Boss Rush Banter: Super Mario Bros. Wonder Sets an Impossibly High Bar for the Franchise

I’ll never forget the wonder of the Donut Plains and the elation I felt discovering Donut Secret 2 with its Yoshi egg and unlimited power-ups. Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo Entertainment system was game changing, a masterpiece that somehow took a legendary franchise to greater heights.

Growing up in the 80s with the Nintendo Entertainment System, I played more hours than I can count of the first three Super Mario Bros. games. By the end of that trilogy, all my friends at school agreed: nothing will EVER top Super Mario Bros. 3! Raccoon Mario, the amazing overworlds, the secrets–the game had fantastic replayability and never failed to capture the imagination. So when the Super Nintendo launched with Super Mario World, I couldn’t believe a new Mario game topped my list.

In the fourth console installment of the Super Mario Bros. franchise, Nintendo introduced new gameplay elements and lore that nearly broke my six-year-old brain–Mario was riding a green dinosaur?! It was that kind of willingness to change things up and improve on an already legendary formula that allowed Nintendo’s most-iconic franchise to continue to shine.

Super Mario World (1990)

Sadly, with the New Super Mario Bros. series, the franchise grew stale. The games were polished and well made, but lacked that out-of-the-box creativity that had hallmarked its predecessors. The releases of Super Mario Maker 1 and 2 certainly restored some of that lost joy by granting players the opportunity for creativity; and the community absolutely delivered. A personal highlight was playing through recreations of Zelda II dungeons with the Master Sword item.

But I wanted more than the occasional super level from the online community. I wanted to feel that awe once more when professional developers at Nintendo blew my mind with the unexpected. I wanted to experience that joy from playing through Super Mario World for the first time. The truth, however, is that I’m approaching forty and getting that kind of wonder from a kid’s game just isn’t really possible anymore–at least I thought.

I’m here to say I was wrong. The aptly named Super Mario Bros. Wonder delivers on the promise of its name. By now, you’ve probably heard the origin story of the game, the way head developer Shigefumi Hino gave huge liberties to the development team to try anything. The team put everything on the table and the result was a game experience no one could have predicted–and it was a smashing success. From Elephant Mario to Piranha Plant “hookshots,” the game’s variability around level design and badge abilities keeps the game exciting and fresh from start to finish.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder, Image courtesy of Nintendo.

As a lifelong Mario fan, I would love for them to catch lightning in a bottle again, to make two, three, four more games with the level of creativity and passion found in Super Mario Bros. Wonder. But I fear the release of long-held creative ideas is a finite experience. This development process was unique, a clear departure from the past twenty years of development cycles at Nintendo–great for a single game, but perhaps not a sustainable model for the long haul.

As with most things in my life as I hit forty, I’m trying to enjoy the moment. I’ve lived long enough to know a good thing when I see it and to know that good things don’t last forever. Super Mario Bros. Wonder may have set a standard impossible to reach again (maybe), but it’s delivered a joy I haven’t felt when playing Mario since the early 90s. And I’m going to enjoy that for a long while.

Tell us what you think! Will Nintendo sustain the wonder packed into its newest Mario game? Share your reactions in the comments below or join in the conversation on Boss Rush Network’s Discord and Facebook.

One thought on “Boss Rush Banter: Super Mario Bros. Wonder Sets an Impossibly High Bar for the Franchise

  1. In spite of all the praise, I just haven’t had the urge to get Wonder yet. I think it’s the leftover taste in my mouth from the New SMB series. This really has me thinking though. As for the question of how they can possibly follow it up, my answer is simple and exactly what I expect: A similar revamp of the 3D half of the franchise.

Leave a Reply