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Round Table: Let’s Talk Mario Wonder – Surprises, Badges, Difficulty, New Characters

Wonder Discussion 1
Image: Nintendo Life

We’ve all been playing Super Mario Bros. Wonder for a few days now and it’s fair to say that we have some thoughts — as do you, we’re sure!

Of course, if you want to check out our comprehensive and definitive verdict on the game, then be sure to read through our full review by the lovely PJ O’Reilly. For now, though, Team Nintendo Life thought we’d get together for a chat and share a few anecdotes and musings on our time with the game so far.

What do we think of the badge system so far? What about the story? And does Super Mario Bros. Wonder compare favourably to previous 2D Mario games? Read on to find out.

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Top-level Wonder thoughts

Ollie Reynolds, Staff Writer: So for me, it’s about as perfect as I could have reasonably hoped for. I’ve long been wary of 2D Mario games because Nintendo stubbornly refused to move away from the ‘New’ style for over a decade, and it’s proven quite disheartening. But Wonder is something else entirely. It’s got all the ingenuity that I’d expect from a 3D Mario game, but in a 2D one. It’s simply marvellous.

Gavin Lane, Editor: It’s…*Must. Avoid. ‘Wonder.’ Pun. Overuse….* really good.

Jim Norman, Staff Writer: Isn’t it just lovely? I have never been one to get too excited over a 2D Mario and I’m not certain that Wonder has changed my opinion on that, but it keeps a whopping great smile on my face for each and every minute that I am playing it, so I can’t really ask for more.

Alana Hagues, Deputy Editor: I think that’s the key for me – I like the ‘New’ games but I felt like they lost the magic after an hour or so, whereas with Wonder, it’s joy all the way through so far. I never really know what to expect from the levels, and I find myself paying so much more attention to the animations and expressions. It’s pure serotonin, honestly.

I never really know what to expect from the levels, and I find myself paying so much more attention to the animations and expressions. It’s pure serotonin.

Ollie: Yeah, it’s a visual feast. The animations are so, so good! I love the little touches added when Mario goes into a pipe, and I adore that his crouching animation calls back to Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3.

Jim: I was sold on the animation from the very first reveal back in June, but I didn’t know just how much the music would have me hooked from the first second. It is fantastic! The way that the track changes with your power-up, the little drum roll with each ground pound — it’s some proper chef’s kiss stuff.

Alana: God, it’s nice to play something that’s just colourful and pleasant and fun! I noticed the music, too – the music blocks are a pretty frequent feature, they remind me of the Note Blocks in Mario Bros. 3 and World. It’s just ticking all the right boxes for me so far.

Ollie: I love the music! Not to dunk on the ‘New’ series too much, but the soundtrack here is just significantly better; lots of energy and I find myself humming a few tunes when I’m out and about.

Jim: Oh, a few themes are already firmly stuck in my head. I won’t go too deep on the one in particular since it comes from the second half of the game, but one Wonder Flower effect produces a particular banger that comes back time and time again. I haven’t slept since hearing it…

Wonder Discussion 2
Image: Nintendo

Biggest surprises

Gavin: The ‘musical’ controller was a genuine delight. But the taut controls feel better than ever and that’s had the biggest impact on me so far. I’m only up to World 2 at the moment, so hopefully plenty more surprises to come, but the game just feels tight ‘n’ right. I started out using the D-pad on my Pro Controller, but I naturally migrated to the stick as it felt accurate enough, which was never the case in NSMBU. I haven’t compared side-by-side, but it feels like they’ve reduced the inertia a tad.

Alana: I think the biggest surprise for me so far has been the ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ level. In general, a lot of those little challenge levels have been fun, but I love those precision platforming stages from older Mario games where it’s pure run-and-jump – and this was a pleasant surprise and a bit of a challenge. There’s a harder version later on which is… well, let’s just say I’m going back to it later.

Jim: ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ has taken too much of my time already. I definitely agree, the little challenges are a nice touch and the ‘Break Time’ sequences have had me grinning too. I did not expect my 2D Mario to become a rhythm game out of the blue.

I did not expect my 2D Mario to become a rhythm game out of the blue.

Ollie: I finished the harder version of ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ myself a few days back and it’s definitely a bruiser; very proud of myself for getting through that one. For me though, I think the biggest surprise is just how new everything feels. With Mario games — particularly 2D ones — it’s become quite predictable for the most part. You start off in the introductory world, then its desert, then water, snow, and so on… Everything just feels fresh with Wonder. There’s still a desert world, but it appears a bit later than usual and Nintendo has managed to make it feel brand new. Heck, Bowser doesn’t even kidnap Peach in this one.

Jim: Ol’ Bowser is branching out, and we have to respect that. What struck me from the get-go was not the levels themselves but the ‘open-world’ menus between them! The first time that I found… uhh… something other than a level in one of those, I was blown away.

Alana: Oh yeah, there are lots of little secrets in the overworld and I love that. Speaking of how different it feels, can we talk about some of the enemy changes? Like, the new Goomba type enemies, and the rollerskating Koopas? Love them.

Wonder Discussion 3
Image: Nintendo

Ollie: A lot of them are just straight-up funny. I felt so bad for those guys near the start of the game who would just run away from Mario with a look of pure dread on their faces. Poor little things… I do wish there was a bit more variation with the boss fights, but that’s my only major nitpick with this aspect.

Jim: Oh, oh, OH! I forgot about the enemy ‘rush’ sections! Those are yet another level type that I kind of couldn’t believe I was playing through in a 2D Mario game. Not the most challenging out there, for sure, but it does give me an excuse to check out those hilarious Goomba animations over and over again.

Alana: So what we’re saying is that there are so many surprises, right?

Badges

Ollie: For the most part, I’ve been gravitating toward the ‘Boost Badges’. The action ones are fun, but I’m a bit wary of change, so when a new move gets thrown into the mix, I melt away like a popsicle. With the Boost Badges, I find they grant you some neat little perks without messing with the core gameplay too much. Starting with a Super Mushroom after dying can be a true blessing, if only so I don’t have to look at weird, tiny Mario too much.

Jim: I have been using the ‘Boost Badges’ every now and again, but the ‘Action’ ones have been right up my street so far. I’d be lying if I said that I had tried all of them to the extent that I have been leaning on ‘Floating High Jump’, but I also particularly enjoy the Grappling Vine’s “we have Spider-Man 2 at home” approach to gameplay.

Alana: I’m not as far as either of you, so I haven’t got tons of badges to mess around with. I’ve been sticking with the Wall-Climb Jump for the most part, but I swap between a handful depending on what level I’m on. I’m sure when I get some Expert badges I’ll try them out, but so far, they’re probably the part of the game I interact with the least.

Gavin: I’m a basic badger — so far I’ve stuck with the cap parachute one until I have to use something else.

Wonder Discussion 4
Image: Nintendo

Jim: They feel a little tacked on for me at the moment — probably because I am just using one of them on repeat — but I am excited to see how some of the Boost Badges help when I come back to clear up the final collectibles. That is usually the biggest slog in a 2D Mario, so it will be interesting to see just how much they mix things up.

Ollie: That’s the key thing for me too, I think once I’ve beaten the game, it’ll be fun to go back and experiment a bit more with the badges to vacuum up those last remaining collectibles.

Gavin: I like the whole system — the variety and opportunity for personal style and expression. It’s a clever design trick in the way it shifts optional, slightly more complex moves away from the base controls, which are as simple and intuitive as ever. Florian’s constant ‘Shall I switch to this one, then?’ is one of the few irritations the game has thrown up for me, but otherwise, badges FTW.

2D Mario comparisons

Ollie: I’ve already touched on the ‘New’ games myself, but did anyone want to discuss that sub-series in particular?

Jim: Without sounding too much like the baby in the room, the ‘New’ Mario games actually formed a very decent chunk of my childhood, and I enjoyed most if not all of them. Yes, they were a little drab (especially with post-Wonder clarity), but being as inexperienced in the joys of 2D Mario as I was at the time, I found a lot to like. What Wonder has done for me now is show that actually, those little touches of personality (the dancing Goombas, for example) had the potential to be so much more.

I feel Wonder will be looked back upon with just as much fondness as Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3 in the decades to come.

Alana: I’ve not played all of the ‘New’ games myself because it wasn’t what I was looking for at the time they were released – the OG and Wii U are the two I have played, and they were good! But missing the spice, which Wonder does bring. Actually, comparisons have been made to Super Mario World a lot, and I do think this is the most creative a 2D Mario has been since World. Feels a bit obvious to say, really, but the extra attention to detail and the unique worlds are really making the difference for me.

Ollie: Yeah I completely agree. I feel I should clarify that I do like the ‘New’ series, particularly the Wii U entry, but hindsight has really highlighted just how safe Nintendo played it with those games. Wonder really feels like a direct continuation of the quality streak Nintendo was on back in the NES and SNES days; it’s just got that ‘Nintendo magic’ that was missing in the 2000s and 2010s. I feel Wonder will be looked back upon with just as much fondness as Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3 in the decades to come.

Jim: Even if we are all looking back on it wondering why Nintendo dropped the NSMB poker minigame. Now that’s something that Wonder is missing!

Ollie: Hahaha, is it though? Is it really?

Jim: In Luigi’s casino, the house always wins…

Gavin: Yep, I enjoyed the New games, but I think PJ summed it up perfectly in his review: This is the best 2D Mario has been since the ’90s.

Tricky moments

Alana: We’ve all mentioned ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ and the harder variation, but in general, how are we finding the game’s difficulty? It’s definitely ‘easy’ overall in my eyes, but it doesn’t feel any less easy or hard than NSMBU, and there are smaller challenges dotted around that I’m never wanting for a more consistently difficult game.

Gavin: Not being thrown out to the overworld when you die makes things infinitely less painful when you do bite the dust.

Jim: I would agree that things are feeling a little on the easier side so far, though it’s by no means to the detriment of the game. The challenge in 2D Mario always comes from the completionist in me wanting to pick up every single big coin, moon, Wonder Seed, or otherwise that I have missed until that point. Come back to me in a few week’s time when I’m pulling my hair out over one very specific wall jump and we’ll see how that difficulty is looking then.

Wonder Discussion 5
Image: Nintendo

Gavin: The cap-gliding badge made several of the earlier levels utterly trivial, but right now it’s at the sweet spot for me. I can absolutely understand people who breezed through it in a weekend wanting a little more challenge, but I’m not in the market for some nightmarishly tough experience at the moment. I’m quite happy to be swept along by the sights and sounds with this one. I’m still only in World 2, though — as Jim says, talk to me in a few weeks’ time!

Ollie: Yeah I think the challenge with this one will come in trying to nab that 100% completion rating. Right now, it feels just about right for me. For the most part, I can breeze through the levels without much hassle, but there’s definitely a spike in collecting those purple coins, and I just know the game’s difficulty will ramp up toward the end (I’m currently on World 6). I think games like Super Meat Boy and Celeste have almost conditioned some folks into thinking that all platformers need to aim for a similar level of difficulty, but we need to remember that Mario is aimed at kids, first and foremost, so I feel the difficulty is about where it needs to be.

Jim: I have been playing solely as Luigi so far (I know, what a madman!), but there are the Yoshi and Nabbit options for those who still want to grab everything available without having to worry about pesky enemy damage and the like. I’m hoping that I won’t have to fall back on them, but it’s nice to know that they are there.

Alana: Pro tip, though: if you’re playing co-op, don’t throw a Koopa shell at your friends/family…

Jim: Seems to be good advice for life in general, actually.

Ollie: Me, play with other people?! What madness.

Story and new characters

Gavin: Wooplings? Loopins? I’ve already forgotten the names of the not-Toads several times. Florian is cute, and I quite liked the absurdity of Bowser Jr.’s “Awesome, now my dad’s a castle!” lines, but I couldn’t care less about the story. Galaxy is the only (mainline) Mario game with a really good story, and staying out of the gameplay’s way was one of its virtues. Here, for me, it’s a matter of half-skipping through most of the text while scanning for any good bits. If SMB3 is the ideal, this is a bit too talky for my tastes.

Ollie: As with most Mario games, the story is mostly inconsequential for me, but I’m definitely enjoying it. As I’d mentioned earlier, having Bowser not kidnap Peach is quite frankly unheard of, and it makes for a nice change of pace. I like the new Poplin characters, though they kinda just look like Toads who have been watching ‘Coneheads’ on repeat.

Gavin: Poplins! Must remember that. Poplins, Poplins, Poplins…

Jim: The new characters in this game are a lottery for me. I love Prince Florian and want to protect him at all costs, while I wouldn’t think twice about punting each and every Poplin off the edge of a cliff. Who would have thought that the ‘Talking Flowers’ would be bested by a more intrusive NPC?

Wonder Discussion 6
Image: Nintendo

Alana: Hah, Ollie’s point about the Poplin made me realise why I think they look weird! Anyway, yes, like Jim, I love Prince Florian, everyone else I can give or take. The story is whatever to me – it’s pleasant, and if I was playing with kids I would probably take more time to appreciate it. But it’s interrupting the moment-to-moment gameplay a bit too much for me so far. Feels like a blend of 3D Mario dialogue with 2D Mario gameplay. Inoffensive, but it’s not what I was expecting, though it makes sense given the appeal of Mario and just how much it’s exploded this year following the Mario Movie.

Gavin: Poplins, Poplins…

Jim: I don’t think that 2D Mario should have any more story than Wonder is giving us, to be honest. This one is walking a fine line, and it is walking it well, but nobody really wants to see a plot full of twists and turns when we could be getting back to some top-notch gameplay, right?

Ollie: Right. It feels more or less “acceptable” for me at the moment. I’m finding there’s just enough dialogue to keep me interested, but not too much that it’s hindering my enjoyment. I do like seeing Bowser Jr. again, too, though as I’d alluded to earlier, I think we might be seeing him a bit too much in this one… Where are the classic Koopalings?!

Gavin: Poplins.


So there you have it, folks! That’s just a mere taste of what we’ve been feeling since starting Super Mario Bros. Wonder. It’s not every day that we get a brand new 2D Mario game from Nintendo, so thanks for indulging us. We’re eager to hear your thoughts on these subjects, so let us know below. Don’t dawdle, though; there are Wonder Seeds that need collecting!

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Super Mario Bros. Wonder

Super Mario Bros. Wonder (+Bonus Item)

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