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  • Writer's pictureRoberto Nieves

PAX West: Hands-on with Super Mario Wonder

It's been a banner year for the world's most famous plumber. In 2023, Mario celebrated his 38th year and ushered it in with a resounding success. Nintendo Land, a brand new addition to Universal theme parks, debuted in Hollywood, California, to resounding cheers. The Super Mario Brothers Movie took movie theaters by storm, warning over $1 billion at the box office. Now, Mario is capping off the year with a brand-new game.


Super Mario Wonder was announced over the Summer, and at PAX West, Nintendo gave attendees a first look at the game at the adjacent Nintendo Live event. This new Mario game is shaping up to be one of the wildest and boldest takes on the famed plumber yet.



Let's-a-Go!


For the demo, myself and three other players shared a screen for a co-op session. Two other attendees joined us, and I had the pleasure of playing the game with Chris Wulf of indie publisher Fellow Traveler, which recently published the award-winning Citizen Sleeper and released other thought-provoking titles, such as Neo Cab, which I talked about previously.


Our quick demo put us in the flower kingdom, an entirely new kingdom separate from the mushroom kingdom. King Bowser has tampered with mystic powers and has now transformed himself into a massive flying castle. It's up to Mario and his team to save the kingdom.



Flower Power


The flower kingdom is different from the mushroom kingdom. The flowers are all sentient and do their best to help Mario's team. The flower kingdom contains its own kind of oddities and power-ups. Some will be familiar, and others will be new. The entire land seems surreal and macabre, as if it is woven into the intricacies of nature. There is much of it that remains mysterious.


The ten-minute demo had us on several levels. Two of the most notable levels included a large grassy field and an underground cave. The environments felt familiar but very distinctive. Compared to the mushroom kingdom, there's a flamboyant amount of color. The colors feel softer and more airy. The color tones give the appearance of something weird and organic.



Run, Jump, Stomp


The same visual distinction applies to the characters. Mario appears to have a design inspired by everything that came before. He isn't as hefty or gravitated as he appeared in Super Mario Odyssey, but he has a resemblance that is similar to Super Mario Sunshine. Speaking of characters, everyone from Daisy to Yoshi is selectable. If there's a character you want to be, you can be it.


The gameplay is familiar for those that have played a Mario game. Players run, stomp, jump, and cause a cacophony of enjoyable chaos. From goombas to boxes, there's plenty of enemies and boxes to jump on. A noted addition to the gameplay is the lack of bumping into others. No player can knock into each other. Additionally, if a player dies, they can move around the stage as a genie until recovered by a teammate.



Trunk Funk


The biggest draw to Super Mario Wonder is the Wonder Seeds. In each level, players obtain a wonder seed. This completely transforms each level into a surreal and eclectic obstacle course. On one level, the warp pipes came to life like caterpillars. In another, a machine came to life and tried to crush our team as we feverishly drilled lower into the level. These Wonder seeds hold a lot of potential in transforming how the game is played at each level.


As seen in the Nintendo Direct, Super Mario Wonder features many unique power-ups. Chris, me, and the rest of the team experimented with the now infamous Elephant power-up. It is confirmed that everyone can become an Elephant. In addition to the larger size and strength, being an elephant allows players to use water. This is most useful in dealing with tougher challenges.



Teams and Dreams


Other power-ups include using drills and a touched-up fire power-up. Our time in the cave level was most profound and demonstrates the surprises that Super Mario Wonder will have. The level went on like a traditional Mario cave level but ended spectacularly. Using the Wonder Seed, a machine chased us down into a tunnel. Me and Chris had to feverishly tunnel through the ground with a drill power-up. We lost those powers and had to jump-stomp our way through crystalline boxes. Working as a team, we survived the trap and beat the level.


Super Mario Wonder is looking to do wonderous things. Playing solo is only part of the enjoyment. Playing together as a cohesive team makes the experience even better, and the combination of power-ups and smaller gameplay shapes Super Mario Wonder into an absolute joy. This extends to online services, as players can follow shadows to unlock secrets and complete levels quickly. It's a system that is very similar to Dark Souls.



A most wonderful occasion


Chris and I had a blast interacting with our team to figure out the various obstacles and play with the various power-ups. The teamwork was excellent, and we were laughing our way through the whole experience. In the end, that is what a Mario game is all about. The feeling of adventure and the laughs and triumphs that happen along the way. If this is only an inkling of what the final game will be like, players are in for an unforgettable time in Super Mario Wonder.


Super Mario Wonder launches on October 20, 2023, for Nintendo Switch.



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