Super Mario Bros. Wonder has enough newness to break out of the NSMB rut

Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels refreshingly new, which is something that's been missing from 2D Mario for many years.


Mario has been running, jumping, and platforming for over 35 years, but his latest adventure is managing to stay close to his roots while also venturing to exciting new places. Super Mario Bros. Wonder is on display during this weekend's Nintendo Live convention in Seattle, WA, and Shacknews had a chance to give the game a try. (Then we got back in line and tried it again because of course we did.)

Like Super Mario 3D World before it, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is moving away from the classic yet formulaic "Bowser kidnaps Peach" plot. Instead, Wonder's story looks much more intriguing. Mario and his friends are visiting the neighboring Flower Kingdom. Bowser soon invades in search of the Kingdom's Wonder Flower power but gets more than he bargained for when the Flower melds him with his Clown Car and a giant castle, making him a living fortress. Having followed Mario stories for as long as I've been alive, it definitely sounds different than what some may have expected.

Using Badges in New Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Source: Nintendo

Wonder's stages are structured similarly to many games in the 2D Mario series, but there's a definite sense of newness to it. The worlds have a sharper color palette, the flowers that hang around in the background are chatty, and Mario's typical rogues gallery is much more expressive. Goombas in the opening stage, for example, are often found sleeping with exaggerated sleep bubbles, and when they're awakened, there's a noticeable look of shock, outrage, and slight fear on their faces. There's a greater sense of personality in Wonder than ever before and that extends to the game's array of Power-Ups.

Mario and most of his friends (Luigi, Peach, the Blue and Yellow Toads from the New Super Mario Bros. series, Toadette, and Daisy) can use the latest batch of Mario Power-Ups. These include the Elephant Mushroom, which turns Mario into a powerful pachyderm capable of sending enemies flying into the skies with a simple swing of the trunk, and a Drill Mushroom that lets Mario dig underneath the ground and break certain surfaces. Players can take advantage of these various powers to collect Wonder Coins, find hidden paths, and defeat enemies, though anyone looking to keep things classic can also find Fire Flowers in many stages. The old-school item reserve mechanic is available, as well, so feel free to keep an extra Elephant or Drill Power-Up around for situations that call for them.

Level design is refreshing and gives the Flower Kingdom its own distinct flavor. Part of that comes from the new batch of Mario foes. Skedaddle is a weaselly creature that fires projectiles from afar and runs away from any fight, constantly prompting a chase. Bulrushes are behemoth buffalo-like foes that charge upon seeing Mario and can plow straight through blocks. Konks are Thwomp-like creatures that can come down to try and crush Mario, but some can move in other directions, such as particularly pesky ones that go up. The demo's stages utilized these new foes effectively, not just utilizing them as enemies but integrating their presence into exploration as a whole.

Pipes affected by the Wonder Flower in New Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Source: Nintendo

The standout feature of Wonder is the Wonder Flower, which has varying effects on stages. In one stage, it brought pipes to life, shooting Mario in the air and giving him access to out-of-reach coins. Another stage had the Wonder Flower rain down Invincibility Stars, allowing Mario to race ahead and outrun any Skedaddles in his way. A third stage's Wonder Flower brought down a massive Konk that took up the entire screen, prompting Mario to find a hiding place as the Konk kept slamming downward and opening a new path. The idea is that Mario must collect a Wonder Seed at the end of the Wonder Flower sequence. Wonder Seeds are also granted at the end of every stage, with the concept being that they'll open up new levels in the overworld.

While Wonder feels different, it doesn't feel overly challenging, at least not yet. The new Power-Ups made the demo feel like a leisurely stroll, and co-op made the experience easier, especially since friendly collision has been taken out. Unlike New Super Mario Bros., players will not be able to pick up their friends and toss them around, so the days of trolling loved ones appear to be over.

On top of that, prior to entering each stage, players have the option to equip a Badge. Badges can grant users an extra ability, like a parachute cap or a grappling hook. While these can be used to make parts of certain levels easier, they can also be used to explore parts of individual stages that may not have been possible before. Experimentation with Badges is something worth keeping an eye on, especially as more become unlockable over the course of the game.

Lastly, it's worth mentioning that there are four playable Yoshis and a playable Nabbit. These are characters who cannot be defeated by enemies and are more ideal for younger kids or newer fans. However, I did give the demo a run as Yoshi, and it was interesting how I could approach Wonder as a pseudo Yoshi's Island. Yoshi still has his flutter jump and can eat enemies around him. The main difference is that Yoshi and Nabbit do not get access to Power-Ups. While it's possible to complete the game with these characters, they won't be able to find everything in the game. For example, the first stage with the Drill Mushroom has a hidden pipe that can only be accessed by burrowing underground. Since Yoshi and Nabbit can't collect that power, they can't access that pipe.

This is all just a taste of what Nintendo is looking to deliver to Mario fans with Super Mario Bros. Wonder. There's a great sense of familiarity, but the striking visuals, the way Power-Ups are implemented, the clever level design, and the mystery of the Wonder Flower effects and the unlockable Badges also make this one of the most exciting 2D Mario releases to come along in many years. It's a far cry from the tail end of the New Super Mario Bros. series, which were solid titles but felt like it had settled into its formula. It'll be interesting to see what the final version of the game dishes out when Super Mario Bros. Wonder comes to Nintendo Switch on October 20.

This preview is based on a timed Nintendo Switch demo played on-site at Nintendo Live. It may not be representative of the final product.

Senior Editor

Ozzie has been playing video games since picking up his first NES controller at age 5. He has been into games ever since, only briefly stepping away during his college years. But he was pulled back in after spending years in QA circles for both THQ and Activision, mostly spending time helping to push forward the Guitar Hero series at its peak. Ozzie has become a big fan of platformers, puzzle games, shooters, and RPGs, just to name a few genres, but he’s also a huge sucker for anything with a good, compelling narrative behind it. Because what are video games if you can't enjoy a good story with a fresh Cherry Coke?

From The Chatty
  • reply
    September 2, 2023 6:00 AM

    Ozzie Mejia posted a new article, Super Mario Bros. Wonder has enough newness to break out of the NSMB rut

    • reply
      September 2, 2023 6:14 AM

      What rut lol, shit was good

      • reply
        September 2, 2023 7:17 AM

        Compared to Mario 3D World and especially Bowser’s Fury, the 2D Mario games were getting super stale.

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          September 2, 2023 7:54 AM

          Yeah we only ever played Mario Maker 2.

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        September 2, 2023 7:34 AM

        NSMB was incredibly safe. It wasn’t bad, it was fine for what it was, but it wasn’t pushing the franchise forward in any real way and it certainly wasn’t taking any risks.

        I still wish Nintendo would take a bigger art-style risk than Wonder, but I’m glad that it at least looks like they’re having fun with the gameplay and trying some new things.

        Pixar was ground-breaking for a long time, but their films are starting to look incredibly stale now when things like Spider-Verse and TMNT are finding fresh new ways to really push visual boundaries. Nintendo used to do that with Mario, but they haven’t in decades.

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        September 2, 2023 7:55 AM

        NSMB isn't even the best platformer on Wii U / Switch let alone best Mario game.

        It's...fine? Some well-designed levels. Repetitive music; too-easy bosses; lack of secrets.

        It played it incredibly safe compared to Wonder.

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          September 2, 2023 9:56 AM

          Nobody even remembers NSMB2 on 3DS, which might be the most forgettable mainline 2D Mario ever made.

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            September 2, 2023 10:22 AM

            It isn’t terribly new, but it isn’t bad by any means. I don’t think any Mario game could be as disappointing as super Mario 2.

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            September 2, 2023 10:32 AM

            Yeah, that one wasn't good.

            But the original New Super Mario Bros. on DS was the shit and anyone who says otherwise is a god-damned revisionist.

            • reply
              September 2, 2023 10:44 AM

              What's funny is, when the Volition closure announcement came, I remembered the 6 weeks I spent working at the studio in Champagne and playing the original NSMB during my downtime. That was 2006.

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      September 2, 2023 10:01 AM

      That sounds way better than I was expecting. Definitely picking this one up.

    • reply
      September 2, 2023 12:50 PM

      Is there seriously no collision in local coop? Or that just their (disappointing) online ghost mode thing?

      Getting in each other's way is half the point of NSMB.

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        September 2, 2023 12:55 PM

        There is indeed no bumping into each other. The only exception is if someone plays as Yoshi, you can ride them.

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        September 2, 2023 3:31 PM

        Co op collisions are funny 1% of the time and stupid and annoying 99% of the time. An unbelievably unfun way for newer/beginning players who have enough trouble staying alive.

    • reply
      September 4, 2023 7:30 PM

      Super Mario and are my favorite games

    • reply
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