mario Universe in her style, but even just a unique neutral special would have done wonders for her. The good news is that Clone Peach is still Peach, and she’s one of the good ‘uns, so at least Daisy is copying the best.
- That final smash work? It makes less sense than Peach’s dancing peach summon, but still a banger. I don’t know about you, but I usually zoom in on those health pickups and ignore my sleeping enemies.
- The background work? Let’s feature that Mario Kart vibe and go with Figure 8 Circuit for Daisy. This is the tighter Mario Kart stage where it is always fun to watch the map for approaching shy guys. And this is one of the earliest stages to completely lack any holes, which does not do our floating featured fighter any favors. But Little Mac appreciates it (assuming he is not hit by a go-kart).
- Classic Mode: Daisy at least gets her own Classic Mode with Sarasaland Represent! Fighting off the many princesses of Smash Bros. is apparently what Daisy does for fun. Corrin really should appear twice, as she is technically a double princess. And we once again have confirmation that Master Hand is royalty (?).
- Smash Trivia: The “costume” version of Daisy for Peach back in Super Smash Bros. Melee noticeably gave Peach a tan. Said “tan” was also standard on her trophy and general game appearances of the time. I guess the princess of a desert kingdom wound up spending too much time indoors after the Gamecube era…
- Amiibo Corner: You ever notice how the Mario Party version of Daisy is shaped like a perfect bell? The Smash version is happy to be here, and has cool dress piping. Basically, both Daisy Amiibos are essentially the same, but the greater detail on the Smash version somehow makes it appear to be updated. Is this how next gen graphics work?
- Does Smash Bros Remember Today’s Game? It would be pretty awesome if Super Smash Bros. Ultimate predicted Super Mario Bros. Wonder a few years ahead of time. That said, Peach and Daisy do play identically in Wonder, so maybe the more recent game is referencing Smash Bros…
Princess Daisy in Super Mario Bros. Wonder
- System: Nintendo Switch exclusive. I am glad Nintendo decided not to hold this game for whatever system is coming next.
- Number of players: Four simultaneous, and infinite ghosts running around when you are connected online. Online play is also ideal for racing your friends across the nation.
- Watch it, buddy: And speaking of racing, BEAT and I played this game with Cassandralyn commentating.
Original Stream Night: October 24, 2023
I think I win more levels, but who was keeping score? Seriously. I am asking. We got confused a few times during the stream.
- The Elephant in the Room: The new Elephant powerup is mediocre. On one hand, it is great that we finally have a “Mario gets even bigger” powerup like the OG mushroom that is not the wreck-everything-and-thus-limited Mega Mushroom. On the other hand, all an elephant can “do” is spray water and break blocks/enemies like a raccoon/cape. The aesthetics are great, but I prefer my powerups to be a little more unique and versatile. You know, like the entire rest of the game.
- What Came Before: Super Mario Odyssey was likely a huge inspiration for a number of “wonders” here. Transforming into a random enemy or stage hazard is obvious, but you cannot tell me the “dance party” levels are not at least partially inspired by the Jump Up Superstar party section of New Donk City. Nintendo knows how to recognize when something is fun and then replicate it.
- Favorite Character: This article was originally going to go to Mario Tennis or something in honor of Daisy, so I assure you that Daisy being featured along with her first 2-D adventure is strictly a coincidence. That said, Princess Daisy is the best character in the game. There will be no debate on this.
- An end: You know, Super Mario Bros. 2 could keep track of which character was used the most over the course of the adventure. So you would think the ending of a game thirty years later could adapt to stick your preferred player in the front of the final rescue lineup. Mario is standing there with the happy prince after defeating Bowser like he was chosen even a single time… Glory hound…
- Favorite Badge: Oh yeah, I barely mentioned the new badge system. I like it, but some of the more interesting badges (like the grappling plant) feel like they deserve their own dedicated areas/game, and not just “oh I could use this in 6-2 in a couple places”. So, with that in mind, the spin jump badge is the winner, as that is useful everywhere. It is like a double jump, but for cool kids.
- Say something mean: Tying a “completion star” to purchasing standees from a gacha is unpleasant on multiple levels. Please do not remind me of the state of mobile gaming when I am otherwise enjoying myself.
- Did you know? I have no way of proving this, but I am certain the absolute final badge-based gauntlet of Super Mario Bros. Wonder originally did not have checkpoints. But then all the play-testers staged a bloody coup, and Nintendo had to relent. As a concession, they made the final area based on the Invisible badge, which still makes it all absolutely impossible.
- Would I play again: Yes. And I am praying to all available deities for DLC. Or at least a deluxe version on the next available Nintendo system…
What’s next? We are going to Mars! … Wait, no. Read that wrong. We are going to Marth. Sorry for the confusion, but please look forward to it.