Review: Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Be it Wonderful? Or simply chunder-full?
It's a cliché to begin a review of a new Mario game with this sort of reflection, but it remains the case that every new Mario game is an event. Well, maybe not the Mario Parties, but certainly a brand new 2D Mario game that breaks away from the long-established New Super Mario Bros. series and aims to push Super Mario to new heights of creativity and imagination. And you'd think, from the rapturous reception, that it has succeeded. Arguably, it has, to a point. People are delighted that this game has come along to shake things up, to move away from NSMB at last. Many are decrying the NSMB games as downright bad, which of course is drivel and alerted me to what's going on with Super Mario Wonder, or at least the critical reception thereto. I've used this term once before on this site, and I'm going to use it again now, and you're all going to think I am a heinous imbecile. That's fine. I'm used to the slings and arrows. But here it is, anyway: the response to Super Mario Wonder is post-truth.
"Post-truth" is the phenomenon that has developed in the gaming community wherein people will say things that are manifestly not true, which will then be repeated enough to become accepted as objective fact even when they can be demonstrably disproved. There's an existing word for this, which is delusion, but I prefer post-truth because it delineates the difference between the delusion, which is unconscious, and post-truthery, which is conscious. A choice. Bizarre and troubling to witness. But what does this have to do with Super Mario Wonder?
I'm not going to waste your time by explaining the whole Wonder Flower thing to you. You know what they are. You've all probably finished the game already. I know I've seen reports of the delight that ensues whenever you collect a Wonder Flower, how it totally turns the level on its head. When I play the game, I get these Wonder Flowers as well. I think the last one i got turned me into a slime creature which could adhere to walls. For the fourth time. I don't want to be too cynical, but I have to Roy Walker this shit and say what I see. I hit a Wonder Flower, and my eyes widen as the screen fills with water and I'm swimming now. For the second time. You know? There are some good ones, like in the early game when the Piranha Plants start singing to you, or the early game where you blast off into space, or the early game where the green pipe turns into a sort of inchworm thing. Those are really cool, in the first couple of worlds.
Then I got to World 3 and the game just sort of stopped being interesting. The Wonder Flower effects settle into a groove. There's no boss here either, no climax. It's weird, because it's been said that this game was produced with no deadline. So why does it play like there was one? World 5 is the same, it just ends. I'm not trying to be contrarian. I'm not trying to be iconoclastic, or whatever. I just want to know what's up. Why is the game so easy? Why are the secrets so easy to find? In New Super Mario Bros. games, you don't retain Star Coins if you die unless you "bank" them at a checkpoint. The equivalent "10" Coins in Wonder stay collected even when you die, so why did they bother putting them in places that it's challenging to reach when you can just blap through them, lose and life, and carry on? It just feels... sloppy. I know that difficulty is subjective but stages here seem short, at times almost throwaway. Those Badge Challenges, those Break Time thingies, the awful KO Arenas. It feels like filler, and no Mario game should register in that way. Again, I am not trying to rock the boat, but New Super Mario Bros. U seems like a measurably superior Mario game in every way that matters to me. Challenge. Secrets.
Of course there's plenty here to enjoy. It's not a bad game in the slightest. In fact it's often terrific fun. The new, tighter yet faster movement makes the many playable characters a joy to handle, and the level design itself is never frustrating in a bad way. It's not hard, but many people are going to prefer that approach. Everything you can find or collect in a stage is made very clear to you, and maybe that's what you prefer. I like it when I don't know exactly where to look for that secret exit (of which Wonder has very few), but again - I recognise that I am the outlier in that respect.
That reflects my feelings towards Super Mario Bros. Wonder as a whole, I suppose. I think it's a terrific platform game and it would absurd of me to suggest otherwise, but it's a conscious effort from Nintendo to move Mario forward by pushing tropes from other games to the fore, to make Mario softer and less true to its roots. That's fine! People clearly love it! I don't. I'm bothered by the game's ease. NSMB was never this simple and it didn't spell everything out for you the way Wonder does. I didn't want this review to be overly negative because it's clear that this is the exact Mario that people have been wanting for a long, long time. I'm happy for them, and it definitely deserves to do well. I'm just a little bitter and frankly sad that the classic Mario of the NSMB series seems to be dead. Don't get me wrong - four games comprising 400 or so artisanal Mario levels has been such a feast that I know it would be rude to take issue with the changes. But I don't want Mario to be like Rayman Legends, like this kind of easygoing thing. I know Mario as tricky, as technical, as crafty. This is Mario frictionless, breezy, friendly. It's what gamers want, and that's fine. It isn't for me anymore, and that's both sad and relieving at the same time. A new generation of kids are gonna fall in love with Mario through Wonder. I'm old guard. And I'm ready to move on.