Super Mario Wonder is a smile. A big, friendly, comforting smile. You may find the level of sweetness in Mario Wonder disorienting at first. Those little flowers that say things to you…the upbeat tunes. The helpful advice. Is this trying too hard? Or do I have to let go and welcome the embrace?
Magic is my special obsession. I practice magic tricks. I love mysterious puzzles. I go to bizarre and whimsical places like Meow Wolf. I’m drawn to unknown, experimental tech like VR and AR. I knew Super Mario Wonder was aiming to surprise and be a grab bag of new ideas, doorways to the unexpected. I love weird Nintendo. But this game is also weird, kind Nintendo.
Super Mario Wonder (which I’ll always call it over Super Mario Bros. Wonder) feels like a throwback to classic games like Super Mario World, but it also pumps clever new energy in at every chance. The 3D graphics shine, even though it’s a 2D game (like the recent Sonic Superstars).
Like I said when I played a bit of the game back in August, the appearance of surprise level transformations via the Wonder Flower basically amounts to extra ways to play, in every single main stage of the game. All of these clever moments add up and remind me of the instant surprise feeling of Nintendo games like Warioware (one of my favorites).
The warmth of this game is what sticks with me. It’s something I want to keep playing, and I feel like the game’s talking to me, helping me. I was hospitalized recently, suddenly, with something that scared me a lot. I didn’t play Super Mario Wonder during those days, but in the days after, it greeted me again, and I felt like a little puppy full of new energy.
Ideas for another decade of Mario games
You can see in this game all sorts of new thoughts, enemies and power-ups that Nintendo will likely make classics in Mario games to come. Badges, which add extra skills to your character and get unlocked over the course of the game, are a wrinkle I’m a fan of. Sometimes, a level turns out to be well-suited for a particular badge. Or, it enables extra discoveries.
I love the little talking flowers in the new Flower Kingdom you explore in Wonder: they pop up and say little greetings, but they also give hints. It’s just enough to help guide you in the stages, which are longer than your average new Super Mario Bros U stage. There are dozens and dozens of levels to explore and plenty of hidden secrets. I’m not even sure what I’ve missed.
As Nintendo’s producer and director of Mario Wonder told me back in August, the structure of this game is meant to set Mario up for the next decade. The way the game handles online play — as a layer that can be turned on or off at any time to play alongside others or find “hints” given by players in the form of little stand-up signs — is the sort of treatment I’d love for all future Nintendo games. In spirit, it borrows a bit from Elden Ring. (Weird comparison, but you see what I mean?)
Bubble-blowing, elephant-transforming, and in nearly every stage, some way to toy with expectations just a little bit. I like the length of the gameplay bits here: this is a game you can play for a long while or in a short burst. The stages also seem like they’ll be worth replaying a fair amount if only to see how fast you can blast through once you’ve discovered all the secrets.
I won’t share any other surprises here. I don’t think you’d want them, and you should experience this all on your own. Consider it a journey into the magic Mario unknown.
What Mario game do you buy now?
I’ll make it easy: this game and Super Mario Odyssey are the two must-haves. Odyssey is still the best Mario on the Switch (to me), but Wonder is the most approachable and family-friendly and has better online play modes.
I’m leaving out Mario spin-offs like Mario Kart 8 (obviously great) and Super Mario Maker 2 (a toybox to make endless Super Mario levels). But Wonder is the first game I’d recommend for a family getting a Switch that’s interested in a non-racing Mario game.
Super Mario 3D World is also a wonderful game and bridges the gap between 2D and 3D Mario games. But Wonder’s multiplayer modes feel better executed, and so do its online cooperative modes (which I haven’t even tried yet).
Mario Wonder is a new game, though, not a port of an older Wii U game like a couple of the above (Kart 8, 3D World). In being a new 2D game in the series, it’s a similar moment to when the new, 2D Metroid Dread arrived on the Switch a couple of years ago. And, comparatively, Wonder is as good as Dread was.
Is the Switch still worth buying?
In a word, yes. Nintendo’s expected to have a new console next year: either a vamped-up Switch with better graphics, or a whole new console (Nintendo is hard to predict). But the Switch right now is having a phenomenal year for games. Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom, Pikmin 4 and now, Super Mario Bros. Wonder, add to a collection that’s exclusive and great, and even now — six years after the Switch’s launch — it’s my favorite game system thanks to its size, its family-friendly design and its games.
Yes, the Switch is still great, and Super Mario Wonder runs wonderfully on it. But like I said when I reviewed Tears of the Kingdom, this feels like the swan song for this generation of the Switch.