Mario is a video game icon. From bothering an ape almost 40 years ago as the imaginatively named “Jumpman” to travelling around to stop what would have likely been a beautiful wedding, the portly plumber has been an integral part of our lives for a long time. It’s undoubtable that he has range also, appearing across almost every game genre from adventure to sports.
Being a child of the 80s, I grew up with Mario, beginning with the phenomenal Super Mario Bros. on dad’s NES. I didn’t appreciate truly how well it was designed when I was young, but I played the first three main games practically to death. But that’s not what I wanted to focus on here, I wanted to talk about when the series transcended beyond mere games for me –
Super Mario World.
This game, the first entry of the series on the SNES, was one of the most played titles of my childhood, second only to Super Metroid (and maybe Streets of Rage). It is also one of the few games from when I was a kid that continues to be one I will still happily play as an adult. Although I can’t really be sure that this isn’t at least a touch because of my own nostalgia for it.
Looking at this game with a critical eye, it does strike me that Super Mario World is tremendously similar to previous titles. At the time, we were a few years yet from the shake-up of the revolutionary Super Mario 64, and Nintendo clearly chose to perfect the various aspects of the previous main titles in the series for the SNES iteration – and most definitely succeeded.
Mario and Luigi are back in all their platforming goodness, running and jumping around a variety of different environments for arbitrary reasons and saving dinosaurs. Or rather, saving one particular dinosaur. That’s right, this was where the incredibly popular Yoshi first appeared, was widely loved, and went on to become an absentee from most of the main series since.
Returning from its immediate predecessor – Super Mario Bros. 3 – are the array of costumes, world maps, and clever secrets, and really a lot of this game feels like a sequel to what was begun there. However, the world maps are not separate entities here, instead being one long coherent world with separate themed areas with a lot of them given delicious food-based names.
Not only that, but the world evolves as you progress through the game. Bridges are built in front of you, rivers suddenly break through land, and the hidden Switch Palace levels fill in their corresponding box outlines throughout the world. These are all simple changes, but lead to a pervading feeling of enormity to the game, like you are on a huge adventure.
And who could forget THAT moment after the Sunken Ship, you know the bit.
Huge it is too, with 72 levels and an astounding 96 total exits from said levels. There are just so many secrets hidden in the world. Even the aforementioned Switch Palace levels are optional to success. However, if you are willing to root around the levels, there is almost always some little thing to find whether one of the exits, or secret rooms and other treats.
Furthermore, there are two hidden areas to find, Star World and Special World. The first is shaped like a star (shocker) with levels that all have secret exits and warp stars around the edge, which connect to places around the main world map. Finding your way through this world takes you to Special World, a linear set of levels with a world-changing bonus for finishing them all.
The amount of variety in the levels too is staggering. From sprawling playgrounds with multiple routes and means of traversal, to simple and short puzzles to solve, you’ll rarely see the same level layout twice. It’s just a shame that the boss fights don’t have the same variety at all, with the Koopalings having repeated mechanics with only slight changes to them.
Yoshi not only informs the story – if you want to call a couple of text boxes and a manual a story – but also adds a lot to the gameplay. The different coloured Yoshi all have different powers when holding a Koopa shell in their mouth – blue is the king, by the way, because flying – and also can simply consume a lot of the enemies around when they’re cute little round babies.
Finally in my (mostly) gushing recap is the visual design, and ho boy, this is the cherry on top of an already delectable cake. This game is absolutely gorgeous, with colourful backgrounds and wonderful animation throughout. The music too is some of the most iconic in the entire series, made even better when the music gains an upbeat drumming track when riding Yoshi.
It might not be the best Mario title, and it is definitely not without its flaws, but there are very few games that I could consider to be defining of my gaming life. Not only that but the legacy of this game is evident just from the “New” series alone, with all of their secrets, costumes and (in the later title of them) Yoshi. Even if the adorable creature is greatly diminished in every way.
Super Mario World was an absolute game-changer for the series without really changing a thing, instead perfecting the formula of the games before it. If you want the definitive 2D Mario title to spend Mar10 Day today with, this absolutely has to be it. Jump in to the sprawling Dinosaur Land, find yourself a Yoshi to unceremoniously drop into a pit to save yourself, and enjoy.