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September 11, 2015

Super Mario World

The Mario brothers go on vacation with Princess Peach. Princess Peach gets kidnapped. The brothers find a new ally who turns out to be extremely useful. The culprit? Bowser. Need I go on and cross more items on the list of obvious Mario tropes?

Seriously though, what is it with me and the Mario series? I adore this franchise, I absolutely love it, and yet I just can’t stop bashing it. Whether it’s my mega-review of Super Paper Mario, or the Mario Party games (and even then, I actually liked the DS one), I just can’t seem to be able to give it a break. Is that normal? I have no friggin’ idea. But all things considered, most of my problems with Mario games… have ironically nothing to do with Mario! My annoyance with the series is less the series itself and the fact that, by a streak of bad luck, it always seems to showcase gameplay and diegetic elements that I dislike, things that could be found anywhere else!

So, in an attempt to make peace with the Mario series, I decided to, once again, review a platforming Mario game. But then you’ll say, “But Nicolas! You reviewed New Super Mario Bros., didn’t you? Why not the Wii sequel?” Uh… maybe later. For the moment, I’m in the mood for some retro gaming. So, Super Mario World.

Nth appearance of Mario, Luigi and Peach, first appearance of Yoshi in the Mario platformer series, back when he was less like an anthropomorphic dragon and more like… a dinosaur-like horse, or a horselike dinosaur, or… You know, a beast the plumber can ride. Hm, now that I think of it, a horse-dinosaur wouldn’t feel out of place in a world where a turtle-dragon tries to take over the world every few weeks… Not to mention the warthog-armadillo that appeared much later.

Ain't that right, Midbus?

So, after they get news that Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, Mario and Luigi start looking for her all over Dinosaur Island. You wanna bet they aren’t gonna build a scrapbook out of this vacation? Yeah, the ruler of the Mushroom Kingdom didn’t exactly get to see much of it. As for the Bros., they’ll just see the worse of the place.

I guess we'll never find out which came first, the Yoshi or the egg.
Though encountering this odd green dino sure wasn’t a part of their plan. And it speaks, too! Well, maybe those informative blocks are universal translators, it’s just a shame they’re never used anywhere else to understand Yoshi-speak. And yet some Yoshis speak, and others don’t? Or wait, the RPG Yoshis speak, the platformer ones don’t? Is it kinda like in the Pokémon anime, where years and years of training can lead to an animal speaking? Or is the Yoshi-speak translated to us on-screen except it’s not there for every Yoshi? …Nicolas is confused! Nicolas hits himself in confusion!

Oh my God! New Super Mario
Bros. 2 is feeling ashamed now!
Mario and Luigi start using this unknown ally in the first world, Yoshi’s Island. This is where the threat level is at its lowest, so that's the best place to test our new mount. They soon reach a castle- oh, pardon me. They soon reach some kind of giant switch that brings them to a place loaded with coins, after which they can stomp a giant yellow switch that makes yellow blocks appear in a lot of places.

There can't never be too many blocks.
Oh, I forgot to mention that; See, in this game, there are some colored blocks bearing an exclamation mark. Those blocks are invisible at first, merely outlines in the world… that is, until either brother finds the giant switch of the corresponding color on Yoshi’s Island, plays through the “bonus level” in it, and stomps the switch at the end. There’s yellow, red, green and blue blocks that can appear all over Dinosaur Island. Sometimes it’s just a little bonus, a new block to gain a power-up. Other times, these blocks form platforms across dangerous gaps. It’s like an Easy/Hard switch. To make this game Hard, don’t press any of these switches.

After visiting Yoshi’s modest Island, the plumbers see a little fortress in the horizon. This one is inhabited by none other than Iggy Koopa. So yeah, the brothers storm the fortress and stomp the underling till it falls in the lava. There you go, one world freed. Only 6 left!

Now if I could find the keys to my house...
The plumber brothers enter Donut Plains and encounter a peculiar sight; flying, shell-less Koopas! And some of them have special capes! This world introduces the player to the Cape Feather, one of the most broken items in the entire Mario franchise. If you know how to use it, you can skip large portions of a level. Hell, it can even be used to survive being hit once. Have fun with that one, you will need it. Donut Plains also introduces a lot of new mechanics in the Mario series; for starters, secret levels. Multiple levels have secret exits along with the regular ones. In some cases, there’s a second goal hidden in the level; in others, there’s a key that Mario or Luigi must collect and bring to a keyhole.

And yes, if you know this game, you may have heard that there is a total of 96 exits in this game, and finding them all is akin to getting 100% completion. Which is pretty cool.

Donut Plains also introduce the new types of levels: Ghost Houses. These locations are filled with Boos, and use a lot of platforming trickery, whether it’s doors leading to bad rooms, hidden exits, Boos disguised as blocks… Gotta call Boosbusters! Where is the Poltergust when we need it?

Don't trust the Boos. Don't trust that door.
Don't trust the background. Don't trust the floor.
And, most of all, don't trust your own paranoia.

Whatever. The Bros. reach Morton Koopa Jr.’s fortress and defeat him, and then move into the Vanilla Dome. This third world splits at the first level. The brothers can follow the normal path and beat Lemmy Koopa in the third fortress, or they can find their way through secret levels and directly reach the fourth world, the Twin Bridges. Ludwig Von Koopa awaits in the fortress at the end of that world. After which, our heroes enter World 5, the Forest of Illusion.

This is where things get complicated; to find their way through Forest of Illusion (or, at the very least, find all the levels), our protagonists need to look for all the exits. There’s few levels, but finding the right exits to reach the fortress is the true problem here. Wait a minute: You can get lost in a forest? In a video game? What are the odds?

Thankfully, the fortress indicates the way out. And after Roy Koopa is defeated, the good guys reach Chocolate Island.

…Not quite. It’s more straightforward than the Forest of Illusion but it can still get confusing if you find the wrong exits. Still, the fortress is found, Wendy O. Koopa is defeated, and we get to some odd sunken ship. This level is basically an underwater Ghost House. Be careful not to touch the Boos. Completing this level causes a giant rocky Bowser head to come out of the sea. This is it, the seventh world: Valley of Bowser!

…Eh. It doesn’t beat the Hellish landscape of the eighth world in Super Mario Bros. 3.

There's three more screens of Hell after that one.
And an entire army force of Koopas.

Now THAT looked badass. Sorry Bowser, your current hideout isn’t anywhere as great as that one.

Villains always ruin their own plans...
Valley of Bowser is not the most visually interesting world here, but it’s got lava, and it’s just the right difficulty for a final world, so there’s that. Bowser’s Castle contains a rather particular gimmick, this time around; there are many doors, but only a few will lead to the final fight. And oh my, what a final fight! Bowser knows that Mario can jump on his head or burn him with fire, so he’s protecting himself in the Koopa Clown Car, a small traveling device that would appear many times afterwards (including a Jr. Koopa version in Smash 4!). It floats just a little higgher than Mario can reach and protects from fire! It’s practically foolproof… well, until Bowser starts tossing out Mecha-Koopas, which Mario can throw back at him. Because of course, every one of Bowser’s so-called perfect plans involve him screwing it all up by giving to Mario exactly what he needs. Fastballing enough Mecha-Koopas in the Koopa King’s face allows Mario to save Peach, and they take their sweet time returning to Dinosaur Island with a bunch of Baby Yoshis.

Lakitu, you have your cloud! You are NOT riding my
ultra-rare, super-powerful Blue Yoshi!
Oh, but wait! The game isn’t over! Like I said, there are 96 exits to find! But more importantly, there are two bonus worlds. First is the Star World. There are five portals leading to the Star World, one per world, in five of the seven worlds. These levels feature the colored Yoshis. See, green isn’t enough. Sure, you get any power, but green Yoshi is the basic Yoshi. In the Star World’s levels, you can try any of the other three types of Yoshis: Red (who’ll spit fire), yellow (who’ll cause mini-earthquakes), and blue (who can fly!). You can also encounter baby Yoshis who evolve into normal Yoshis after they eat five baddies. So, basically, Yoshis can evolve into their adult form at insane speed, yolu just gotta feed them? Talk about never living any childhood, or teenmage years for that matter...

Oh yeah, um... in a couple years, Star World will be renamed Star Road and get pierced through by a giant sentient sword who contains an alternate dimension populated by weapon-people. But don’t worry, that won’t lead to any kind of interesting adventure.

Last but not least, when you find the special exit in the final Star World level, you find a way towards the Special Zone, a secret world consisting of 8 levels much, much harder than any of the others. If you want to test your skills, that’s a great place. Sure, its difficulty pales in comparison to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but the Special Zone is cool in its own right.

Koopas start wearing masks, like
they're afraid of being recognized.
Oh, and by the way, when you beat the final level of the Special Zone? The game changes. A lot. Autumn takes over, the world map changes a bit, and there are many little differences in the levels; among others, the Koopas start wearing Mario masks… okay… jumping plants turn in to pumpkins, Bullet Bills turn into Pidgits… the world gets a lot weirder, and that’s just a euphemism.

Fall... covered everything.
Mario did the "changing of seasons" mechanic first!

Oh, but wait! Don’t you want to hear about the other new items before I conclude this review? First, there’s Yoshi’s Wings, which will equip themselves to the Yoshi you ride, and will bring the dino and his rider to a Coin Heaven. Then, there’s the P-Balloon. Odd item, that. Basically, when a plumber picks that one up, he inflates into a balloon. He doesn’t fly, he really just floats, and he pops as soon as he gets hit. Obviously, only Mario and Luigi can use it. NO, PRINCESS PEACH CANNOT USE IT. Thank God. Another new item is the 3-Up Moon, a rare item that awards three extra lives to whoever finds it. It’s usually in high places. Last but not least is the berries; Yoshi can eat them. There are three types of berries, including one that appears in only one level.

Ha! Think you own the fire?
Tough news, plumber.
We, Reznor, are gonna fry you up!
This game also introduced many new enemies who have since become a staple of the Mario series, as well as two new bosses. See, there’s not just the Koopalings in here; at the end of each Fortress that isn’t the final level in a world, Mario or Luigi has to battle Reznor, a quartet of rhinoceros on spinning platforms. Wait a second, a Nine Inch Nails reference in a Mario game? Is it the end of the world? The other boss is hidden; it’s a Big Boo of a blue color. You fight it at the end of a Ghost House on the Donut Plains. Toss three blue blocks in its face, and you win!

I think that covers everything there is to say about this game… Time for final thoughts. It’s great! There’s no denying that no matter how often the Mario franchise veers off into other gaming genres, it’s always gonna return to its platforming roots. It doesn’t even matter if it’s in 2D or in 3D. It’s always great.

All the new features in this one are a lot of fun. The Cape is difficult to master, but when you do, you can fly above large portions of a level. Yoshi is still insanely popular, though his superpowered variants aren’t seen quite as frequently these days. But everybody agrees that all these things Yoshi can do add a lot to the gaming experience. Mario and Luigi being able to spin in place to avoid getting hit by certain enemies and destroy blocks is a pretty great idea as well.

Also, this is the second time in the Mario series where you can go a different path than the regular one; the first time was Super Mario Bros. 3, and even though you could use the Flute to skip a few worlds, you could only take different routes within a world. I think the big world map comprising all the worlds hasn’t been done again in the Mario series, but I might be wrong on that.

An entire level where Mario must cross a
large gap while staying in Balloon form.
Is that hard enough for you?
The game is just the right level of difficulty for me. There are some tough levels, but nothing you waste a dozen lives in. Just because it’s the right difficulty for me doesn’t mean everyone will enjoy it; for better players, it might be too easy. I personally like to play in the Special Zone when I’m in the mood for a challenge. I like to have some challenge section in games, some place that isn’t required to beat the Story Mode, some place with a higher difficulty level, if only to put my skills to the test.

Exploring the levels is better than ever with the updated look, made possible by the greater processing power of the Super Nintendo. I mean, look at the world map. This alone is a work of art. And it goes beyond that. Many levels have their own, distinct style. And can I say that the music is catchy as Hell? Because it is.

Huh. Maybe it's true, maybe they DO get
along after the curtain has fallen. 
No wonder this game was part of a compilation re-release that included the previous NES platformers. It deserves its spot among the cherished moments of gaming nostalgia in our hearts. It was also re-released on the Game Boy Advance, like a lot of early Mario platformers. Oh, and of course, Mario’s comedic destruction of the fortresses led to a number of fan videos, which I discussed a long time ago. All in all, a solid game, if you’re a Mario fan you must have played it at least once. If not, then go. Play it. It’s just 800 Wii Points. You won’t regret it. Well, I assume you won’t. Maybe you will. You most likely won’t. Go ahead, give it a try.

Next week… Hm… I’m still in a Mario mood. How about, next week, a Top 12 of my favorite power-ups in the Mario series? Tune in next Friday!