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Nelson Schneider's Video Game Reviews (477)

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Pikmin 4 4/5
No Man's Sky 4/5
Dragon Quest Monsters: ... 4/5
Assassin's Creed IV: Bl... 2.5/5
Tiny Tina's Wonderlands 3.5/5
Ratchet & Clank: Rift A... 4.5/5
Super Mario Bros. Wonder 4.5/5
The Alliance Alive 2/5
Catmaze 4.5/5
Turnip Boy Commits Tax ... 4.5/5
Seasons After Fall 3/5
Rayon Riddles - Rise of... 0.5/5
World to the West 4/5
MechWarrior 5: Mercenar... 4/5
Streets of Kamurocho 2.5/5
Aeon of Sands - The Tra... 2.5/5
Greak: Memories of Azur 3.5/5
Yaga 2.5/5
Riverbond 3/5
Bug Fables: The Everlas... 4.5/5
Front Mission 1st Remake 1.5/5
Middle-earth: Shadow of... 3.5/5
Bladed Fury 3.5/5
Ruzar - The Life Stone 3.5/5
Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin 3.5/5

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Super Mario Bros. Wonder   Nintendo Switch 

Finally, a True Successor    4.5/5 stars

“Super Mario Bros. Wonder” (“SMBW”) is the first new traditional ‘Mario’ 2D Platformer since the release of the “New Super Luigi U” stand-alone expansion for “New Super Mario Bros. U,” a decade ago. As a long-time fan of 2D ‘Mario’ games, and with a preference for them over their 3D counterparts, I was delighted when Nintendo revived 2D ‘Mario’ platforming with “New Super Mario Bros.” on the DS… but not so delighted by the actual game. It was “New Super Mario Bros. Wii,” with its cleavage to tradition and addition of shared-screen local coop that gave me hope that Nintendo could continue 2D ‘Mario’ alongside 3D ‘Mario,’ with neither flavor suffering.

Yet Nintendo ultimately dashed my hopes when the next two 2D ‘Mario’ projects they produced were overwhelmingly derivative and samey, with some dubious mechanics thrown in to boot. Then, to add insult to injury, with the release of the Switch after the mayfly-tier lifespan of the WiiU, instead of a new ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ title, we got a port of the previous uninspired efforts.

Fortunately, in the twilight of the Switch’s life, Nintendo has finally seen fit to grace us with an all-new, non-ported, non-remade, non-remastered 2D ‘Mario’ platformer. And somehow, against all odds, Nintendo has finally produced a truly worthy sequel to “Super Mario Bros. 3” and “Super Mario World” – the landmark releases in the series.

Presentation
At first glance, “SMBW” looks a lot like the WiiU ‘New Super U’ titles, being a 2.5D sidescrolling experience with numerous recurring characters, enemies, and environmental objects. However, upon closer inspection, there is a LOT of TLC and attention to detail crammed into the game’s visuals compared to its copypasta predecessors. Mario’s (and his various companions) animations are all much more detailed than they’ve ever been in one of these modern 2.5D releases. Little things like the ability for Mario to look upward or squash himself down under his cap while crouching heavily invoke the same actions from the most beloved games in the series on the NES and SNES. Mario even features his arms-spread running animation… though it seems a bit out of place with no flying power-up to take advantage of it. Instead of scrimping on these little visual details or only including callbacks to the classics, Mario has a number of characterful new animations for entering sideways pipes, etc.

Combined with Mario’s top-tier visual characterization and recurring visual motifs, “SMBW” features a wild mix of enemies and environments, both new and old. This type of novelty was really what made those previously-mentioned landmarks of the series stand-out sequels with something new to offer, and “SMBW” is no slouch when it comes to dredging up forgotten concepts from the past while simultaneously imaging all-new ones.

Audiowise, “SMBW” features a jazzy soundtrack with a mix of new tunes and returning favorites. None of the tunes that accompany normal gameplay stages affect enemy behavior – as they annoyingly did with the dancing enemies and the ultimately-grating ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ theme – however, there are a handful of stages that seem to draw inspiration from “Rayman Legends,” featuring some lightweight beat-based mechanics for jump timing. Outside of the generally excellent soundtrack, there’s not a whole lot of voiceacting. Charles Martinet has retired, with newcomer, Kevin Afghani, taking over the role of the titular plumbers, offering a moderately-more-sedate and slightly-less-annoying take on what a wound-up, stupidly-happy Italian sounds like. However, none of the main characters have particularly long, drawn out-dialogs, instead delivering their lines via text-and-soundbite, so it’s really hard to say if the new game cast can hold a candle to the all-star movie cast. Unfortunately, while the actual cast of characters doesn’t have a lot to say, there are a large number of talking flowers scattered throughout the game that do… and they are HORRIBLE, sounding like rejects from The Wiggles. Thankfully, Nintendo included the option to turn off the flowers’ speech in the options, with toggles for text-only (which is what I went with) or completely stifling them.

Technically, “SMBW” is as immaculate as one would expect a first-party Nintendo title to be. It just works. It’s got plenty of QoL features, drop-in/drop-out cooperative multi-player, and absolutely NO mechanics to attempt to force players to sign-up for a Nintendo Network subscription.

Story
Unlike the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ series, which rehashed the plot of the very first ‘Mario’ game over and over and over with the same basic themes, worlds, and characterizations, “SMBW” takes the same sort of bold steps as “Super Mario Bros. 3”and “Super Mario World” by taking the narrative to an entirely new kingdom. Next to the Mushroom Kingdom lies the Flower Kingdom, which none of the ‘Mario’ gang have ever visited, apparently, because they’ve been too busy re-enacting the same princess kidnapping trauma over and over and over.

Mario, Luigi, their respective princesses, two generic Toad retainers (because why not?) Toadette, four colored (that’s racist) Yoshis, and that freak in the purple fursuit, Nabbit, all arrive on the Mushroom Kingdom’s first official diplomatic visit to their neighbor, when Bowser shows up with the brilliant plan of stealing the Flower Kingdom’s most renowned resource: Wonder Blossoms. Swooping in on his Koopa Klown Kar, Bowser snatches up the biggest, juiciest Wonder Blossom he can, right out of the hands of the kingdom’s Prince Florien (who appears to me an immature Wiggler instead of a flower person… for some reason)… and gets way more than he bargained for, as the flower’s Wonder Power fuses him physically with the Flower Palace.

Now a massive, floating abomination – an amalgam of flesh, stone, and mechanical parts – Bowser flies to the center of the Flower Kingdom where he begins charging up what he declares to be the greatest Wonder of them all, before throwing up a multi-layered protective barrier to prevent Mario from messing everything up, as usual. Thus Mario and his friends, in the company of Prince Florien, must travel the length, breadth, and depth of the Flower Kingdom in order to retrieve enough Wonder Seeds and Royal Seeds of their own to counter Bowser’s overwhelming new powers and prevent him from doing… whatever he thinks is Wonderous (which is *spoiler alert* a rock concert).

In general, “SMBW” does a great job of building its world and developing its characters without a lot of drawn-out dialogs and cutscenes. However, there are some dialogs and cutscenes, with world capstones highly reminiscent of those from “Super Mario World,” along with plenty of comments from random Florens (the Flower Kingdom’s version of Toads), the afore-mentioned talking flowers, and Prince Florien himself. Furthermore, “SMBW” is not afraid to be weird and random in all the right ways, lending itself a great sense of levity and good humor. Indeed, it almost seems like the Wonder Blossoms are a commentary on mind-altering hallucinogenic herbs, counterpointing Bowser’s irresponsible overindulgence with Mario’s tempered (and sometimes grudging) usage.

I honestly have no idea how long this game is, since, even with the mandatory updates I’ve gotten off of game cards over the years, my offline Switch refuses to tell me how many hours I log in any given game. It’s definitely less than 20 hours though, which sadly feels a bit short. I was definitely left wanting more by the end of “SMBW,” even though the game includes roughly 50% more stages than its spiritual predecessor, “Super Mario World.”

Gameplay
“SMBW” is a fairly typical 2D Platformer, with a sidescrolling camera, left-to-right progression, power-ups, and a flagpole at the end of each stage. That is to say, it’s a by-the-books ‘Mario’ game. However, it combines essentially ALL of the improvements the series has built-up over the decades along with a few novel innovations of its own, while simultaneously dumping obsolete baggage like score and the stage timer.

To start, “SMBW” brings back all of the little things whose absences bothered me in the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ series. Mario can, once again, chuck carried objects (shells, POW blocks, etc.) straight upwards, or gently set them down on the ground in front of him. The classic alternative swimming movements while holding such objects is also back, along with climbable vines, butt stomps, a horizontal midair twist, and spin-jumping. Honestly, “SMBW” is the closest Nintendo has managed to come to cramming all of the 2D ‘Mario’ trappings into a single game, and doing so successfully (though not quite as impressively as the Indie fangame, “Super Mario Bros. X”).

Mario and co. have a variety of new power-ups to use, with only the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman returning from previous games. New power-ups include the Elephant Apple, which makes Mario only slightly fatter than usual, turning him into an elephant whose trunk that can be used for melee attacks or to carry a few spurts of water; there’s the Bubble Flower that allows Mario to shoot a handful of enemy-capturing bubbles that can also be used as one-off jump boosters; and there’s the Drill Cap, which allows Mario to burrow into soft floors and ceilings. I was, however, slightly disappointed by the lack of a flying power-up, like the Raccoon Leaf or Cape Feather, and by the fact that the Yoshis only exist as playable characters instead of power-ups.

The roster of characters includes the whole crew from “Super Mario Bros. 2,” plus an extra Toad, Toadette, and Princess Daisy for… reasons… yet none of these characters include their distinctive physics or signature abilities, which is a disappointing oversight. All of the core characters just play like Mario, with only the Yoshis and Nabbit offering distinct features. The dinosaurs and fursuit freak act like an Easy Mode for less experienced players, as the Yoshis all have their distinctive flutter-jump and ability to gobble enemies, while Nabbit has his signature ability to be functionally invincible, while none of them can benefit from power-ups.

To make up for the lack of difference between the main characters, “SMBW” features an all-new Badge system, via which Prince Florien (who hides under the player character’s hat) can wear one of a wide variety of badges that either modify the character’s physics in some way, provide a dubiously-useful ‘boost’ ability to the character (like attracting nearby coins or always starting as Super instead of Small when entering a level without a power-up), or act like a double-edged sword (such as becoming invisible… to enemies AND the person holding the controller). While I appreciate the Badge system for its novelty and look forward to seeing it used in future ‘Mario’ titles, I generally only found about three of the Badges to be useful in anyway (the one that adds a gliding ability, the one that adds an effective double-jump, and the one that reveals nearby secrets), with the remainder either being too weak to consider, silly and annoying, or flat-out unusable outside of the mandatory Badge Challenge stages. I would have gotten more use out of more Badges if it was possible to wear more than one of them at a time, but alas, it is not.

Outside of its returning and novel player mechanics, “SMBW” is laid-out like a typical 2D ‘Mario’ title, with a top-down world map dotted with stages connected by paths. However, unlike the rote stages we’ve grown used to with the ‘New Super’ series, Mario and co. will travel to a wide variety of unique, quirky, and charming locations… along with a desert… because there’s always a desert. Like “Super Mario World,” several stages in each World contain hidden exits that lead to alternate routes, hidden stages, and even a hidden Special World. (Unfortunately, the Special World is the last thing the player will encounter in the game, and the aggravating design of many of the Special Stages left a bad taste in my mouth after thoroughly enjoying the main game.)

The final, and perhaps most important, thing of note about “SMBW’s” gameplay is the titular Wonders. In nearly every stage in every World, there exists a Wonder Blossom. Upon collecting it… who knows what will happen? The Wonder mechanics are all unique to a given stage, but while progressing through the game they give a much-appreciated sense of… well… Wonder! Anything can happen in Wonder mode, and seeing just what kind of weird, random, meta, insane, drug-induced thing the developers came up with for each stage is an absolute delight. Will Metal Mario make a cameo appearance? Will Mario turn into Longcat? Will Mario turn into cake? Yes… and then some!

Overall
“Super Mario Bros. Wonder” is, essentially, the first-party ‘Mario’ game I’ve been waiting for since 1992: A TRUE sequel to “Super Mario Bros. 3” and “Super Mario World” that maintains feature parity with its predecessors while adding plenty of great new stuff of its own. It’s heartening to see Nintendo putting in the effort in the twilight of the Switch era, as this kind of solid late release will help to bolster the platform’s legacy… But it’s still not quite as good as “Super Mario Bros. X.”

Presentation: 4.5/5
Story: 4/5
Gameplay: 4.5/5
Overall (not an average): 4.5/5

 

 


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