During the era of the NES, gamers were introduced to a nice little plumber and his nice little plumber brother. This game became synonymous with quality and with the Nintendo Brand. The mechanics were simple enough to pick up quickly, but hard enough to master that it took certain people weeks, months, or even years to beat Super Mario Bros. their first time through. Through several sequels, we kept getting engaging gameplay and a great story about the rescue of a useless princess. But when the SNES came out, Nintendo wanted to do something a bit different, yet sticking to the same basic formula. Super Mario World stands out as one of the best platformers in history. While being “just a Mario game”, it managed to not only add new mechanics left and right, but to also increase the overall scope of the game’s story, level design, and art style.
Most people know about the overall gameplay of Mario sidescrollers: head right, jump on the heads of enemies to relieve them of their life or shell, and reach the Castle/Flagpole/FloatyBox. It’s a pretty simple formula, and this game is no different (except we get a weird finish line bar thing instead of a Castle/Flagpole/FloatyBox). The difference here, though, is the insane amount of secrets and mechanics shoved into this game. Over half stages have two exits, one regular and one leading through a different path on the world map, and most people won’t be able to easily locate some of these secret paths without some good eyes. You can ease the search by hopping on the back of Yoshi, your little dinosaur friend that’s now become a staple of the franchise (while only being in a handful of games). The Tanooki suit was replaced with a magic cape (featured prominently in the Smash franchise), which allowed a very interesting set of flight mechanics. All of these culminated in having each level feel larger than most levels in Mario.
Quite a few people, myself included, had forgotten a certain mechanic, however: getting damaged while having a powerup did not keep you as Super Mario, instead turning you back into your miniature form. This added a level of caution, whereupon you couldn’t just power through the last few enemies or take as many chances. While an odd modification to the formula, I was surprised how often it changed my speed through the game in a positive way.
One of the biggest new features was the inclusion of Block Palaces that drastically altered how certain levels were played. These palaces would litter the levels with blocks of the corresponding colors, allowing players access to secret exits, bonus items, or safer obstacles. Interestingly enough, these palaces were largely optional, and Pros could theoretically bypass almost any obstacle in the game without using these palaces (sans a few optional routes through the game). But all of these features come together in a really cool way: teaching newer gamers without alienating experienced gamers.
Super Tutorial World
When you start this game, it gives you the two options of starting: to the left, and to the right. This shows that this game is a bit more open-ended than most games. You also spawn on a level that doesn’t have an ending, showing you the ability to repeat stages as often as you wish. From there, you learn about the mechanics of jumping, pipes, powerups, the end bonus stages, etc.
Each world brings in new mechanics to master and enemies to fight. While this seems like a “no duh” kind of statement, you’ll notice the point when you reach the final world of the game, in Bowser’s Lair: to enter, you need to not only navigate a Ghost House, but an underwater Ghost House that contains elements of timing-based parkour and underground stages. You have tons of moving platforms throughout the Bowser Stages, and each level is a conglomeration of mechanics you’ve dealt with everywhere except the Chocolate Island stages (which is understandable since you just beat them). Finally, the Front Door throws almost every obstacle from the game at you in some shape or form, while still adding new mechanics in a manner that doesn’t insta-kill you for being unaware of the puzzle/enemy.
While I may have a bit of bias here, I truly think this game has the most interesting art style of every Mario game I’ve played. With the slightly more cartoon-like feel, topped with the contrasting colors and brilliant locales, I felt like I was really traversing this huge world. Each area had a different feel, from the gentle rolling plains of Yoshi’s Island to the spooky Forest levels to the Vanilla Dome caves. The enemies felt distinct and memorable, and there were so many personalities in the sprites (look at the anger of the Koopalings and Koopas, or the happiness of the Dolphins. Each creature felt lifelike, as opposed to the older games where they’re just obstacles in your way. Bowser looked absolutely terrifying, and even the ghost houses had a sinister charm to them. Overall, even if you’re not enamored by the style, it’s certainly the most distinct (outside of Yoshi’s Island, but we’re not counting that since it’s more like Super Yoshi World, amirite).
Mario has always had quite the orchestra, but this game brings it to a new level. So many classic tunes that get stuck in my head to this day. Each boss opening up with a crazy shift form this tense foreboding music to BEDEH BEDEH BEDEH! as you spawn into a trap laid by the Koopalings. Everything still felt very Saturday Morning Cartoon, though, and I never felt like I was about to face off against nothing more than a jokey villain. The sound effects were nicely done, and the entire feel of the game kept the same cheerful tone, except during the final fight. If anything, that shift made the final fight feel all the more like a finale.
All in all, this may be the best sidescrollers of all time. It’s got tons of secrets, tons of charm, and tons of replayability. I’d wholeheartedly use this to explain the qualities of teaching through playing instead of through showing a controller map or keeping the hood under the eyes of players, and if you haven’t played it yet, feel free to borrow this game from a friend or the internet!