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I got to attend Nintendo Live in Seattle this past weekend, and my hands-on time with Super Mario Bros. Wonder (coming out on October 20 for Switch) definitely stood out as the highlight.
This is the first new 2D Mario platformer (not counting the more creation-based Mario Maker 2) since New Super Mario Bros. U came out for the Wii U back in 2012. Those “New” games were fun sidescrollers, but they lacked heart and spirit. They were mechanically solid, but artistically bland.
Wonder does wonders to make 2D Mario feel exciting again.
Newer than new
It’s the improved animation that stands out the most. Everything in the New games always looked a bit flat. Here, Mario and company emote and bounce around the world with a lot more flair. Just watching a character go into a pipe is a lot of fun. At one point, Mario went one and had his hat fall off. His hand then appeared from the pipe to grab and pull the cap back in.
Gameplay-wise, things do feel a lot like they did in the New series. That’s fine, as that’s something that those games did well. You still have access to wall jumps and that little spin move in the air that can give you a little more distance.
But you also have a bunch of other moves that you can use via badges. You can only equip one of these per level, and they’ll augment the game in different ways. One of them replaced that aforementioned spin move with a large, parachute like cap that lets you glide in the air. Another makes you magnetic for coins. At one point, I went to a level that equipped a new badge, one that made the first wall jump vertical. After completing that level, I unlocked that badge for use for the rest of the game.
You’ll also get to enjoy some new powerups. One turns you into an elephant, giving you the ability to absorb and shoot water with your trunk and, you know, just be a big beefy boy or girl.
Each level also contains a Wonder Flower. These are perhaps the game’s most interesting mechanic, as each one does something different. One made the world wavy and turned certain objects to life, including a pipe that began acting more like a snake. Another brought the ceiling crashing down, forcing a desperate escape through breakable blocks in the floor.
A lot of the fun in Wonder comes from seeing what each Wonder Flower will do.
Like with New Super Mario Bros. Wii and New Super Mario Bros. U, Wonder supports co-op for up to four players. But things work a bit differently here. You can’t collide with or grab other players anymore. This means you can’t pick up friends and throw them into pits anymore. Personally, I welcome this change, as I got tired of those shenanigans pretty quickly.
Compared to past games, you have a lot more characters to choose from. You have Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yellow Toad, Blue Toad, Daisy (let’s freaking go), Nabbit and four different colors of Yoshi. Most of the characters play the same, but Nabbit and the Yoshis can’t transform from the powerups. So, sorry, but no elephant-style Yoshis. However, those characters don’t take any damage, so they’re kind of like playing the game on easy mode.
The Yoshis also have some special mechanics, including the familiar flutter jump and tongue-grabbing abilities. Other characters can also ride on a player controlling a Yoshi. This will also make the rider invulnerable to damage.
I got to play the Wonder demo twice, once as Daisy and once as a Yoshi. I had a great time with both experiences. I imagine that when I play through the game alone, I’ll want to play as Daisy or one of the other “normal” characters. But when playing with friends, it’ll be useful to have at least one Yoshi around.
Either way, I was having a blast. I enjoyed the New Super Mario Bros. games, but I could muster up much enthusiasm for them. But Super Mario Bros. Wonder has me pumped for its October 20 release date.
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