From the moment I sat down in front of Super Mario Bros. Wonder at a recent Nintendo event, I was enthralled. As Mario ran from left to right, he was greeted by talking flowers, bouncing blocks, and a level of whimsy absent from the many grim AAA titles released this year.
It got even better when I grabbed the elephant power-up, first revealed during June’s Nintendo Direct. Controlling Mario as he smacked enemies with his trunk and splashed water on irritated Goombas brought me back to my childhood of playing Super Mario Sunshine with a less talkative FLUDD. Even though my time was brief with the first new 2D Mario game in more than a decade, I came away convinced it will live up to the series’ storied history.
You start off as Mario in the Flower Kingdom, a new land ruled over by the Wiggler-esque Prince Florian. Right on cue, Bowser shows up to take the all-powerful Flower Star to his giant floating fortress, and it’s up to you to save the day. And this time, there is a whole slew of playable characters along for the ride, like Peach, Luigi, Daisy, Toad, Toadette, Nabbit, and four different colored Yoshis.
The stages in Super Mario Bros. Wonder are euphoric and some of the most fun I’ve had with 2D platforming in recent memory. Along with your usual running, jumping, and collecting coins, there are also hidden Wonder Flowers that activate a mini-game once grabbed. These transform the stage in a variety of ways: one may start a timer to reach a goal, and another will transform you into a Goomba who needs to evade a hungry enemy. Once your task is completed, you’ll be rewarded with a Wonder Seed, which is the currency you use to unlock new levels.
Every enemy has distinct quirks and patterns that interact with the surrounding environments in a clever way. I’m used to watching Goombas waddle about and charge angrily when you lock eyes, but these Goombas had so much more character when I approached (and then subsequently smushed them). There are plenty of inventive new baddies too, like the triceratops Bulrush that can be goaded into smashing rocks, and balloon fish called Bloomps that can be jumped on to advance through a stage.
Along with the elephant, I also got to take a few new power-ups for a spin. The Drill turns you into a deep-diving expert, able to smash harder blocks with your head and dive below the stage to reach new obstacles and goodies. Then there was the Bubble, which let you blow see-through spheres that you can use to explore new areas.
Wonder is extremely customizable, which is a refreshing change for a Mario game. On top of the treasure trove of characters to play with, there are also Badges to equip at the start of each stage. I only got to use a couple, but they can have a substantial impact on how you’ll play the stage. You can use the Parachute Cap to float down by holding the right trigger button to explore hard-to-reach spots. Or you can use the Safety Bounce to give you a bit more hang time on your jumps.
Multiplayer is a huge component of Wonder, and up to four people can play together on the same console. The camera does lock onto one person, which I found to be a bit obnoxious when playing with those with less-than-stellar platforming skills. I would end up off the screen with no idea where to go, while they were flailing — and failing — to get up.
But when someone dies in a co-op game, they’ll turn into a ghost who can come back to life by tagging a fellow player. This made the game feel a bit less unfair (because not every Game Over is justified) and will be a godsend for those playing with kids or less-experienced pals.
I came away from this demo super excited to dive into the full Super Mario Bros. Wonder experience. It’s got That Nintendo Something in spades. I can’t wait to spend more time with that powerful pachyderm.