Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a joyous journey – Preview

Super Mario Bros. Wonder brims with delight, and a welcome sense of weirdness.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder does an expert dance between the familiar and bold, harnessing new creative energy for a Super Mario tale that immediately feels fresh and reinvigorating, even in its opening moments. During a recent preview session, GamesHub was able to go hands-on with the upcoming adventure – and we came away brimming with a real sense of delight. Wonder is joyful, and wild, and very weird, and that’s exactly what makes it seem so special.

In our preview session, we had access to a number of worlds, each defined by the typical goal posts. Once again, Bowser is causing mayhem. This time, in the Flower Kingdom, neighbour to the Mushroom Kingdom, where tiny, peaceful creatures live in harmony. That is, until Bowser steals their all-powerful Wonder Flower, and magically combines himself with the kingdom’s castle to form a floating Mecha-Bowser palace of evil.

Read: Super Mario Bros. Wonder – Release Date, Gameplay Details, Elephants, and More

With the citizens of the Flower Kingdom left largely helpless – many of them imprisoned in their homes – it’s up to Mario and his friends to save the day, leaping through a range of worlds to free each Flower Kingdom being, and restore peace.

Flowers blossom

super mario bros wonder flower
Screenshot: Nintendo

In each colourful, bright land you cross, illustrated on an equally eye-catching overworld, you must collect special Wonder Seeds, a Wonder Flower, purple coins, and other collectibles, all of which encourage you to explore each 2.5D platforming stage with a fine-tooth comb.

As with other games in the series, you can play alone or with friends, using your shared abilities to surmount platforming challenges – and occasionally, save your pals from a near-death ghostly state with a helping hand.

There are core twists to this traditional platforming, however – and it’s in these leaps forward that Wonder shines brightest. For one thing, you don’t have to play as Mario. In fact, there are plenty of options. You’ve got a whole cast of characters to play with, including Luigi, Daisy, Princess Peach, Toad, Toadette, multiple Yoshis, and Nabbit (the Yoshis and Nabbit don’t take damage, allowing for younger or more inexperienced players to still have an enjoyable time).

Each character plays similarly – it’s largely jumping style and invincibility that separates them – with tight, fluid platforming defining their journey.

As with all Mario games, you’ll need to spend your time wandering the Flower Kingdom by running, jumping, and solving environmental puzzles, reaching new heights by wall jumping and making calculated, precise leaps.

The game’s new badge system also helps with traversal. In your journey, you’ll collect an array of badges, each providing a unique, permanent power-up to travel through levels – like a float that allows you to cross greater distances, a high frog leap, a high wall jump, and more. It adds a new twist to the platforming, as each badge can provide new abilities that allow you to explore levels more deeply, discovering new secrets.

Yet another twist to this exploration comes in the form of the level-changing Wonder Flowers, which immediately shake up the world once activated. In each level, you’ll find a Wonder Flower that essentially unleashes themed chaos magic, transforming lands, and bringing each stage to life in genuinely wondrous fashion. In one level, the Wonder Flower may turn every pipe in a level into a squirming, wiggly worm. In another, it causes power stars to fall from the ceiling, empowering you to run and smash your way through the stage at high speed. Another Wonder Flower unleashes a hoard of rhino-like beasts that must be ridden to complete the stage.

mario wonder stars
Screenshot: Nintendo

And in another level, a Wonder Flower may transform you into a tiny, angry-looking Goomba with a minuscule jump and no defence beyond the ability to hide.

The changes add a layer of extremely fun quirkiness to Super Mario Bros. Wonder. Wonder mechanics can be useful, allowing you to gain new abilities, or explore dynamic landscapes with ever-shifting platforming challenges, and a real sense of fluidity. They can also be extremely silly, over-the-top, and just plain delightful.

Claymation inspiration

And that brings us to the true heart of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, and why it makes such an impression, even in its opening chapters. While the action and bright worlds stand on their own, they are so fetching because of Super Mario Bros. Wonder‘s fresh animation and art style. It seems to take cues from claymation, in a similar vein to how Kirby’s Epic Yarn and Yoshi’s Woolly World adopted a wool-infused style, and how Yoshi’s Crafted World adopted recycled paper and child-like craft items for its aesthetic.

Wonder’s art style doesn’t lean as heavily into clay styling, but rather uses it as inspiration to mould its characters. Every facial animation and movement is infused with a sense of gooey malleability. Mario and pals have a neat bounce to their steps, as their bodies blob around stages. Their faces are wide and stretchy, allowing for expressive new emotions – joy, surprise, anger – as their models are fairly rubbery.

This sense of fluidity is most clearly seen in the designs of the elephant versions of characters, who are animated with such dynamism that they bring their own element of physical humour – as trunks flail and suck water, and legs stomp with a wobbly rhythm. That humour is felt strongly throughout Wonder, in tiny moments that break up the tension. Ones that have you pointing at the screen, and chuckling to yourself.

super mario bros wonder gameplay
Screenshot: Nintendo

Mario escapes down a pipe, and his tiny hat dislodges – before a quick, flailing hand reaches out, embarrassed, and drags it inside. Elephant Mario enters a pipe, and exerts a little puffy-cheeked grunt of effort, as he struggles to make it down. On turning into a Goomba, Princess Peach’s tiny, angry eyebrows tell you exactly how she feels about her current situation. She’s got a permanent harumph that makes her adorably angry. This animation makes the game feel more alive, and it gives Super Mario Bros. Wonder a strong sense of personality.

In focussing on art and animation to strengthen the action, Nintendo has created a Super Mario romp that feels immediately different from its predecessors. It’s filled with new, creative ideas, each of which works to elevate its opening by-the-numbers plot of Bowser-inspired destruction. While it maintains this tradition from past Mario games, in our preview of the title, it displayed so much panache, in a way that pushes the adventure to stand on its own two feet.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a new chapter in Mario history – in more ways than one – and with a truckload of dazzling ideas under its belt, it feels like a confident and much-needed next step for the long-running franchise. We’ll have more on the game ahead of the launch on Nintendo Switch on 20 October 2023.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder : Standard - Nintendo Switch [Digital Code]
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Leah J. Williams is a gaming and entertainment journalist who's spent years writing about the games industry, her love for The Sims 2 on Nintendo DS and every piece of weird history she knows. You can find her tweeting @legenette most days.