When one imagines the Super Mario games, “difficult” is probably not a term that naturally comes to mind. Mario, along with a majority of Nintendo games, has an identity built around being accessible and casual affairs that nearly anyone can jump into and enjoy with little effort. Goomba stomping is an international pastime for people of all ages, after all.
That is not to say that the Super Mario games aren’t capable of being more. The beauty of the Mario games is that, despite being simple and easy to pick up, they usually offer a level of depth that those with dedication and the will to learn can master the games to a degree far beyond the confines of a casual player (i.e. me). Super Mario 64 and Odyssey, with all their techniques and player tricks, are a testament to this design philosophy. This way, Mario appeals to the best of both worlds.
Super Mario Wonder is the next mainline 2D platformer (technically 2.5D because of 3D models in a 2D space) in Mario’s long list of adventures, actually being the first platformer since 2012’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. It features a new, charming cartoony aesthetic that sets it distinctly apart from Mario’s other traditional 2D escapades, as well as a litany of power-ups and features (like warp pipes coming alive) that hammer home the fact that Wonder is not a rehash of the “New” prefix Mario games. I mean, Mario can turn into an elephant for crying out loud. It’s living up to its title well.
But Wonder is also allegedly setting itself apart in another distinct way: It’s actually difficult.
These claims come from a well-known Nintendo insider who states that Wonder is “decimating testers and localizers” who are working on the game. The insider also claims that Wonder harkens back to the level of difficulty seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 and is actually dubbed as the second coming of SMB3 internally at Nintendo.
Super Mario Bros. 3, released in 1988 (1989 in the west), is a classic entry in Mario’s adventures that has cultivated a reputation among fans for being rather difficult due to its introduction of new mechanics, like P-Speed, which is Mario’s running speed that ramps up the longer the player continues constant movement, and the need for more precise platforming and timing compared to its contemporaries and predecessors, especially in the latter levels of SMB3. This game is also responsible for giving Mario a new power-up, his signature Tanuki suit, another parallel it shares with Wonder.
These parallels seem promising. Although many appreciate the Mario games for their ability to be wholly accessible to gamers of any and every creed, there are a vocal few who want the games to boast more of a challenge like the older 2D entries in the franchise, to push players and put their platforming skills to the test, especially with how the platforming audience has flourished since Mario’s more humble days. The original Super Mario Bros. 2 actually was not released as SMB2 in the west because Nintendo thought the western market wasn’t ready for it. Wonder proving to be a challenge for players shows that it can appeal to both casual and more hardcore audiences.
However, an issue with these claims is that they come from the “insider” Zippo. Zippo has garnered a reputation for making unsubstantiated, uncorroborated, and blatantly off/wrong takes over the course of their time online, with many dismissing news associated with their username. Zippo also has a history of being combative and uncooperative when asked about sources and proof, which works against their credibility. As a result, the claims they make about Wonder should be taken with a grain of salt, given their history.
Still, there are some kernels of truth to be found in Zippo’s recent Wonder post, detailing the platforming similarities between SMB3 and Wonder. They point out how different the platforming appears when compared against its predecessors. When comparing gameplay footage of NSMB for the Wii U to what we have so far for Wonder, Zippo isn’t entirely wrong.
NSMB is floaty, with many taking to the internet to voice their gripes with NSMB’s physics compared to Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. Wonder seems faster, with Mario and Co.’s movements appearing more snappy and fluid in the air. Wonder also gives players a Hat-Parachute/Glider ability that lets Mario control his air movement to a finer degree.
But aside from these comments, the rest of Zippo’s statements cannot be taken at face value.
Regardless of people’s opinion on Zippo, however, a more difficult 2D Mario game is something people have been asking for. Perhaps not to the levels of SMB2 (or the Lost Levels as it is named in the west), where many players feel like the game is outright trolling them (those poison mushrooms and backwards warp pipes were no joke!), but a more challenging Mario game that takes full advantage of its new mechanics and features would be the answer those hungry gamers have been seeking.
Mario Maker, where players all over the world could design the most ludicrous and out-of-this-world levels, showed that there is a vibrant audience of Mario players actively seeking more from Mario. This is a continuation of “Kaizo”-culture, a subculture within the Japanese ROM hacking scene where ROM editors would mess around with games and levels to come up with their own challenging levels, giving rise to the aforementioned levels in Mario Maker and more devious games like Cat Mario and Trap Adventure.
The only issue with Mario Maker was that the maps were amateur, single-level excursions, not whole worlds tailor-made by developers who could successively amp up difficulty through progression. Still, a Mario game that only appeals to these hardcore players will make for a poor experience for those who don’t subscribe to that playstyle. The Mario games’ greatest strength is that they are easy to play but difficult to truly master.
Wonder has a great balancing act on its hands. Let’s hope it delivers when it launches on October 20, 2023.