Mario’s reach is expansive. He’s a Lego minifig, a clothing brand, a cereal, a skit on Saturday Night Live. Fans obsess over who’s voicing him, and the size of the character’s butt. He’s a goofy little guy with a wholesome attitude he maintains through the power of only ever yelling things like “Mama mia” and “Wahoo!” For Nintendo’s purposes, Mario is the company’s strongest contender to test the bounds of what it can accomplish. As Nintendo’s most iconic character, in terms of sheer breadth of games and household recognition, he’s essentially a mascot. “There’s a likability, there’s a cuteness, there’s a sense of adventure,” says Bowser. Moreover, he adds, “one of the most important things about Mario is his approachability.”
Approachability was on Nintendo’s mind throughout the development of Super Mario Bros. Wonder. It’s got a familiar setup. Mario, Peach, and pals are visiting a neighboring nation, the Flower Kingdom, when Bowser (the video game character, not the Nintendo president) shows up and wreaks havoc on their floral world. In order to defeat Boswer, players collect the eponymous Wonder seeds.
Wonder, then, is an attempt to set Mario up for the future. The Mario movie and Super Nintendo World are, by design, bringing new people into the fold, and the company wanted the next game in the franchise to be the kind anyone could play, even if they’ve never held a joycon before. “That was particularly important with Super Mario Bros. Wonder, because there’s a host of new people that are just experiencing Mario for the first time, and now they want to experience it in a video game.” It’s a game for new and older fans, many of whom now play with their own kids.
Wonder includes 12 characters to pick from, including five—four Yoshis and Nabbit—that won’t take damage, and make it easier for inexperienced players to get through some of the game’s more difficult levels. Its co-op mode, which includes both local and online play, also means players can work together to finish the game.
Super Mario Bros. Wonder is the series’ first side-scrolling platform in a decade, giving it a high expectation bar to clear. Players are savvier than ever about how Nintendo makes a Mario game (and have even had the chance to create levels themselves, thanks to the Mario Maker series). It’s hard to surprise them. The game’s Wonder elements are worthy of the title, however, activating something a little strange and different every time. Wonder Flowers—a sort of hyperactive powerup—add a welcome sense of surprise to familiar tasks, whether Mario is transformed into a ball of goo, fighting against a shifting level itself, or answering trivia questions. It manages to feel fresh despite the series’ long history.