With just about every one of Nintendo’s console releases, there has been an era-defining Mario title to accompany it. The original NES was, in many ways, defined by Super Mario Bros. a game that significantly altered the fate of the industry. The N64, as flawed as it was in comparison to Sony’s disc-based PlayStation, was accompanied by Super Mario 64, a game that revolutionized the way that platformers were made. The company continued to push the genre forward for years with Super Mario Sunshine on the Gamecube and hit its peak with Super Mario Galaxy on the Wii, which is arguably the greatest 3D platformer ever made. Many critics and older gamers look back upon Super Mario World just as fondly as these landmark titles. But for somebody coming to the game with a new perspective free of the illusory gaze of nostalgia, Super Mario World is a perfectly respectable platformer that, while elegant, falls short of its legendary reputation.
Like all Mario games, World is bright and joyful. The atmosphere the game creates through its visual flair, jaunty score, and dopey sound effects is infectious, particularly in the game’s opening levels where players are introduced to the all-powerful Yoshi, upon whom Mario can ride and destroy any and all who are unlucky enough to stand in the duo’s destructive path. Though the game is well over two decades old, its visual style has aged gracefully, particularly when played in HD through the SNES classic (my preferred method of play).
Under Super Mario World‘s pleasurable hood, however, lies a deceptively difficult game that, at times, walks the line between punishing and unforgiving. Many of the game’s varied enemy types take more than a simple bonk to the head to take down, which can lead to Mario (or Luigi) being put in some unwinnable situations when the going gets rough. In addition, I found the game’s physics to not hold up as well as I’d have liked them to, particularly when bonking off the head of one of the football enemies or attempting to take flight using Mario’s trademark cape only to be stopped in the middle of the runway by a respawning enemy I had taken down mere seconds before. These issues are jarring at first, but by the time Mario reaches the last world or two, with levels full of branching paths, multiple deadly enemy types, and difficult platforming, the game can seem more based on trial and error than skill. While this may be a groan-inducing opinion from Mario experts who have memorized every secret, platform and enemy placement, for those without previous experience, it’s a genuine and important criticism that I often don’t have with other Mario titles.
Super Mario World is a game filled with secrets, alternate paths and, in some cases, entirely missable worlds. And while this type of structure has worked well in more recent Mario titles like the New Super Mario Bros. series, there are times in Super Mario World where the player will be forced to find the exits to trick rooms, or find themselves stuck in a looping sequence of levels with no clear way out. This is great for hardcore Mario fanatics, but for more casual gamers, this can become more of a chore than a satisfying mechanic. Secret areas are a staple of Mario titles for a good reason; they incite exploration and experimentation adding some welcome replayability to otherwise relatively brief experiences. But when they become a required wright of passage, they begin to outstay their welcome.
As a whole, I look back on my time with Super Mario World fondly, but with reservation. While there’s no denying the charm of this SNES launch title, I also never really felt the same sense of satisfaction that I have gotten from other 2D playformers starring the world’s most famous plumber. Super Mario World is a legendary game lauded by its fanbase, and it deserves credit for the level of mastery gamers can achieve through repetition and effort, but there are much simpler, more satisfying launching points for beginners that retain the charm found in Mario World without the constant points of frustration.