The announcement of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, which served as the grand finale of June's Nintendo Direct, took many by surprise. Not only is Nintendo departing from the well-trodden path of the New Super Mario Bros. franchise in the 2D side of the series, but it's also taking Mario in new directions with a broader lineup of playable characters, groundbreaking gameplay mechanics, and brand-new power-ups. This resulted in a trailer that not only generated a massive online reaction, especially when our beloved Italian plumber transformed into an elephant, but also had us scrutinizing the footage for every possible detail due to the limited gameplay shown.
Fortunately, I no longer have to rely solely on that trailer and my own speculations about what Super Mario Bros. Wonder entails, as Nintendo invited me to experience a hands-on session with this upcoming 2D platformer. Super Mario Bros. Wonder takes Mario and his gang outside of the Mushroom Kingdom and into the Flower Kingdom, a brand-new setting led by Prince Florian, as opposed to the Mushroom Kingdom.
As Florian addresses the group, Kamek flies overhead, and Bowser swoops in, stealing the Wonder Flower, which transforms him into a massive airship. The nefarious king then proceeds to wreak havoc on the Flower Kingdom, vaporizing various parts of the world and converting the homes of the guards, known as Poplins, into prisons. As you might expect, Mario and his friends agree to assist Prince Florian in restoring order to his kingdom and recovering the stolen flower.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder Unveiled: A Game-Changing Adventure
Embarking on this adventure, I had the opportunity to choose from the largest roster of playable characters in any mainline Mario game to date. The character-select screen features Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, multiple Yoshis, multiple Toads (including Toadette), and Nabbit. These characters all play identically, except for Yoshi and Nabbit. Yoshi can offer rides to other characters, perform a float-style jump, and take no damage. However, the trade-off is that you cannot use power-ups as Yoshi or Nabbit. In previous Mario games, this might have been an acceptable trade-off, but the power-ups in Super Mario Bros. Wonder are so imaginative and sometimes crucial for accessing secrets that you might want to reconsider choosing those characters.
Much of my hands-on time with the game occurred in World I: Pipe-Rock Plateau. The first stage, "Welcome to the Flower Kingdom," provided me with a solid introduction to how things work in this new adventure. Talking Flowers, similar to the ones prominently featured in the reveal trailer, are a constant presence throughout the adventure. They provide commentary on the action, offer encouragement, and occasionally crack jokes. From my experience, they infuse a lot of personality into each stage, which is further accentuated by the expressive characters in the refreshed art style.
Mario's Latest Adventure: Super Mario Bros. Wonder Preview
Before starting the stage, I could select from a series of Badges, a new mechanic for the series. These badges allow you to enhance your characters with special skills and abilities. The Badges are divided into two categories: Action and Boost. Action Badges grant you new moves, such as the Parachute Cap, which enables you to glide when you jump, Wall-Climb, allowing you to ascend a wall vertically (different from the standard Mario wall-jump), and Floating High Jump, which combines aspects of Luigi's classic leg-flutter high jump and Yoshi's float jump. Boost Badges are more passive and provide benefits like additional coins, starting with a Super Mushroom power-up, a sensor that detects nearby secrets, and more.
As I progressed through the stage, I encountered one of the key features showcased in the trailer: Wonder Flowers. These special items appear in various stages of the game and trigger in-game effects that can completely change a stage. The original trailer showed several examples, from Mario growing tall and stretchy to another effect that causes pipes to move. The goal during these Wonder Flower sequences is to navigate the trippy effects to find a Wonder Seed, one of the game's primary collectibles. Each stage has multiple Wonder Seeds, with one hidden in the Wonder Flower sequence and another granted for reaching the end. Some stages have multiple exits, so to collect all the seeds, you must replay the stage and go through both exits.
Without delay, the game provided me with one of my most anticipated moments: transforming into an elephant version of my character. I had a good idea this was coming, so I chose Peach to see what her elephant form would look like. As Elephant Peach, you can attack enemies with your trunk and use your trunk to collect water when near it. Then, you can spray the water by swinging your trunk. If you spray water on unbloomed buds, they grow, granting you extra coins or access to new areas.
Shortly after, I encountered another elephant power-up, which I collected despite already having one. This item didn't go to waste, though; it was sent to my inventory. Similar to Super Mario World, you can have one extra item stored in your inventory and summon it when needed.
Exploring Super Mario Bros. Wonder
Playing through the first stage immediately gave me confidence in how Super Mario Bros. Wonder is shaping up. The controls are as precise as ever, and the combination of the Wonder Seed and Badge system breathes new life into the familiar formula. However, the more I played, the more I realized how Nintendo is pushing its creative boundaries.
The next stage I played was "Scram, Skeddadlers," introducing Skeddadlers, a new enemy type that runs away upon spotting you, leading to a chase if you wish to catch them. Before entering this stage, I activated a new persistent online mode that allows you to see the shadows of other players in the stage at that exact time. As you progress, you'll notice cardboard Standees left behind by other players as almost a "I was here" trophy. Each player can leave one Standee per stage.
However, these Standees do more than serve as bragging rights; they also provide assistance to players. If you die within view of an activated Standee, you can respawn at that cutout. Nintendo suggests that leaving a Standee just before a challenging section is a great way to help fellow players. You can purchase new Standees and Badges from the in-game store using purple coins collected in the stages.
Next, I tackled "Bulrush Coming Through," another level showcased in the trailers, this time as Luigi. In this level, you must avoid charging Bulrushes, enemies resembling bulls. However, with some clever maneuvers, you can trick them into charging through barriers, opening new paths to secrets. The stage climaxes with the collection of a Wonder Seed, triggering a Bulrush Stampede. I hopped on top of the stampeding Bulrushes and rode them all the way to the end, collecting more coins as I went. I finally reached the alternate exit, collecting a final Wonder Seed. "Bulrush Coming Through" exemplifies stages with multiple exits, offering three Wonder Seeds.
Following this, I joined an online multiplayer session. Instead of straightforward co-op play, Super Mario Bros. Wonder throws you into competitive challenges when playing online with friends. For my session, I participated in a Badge Challenge focused on the Wall-Climb Jump Badge mentioned earlier. In this challenge, I had to navigate a vertical stage, reaching the top and touching the flagpole before the other players in my session. These sessions can accommodate up to four players, allowing you to see your competitors' shadows but preventing interaction with one another. Anything they do in their world