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Super Mario Bros. Wonder feels like a modern Mario World

With its (ahem) wonderful personality and levels bursting with secrets, we couldn’t help coming away from our latest Super Mario Bros. Wonder hands-on reminded of many fans’ favourite instalment, Super Mario World.

The 1990 SNES launch game featured a tight design and magnificent character that 2D Mario games since, as great as they’ve been, haven’t quite been able to match. Potentially until now, that is.

With its striking animation and level-flipping Wonder effects, Mario’s first side-scroller in a decade demonstrates confidence similar to the SNES classic. Just like the plumber’s recent 3D adventures, each level seems to introduce a brand-new mechanic, like an enemy which can push ice blocks, or rolling metal balls which can be manipulated to smash through walls, and then move quickly on to the next idea.

It turns out this confidence extends beyond the 2D levels themselves. Like previous games, Wonder’s levels are linked together by a colourful overworld map. Except this time, players have the freedom to explore the map like its own stripped-down adventure.

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Rather than simply going from one level to the other on the map, batches of levels are unlocked at a time, and players can choose the order they want to approach them. It’s also clear, even at this early stage, that there are plenty of secrets waiting to be uncovered.

We can’t share much more detail, for obvious spoiler reasons, but Wonder’s levels appear to be full of alternative paths, hidden courses and hidden exits, just like Mario’s 90s 2D peak, which is probably no surprise since Super Mario World’s director, Mr. Takashi Tezuka, is overseeing the Switch game.

Tezuka is also responsible for many of Mario’s cutest elements, like Yoshi, the shy Boo ghosts, and eyeballs on everything. So, it’s no surprise that Wonder’s courses are also positively bursting with personality, and Mario and friends are animated with panache that feels a world away from the comparatively sterile New Super Mario Bros. games.

The levels we can write about are full of interactivity, like talking flowers which comment on your progress, or enemies that scream or grimace as you squish their mates. Then there’s the headline Wonder Flowers which, once you’ve found one, will warp and transform the course in surprising ways, almost always resulting in big laughs, such as a stampede of bulls or warp pipes coming to life.

In our latest demo, we were able to try some of Wonder’s new badges for the first time, which are powers and modifiers players can equip and swap out before each level. Pleasingly, badges appear to be more than just cheat codes (although modifiers that make the game slightly easier, such as the ability to survive one pitfall, do exist).

As seen in our new gameplay footage embedded above, badges give you legitimately useful moves that you’ll likely find yourself swapping out based on the design of each level. For example, there’s a higher, floatier jump useful for tight platforming courses, a dolphin kick that gives you a boost underwater, and even a grappling hook.

Wonder is definitely looking like an incredibly promising step forward for the Mario Bros. series. Can it live up to Mario’s heyday? There’s only little over a week left until you’ll get to find out for yourself.