Don’t call it a comeback. Well, actually maybe do! Although he’s been around for years, Mario is back in a new game, and it’s a wonder it’s been this long without him! Arriving on October 20 for the Nintendo Switch, Super Mario Bros. Wonder invites gamers on another outing with Mario and company, but this time with so much new in-game content, players will always be asking for more.
The Mario series hasn’t had a dedicated 2-D side scroller for over a decade. Mario Maker was mainly about building levels and less about a story, so the last true edition of this style of game was New Super Mario Bros. U for the Wii U in 2012. Now, This latest entry — Super Mario Bros. Wonder — doesn’t leave mushroom… er, that is, much room for failure, and delivers a combination of beloved parts from old Mario titles with mountains of original features.
Fatherly spent some preview time with the game at a recent press event and is ready to break down the latest updates in the franchise to determine how kid-friendly this game is. (Spoilers: Very!).
What is Mario Wonder about?
Mario Wonder takes gamers out of the Mushroom Kingdom, and into the Flower Kingdom, filled with blue skies and chattering flora. Ruled by benevolent Prince Florian, the monarch is showing our heroes his prized Wonder Flower, a rare item that causes mystical things to happen to whoever absorbs one. Unfortunately, this applies to bad guys as well!
Bowser crashes the party and gobbles up the plant, transforming him into an ominous all-powerful being with the power to change the Flower Kingdom into his minions. Mario and company must now venture through six worlds to put things back to normal and send Bowser home with his tail tucked between his shell.
What’s new in Mario Wonder?
The format of the 2-D Mario titles has gone unchanged for many years, and that holds true for Wonder. Classic baddies like Goombas and their kin remain a persistent thorn in the plumber’s side, and the goal remains to leap over the flagpole at the end of the level. However, this latest game packs in an extraordinary number of new elements that don’t feel like short-lived gimmicks occasionally sprinkled into a level or two, and instead alter the gameplay in a way previous games haven’t achieved for years.
Wonder has 12 playable characters available from the start, the largest roster beginning a game which includes Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, a trio of different colored toads, a foursome of Yoshis, and a Nabbit (the latter two don’t take damage but won’t transform with power-ups). The characters all more or less move the same, so there isn’t one better than the other – it’s almost purely cosmetic, minus the info about Yoshis and the Nabbit.
The gameplay isn’t just your typical straight-shoot to the right side of the screen. Many stages offer area-specific obstacles or enemies, like the Maw-Maw’s who will swallow anything in their path (pipes and players included), or the quick Skedaddlers who need to be trapped somewhere before you stomp on their hybrid Birdo/ chipmunk heads. Battling these enemies isn’t as simple as jumping on their noggins – players will often need to implement the abilities of their enemies to uncover secrets, like goading a charging Bulrush into a pile of otherwise unbreakable blocks to destroy them and open a bonus area. There are even stealth elements involved, turning some levels into Metal Gear Mario. It’s a ton of fun rewiring your brain for these moments and breaks up the pace of the standard platforming levels.
A Mario game is nothing without power-ups, and there are plenty here. When a character bonks their head on a Mystery Block, it could reveal a classic Mushroom or Fire Flower, but there are now blocks that change players into an elephant version of their character, a flower to let players blow bubbles they can ride, or a Drill Mushroom that can burrow and grind through the floor and ceilings. A power-up can also be held in reserve, so there’s always a spare in case of an emergency.
In addition to power-ups hiding in blocks, players can equip “Badges.” This list of 24 unlockables enhances your character’s abilities, including jumping higher, floating, gaining extra coins, parachuting into unknown areas below you, or beginning a level with a power-up.
Wonder Flowers, explained
The big new power-up is in the game’s title, and that’s the Wonder Flower! The Wonder Flower makes magical things happen, like enchanting pipes to walk and reveal hidden areas, causing a Bulrush stampede that players can ride, unleashing a cosmic meteor shower of Super Stars to grant unlimited invincibility, and others based on what level is played. Expect the unexpected with the Wonder Flower, a moment players can always look forward to for stirring up laughs and experiences exclusive to each section.
When gamers are ready for a pause in the main story, Wonder has a few other diversions to try. Friend Races increase your skill at using badges, while also competing against others. Wall climbing has never been something this Fatherly writer has been particularly adept at, so it’s satisfying to practice in a low-stakes race to improve this ability, while also earning extra coins. There are also levels purely for breaks, non-competitive rooms that let users run around with low-stress stakes, and often result in an easy-to-find Wonder Flower that increases your overall score.
With any Mario game, there are plenty of secrets to discover in each level, so don’t forget to interact and mess around with everything (and always replay with different characters if you’re a completist to find all the hidden bonuses). Even the overworld contains some secrets, so exploration is highly encouraged!
Multi-Player in Mario Wonder
Modern Mario games can always be enjoyed as a solo adventure, but they’ve become more accessible than ever to experience as a group.
Up to four gamers can play the same level together, whether they’re sitting in the same room or in different parts of the world. That means two players doing couch co-op joining up with two other players online, or other combinations to make sure nobody ever plays alone. It’s worth having a crew to take the fun to another level. This isn’t a friendship-ending Mario Party experience! Everyone ends up a winner and can play seriously or goof around without interfering with another player’s experience.
Wonder is the first game in the series to have a persistent online option to see the “shadows” of other players in real time. Players can work together or against each other in online modes, competing to see who can finish a level the fastest.
Is Mario Wonder fun for kids?
There are no Mario games that aren’t kid-friendly, with the only caveat being some titles are better for older kids, like Mario RPG or the Mario + Rabbids games. And of course, some Mario games are better for kids than others. Wonder keeps kid-friendly Mario trend going, and ranks high in the series in terms of being approachable and enjoyable for even the youngest in your family.
The slippery momentum of Mario’s physics can take some time for a child to get used to, especially if this is their first game in the franchise they play or they haven’t gamed enough to pick up the dexterity for it yet. If your little one keeps plummeting to their doom because they can’t gauge the space from one platform to the next, or haplessly run into a Goomba because they aren’t yet able to control their sprint, have no fear! They won’t be in trouble for long.
The game is incredibly generous with extra lives, and multi-player mode makes the struggle easier on them. If a character is incapacitated, in most cases they turn into a ghost who can float around the screen for about 10 seconds, and be revived by other players. This is also a reliable strategy if the little ones are having a tough time in a certain section, and need a more experienced gamer to move them beyond that spot. If a Yoshi is present, players can ride on their backs for as long as they want. If a child wants to rest for a bit without stopping the game, Yoshi dads can take over until they’re ready to jump back in.
Every level has a Star ranking from one to three to inform gamers how difficult a level is before they begin. If one area seems too tough, new players can join the game to lend a helping hand, and just as easily drop out after completion to let inexperienced players go back to enjoying it by themselves.
Best of all, the Switch is as much a console for home as it is on-the-go. With this game being portable it increases the fun, being binge-able on a long car ride, or playable in small spurts while waiting in line at the supermarket.
It’s a great feeling to beat a video game for the first time, and for many of us, Mario was that first. Wonder can be that game for your children, giving them a sense of accomplishment with a game that can pick up the difficulty, but not enough to cause too big of a tantrum (adults included).
The game is beyond pretty to look at, and just as much fun to watch your kid playing as it is to game along with them. With so many distinct courses filled with vibrant colors and unique challenges, Wonder promises to be a highly engaging time with plenty of replayability. It’s a refreshing version of the classic games, one with the potential to become a top favorite among Nintendo fans. No matter how old you are – Super Mario Bros. Wonder keeps players invested and wanting more and ensures gamers will never be bored of the experience.