How Mario composer's rejected idea turned into Super Mario Bros. Wonder's coolest badge

Director Shiro Mouri discussed taking a rejected pitch from composer Koji Kondo and turning it into one of Super Mario Bros. Wonder's most fun unlockables.


Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a game that's largely defined by its visually astonishing Wonder Effects. This phenomenon that stems from collecting a Wonder Flower has the capability to entirely change the environment surrounding Mario and his friends. Some might think that Nintendo had a handful of Wonder Effects ready to roll for the 2023 release, but the process was actually more involved than that. In fact, the entire Wonder development team contributed their ideas for Wonder Effects, even long-time series composer Koji Kondo. Many of the Wonder Effects were rejected. That included Kondo's, which didn't quite mesh with the final product, but in an amusing anecdote shared at this year's Game Developers Conference, SMBW Director Shiro Mouri talked about how this idea turned into something even better.

Kondo's idea was that when a specific Wonder Effect activated, a live-action version of Mario would be placed in front of a more realistic, almost photographic, backdrop. To feed into that idea, the background music would stop and any sound effects would be made by Mario. It was an amusing concept, but one that didn't quite work in practice.

Wiggling pipes as a Wonder Effect in Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Prototypes were shared at GDC 2024, including one of SMBW's wiggling warp pipes.
Source: Nintendo

"As an idea, it's very funny," Mouri said via translator during the 2D and Tomorrow: How the Developers of Super Mario Bros. Wonder Find New Joy in Creating Classic Side-Scrolling Adventures panel at GDC 2024. "But it's hard to see the connection between pre-Wonder Effect and during-Wonder Effect and it's hard to imagine anything changing much by having Mario turn into a live-action, human-proportioned version of himself."

In prefacing this story, Mouri and Super Mario Bros. Wonder Producer Takashi Tezuka discussed how the entire development team was asked to participate in a brainstorming session to come up with some of the game's many Wonder Effects. There were no restrictions placed on any of them, which led to over 2,000 submissions and some outlandish ideas. In addition to sharing Kondo's idea, Mouri talked about another rejected Wonder Effect pitch that involved turning Mario's cranium into a giant 2D Mario head made of blocks with the idea being to avoid incoming Gnawshers, the new enemy designed specifically to eat blocks. The idea was ultimately scrapped because Mario's giant head made it impossible to avoid the Gnawshers, turning the sequence into a mindless sprint to the end.

Earlier in the panel, Tezuka spoke of the Japanese expression of "mottainai," which roughly and colloquially translates to "what a waste." One of the principles used in development among the Mario team involves making the most of any idea, even if it doesn't necessarily fit in its original form. That's when Tezuka and Morai took Kondo's rejected Wonder Effect pitch and, instead of tossing it out entirely, turned it into the Sound Off badge, which is the final badge in the game. Once the Sound Off badge is equipped, background music is lowered and all sound effects are made by Mario, like a sort of onomatopoeia. The effects were all mouthed by Kondo himself.

Other fascinating stories shared during the panel included evolving the 2D Mario formula by taking the original sense of mystery and awe from the first game's warp pipes and hidden blocks and iterating on that idea to create the Wonder Flowers' warping of Mario's surroundings. Mouri talked about multiplayer in 2D Mario being about sharing the experience in local co-op while online play would utilize actions that would result in thanking a stranger for their help. Plus, Tezuka talked about maintaining the Mario spirit of keeping characters relatively muted, but eventually coming up with the new Talking Flower as the lone voice-acted character in Mario's world today. Lastly, Tezuka and Mouri briefly discussed how new hardware in turn leads to bigger development teams and the challenge in giving everyone on that team a voice.

Wednesday afternoon's panel concluded with Tezuka expressing his hope that these stories would encourage attendees to experience Super Mario Bros. Wonder at least one more time. There are many more stories from this week's Game Developers Conference, so be sure to check out the GDC 2024 topic page for anything you might have missed.

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?

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