Skip to main content

Super Mario Bros. Wonder didn’t need a Nintendo Switch 2 to look fantastic

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is out now, and it’s a true Nintendo hit. Mario’s latest adventure was met with a wave of glowing reviews earlier this week, and it’s easy to see why. The 2D platformer is both a reinvention and a return to form for Nintendo’s most important franchise, bringing transformative new gameplay ideas to an age-old formula. There’s some tasty icing on that cake too: It just so happens to be one of the best-looking video games of the year.

While it’s not the glitzy spectacle of Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 or the photorealistic achievement that is Forza Motorsport, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a sight to behold in its own right. That’s thanks to vibrant cartoon visuals, detailed animations, and painterly backdrops that bring depth to the 2D Flower Kingdom. It’s a marvelous feat, and it was all accomplished on the same aging console that has left gamers begging for an upgrade. While that Nintendo Switch successor may be right around the corner, Super Mario Bros. Wonder is a reminder that strong art direction can be just as impactful as raw power.

Looking wonderful

Just looking at out-of-context screenshots, Super Mario Bros. Wonder might not look that much different from New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. It’s only when you first boot it up that you’re drawn into a deceptively beautiful world. That’s apparent from the very first stage, as Mario stands against a sea of green and blue hills rolling in the distance. Star-shaped trees tower above him, with their simple leaves lightly blowing in the wind. The Flower Kingdom instantly feels alive in ways that even some of the biggest-budget 3D games aren’t able to accomplish.

Mario stands in the Flower Kingdom in Super Mario Bros. Wonder.
Image used with permission by copyright holder

There are a lot of little details that work to make that possible. While levels aren’t filled with ultra-detailed textures, a richer color palette makes everything pop with cartoon charm. In particular, a new snail enemy sticks in my mind thanks to its vibrant pink shell contrasting with its gooey green body. Little pop art splashes make a big difference too. Mario’s ground pounds are emphasized with a white and-yellow flash that gives the maneuver more impact — and that’s underlined even more with the sound of a snare hit to make it punchier.

Everything works hand in hand with a revitalized approach to animation. Wonder is the most expressive Mario game to date — 2D or 3D — thanks to tiny details. You can see that in action thanks to an excellent video from GameXplain that directly compares Wonder and Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe’s animations. When Mario goes down a warp pipe in Deluxe, he’d simply sink into it like he was riding an elevator. In Wonder, he hops in the air off of one foot and hunches his shoulders before straightening his body to fit through. Touches like that make two games that might look comparable on paper feel light-years apart.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder vs. NSMBU Animation Comparison

Smart stylization has always been the secret to Nintendo’s most timeless games. The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker is perhaps the company’s most famous example, but several Switch rereleases drove that point home in 2023. The original two Pikmin games, which came to Switch ahead of Pikmin 4’s launch, still look excellent today thanks to their unique hybrid of natural realism and bright whimsy. Metroid Prime Remastered is an undeniable visual upgrade over its 2002 counterpart, but it largely shines by keeping the original game’s striking art direction intact.

The impact of top-notch art direction can especially be felt in this year’s Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Deluxe. The Nintendo Wii remaster is a significant visual improvement over the original 2011 platformer, but it accomplishes that through stronger stylization. A boilerplate 2.5D platformer look gets an upgrade thanks to much brighter colors and bolder lines that make it look like a moving cartoon. It’s even a night-and-day difference with 2018’s Kirby Star Allies, a Switch game that looks like it was released a generation apart from Return to Dream Land Deluxe. Super Mario Bros. Wonder has that same strength, and it makes the nearly seven-year-old Nintendo Switch feel like an entirely new platform again.

Kirby slashes a Waddle Dee with a massive sword in Kirby's Return to Dream Land Deluxe.

That won’t stop hungry Nintendo fans from clamoring for a Switch 2 — and it shouldn’t. Even the prettiest Switch games (Wonder included) still suffer from unsightly edges that could stand to be smoothed out by new hardware. And naturally, graphical fidelity isn’t the only way more powerful consoles can improve games — just look at Marvel’s Spider-Man 2 with its instant loading. It’s high time for new Nintendo hardware, but Super Mario Bros. Wonder should remind us that fresh specs aren’t a magic potion that will inherently make every game look better. Sometimes a creative refresh is the upgrade a series like Mario needs.

Super Mario Bros. Wonder is out now for Nintendo Switch.

Editors' Recommendations

Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
What games will Nintendo Switch 2 launch with? We have some ideas
Mario and friends zip through a race course in Mario Kart 8.

We’re officially on “new console watch.” Reports from credible publications like Eurogamer say that Nintendo secretly showed developers its next system behind closed doors at this year’s Gamescom. While it’s only a rumor, it’s a realistic one. We’re six years into the Nintendo Switch’s lifespan and even the longest-running consoles turn over at eight. If Nintendo’s next system is one or two years away, it’s time to start lining up support from third-party developers.

We’ve speculated on features we’d want in a new system before, but the reality of a new platform has me asking another question: What games would you launch with something like this? The Nintendo Switch’s launch day was crucial to its long-term success thanks to a bonafide classic in The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. While the rest of its launch lineup wasn’t as impressive, Nintendo capitalized fairly quickly with titles like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2. If Nintendo’s going to push Switch owners over to a new system, it’ll have to roll out the big guns.

Read more
Mario vs. Donkey Kong is getting a Nintendo Switch remake in February
Mario jumping towards Donkey Kong in Mario vs Donkey Kong for the Switch.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong was announced during today's Nintendo Direct. Launching on February 16, this new title is the first entry in the Mario vs. Donkey Kong series to hit the Nintendo Switch and the latest in the series since its last entry in 2016.

Mario vs. Donkey Kong - Nintendo Direct 9.14.2023

Read more
Super Mario Wonder is more of a transformation than you’re expecting
Bowser terrorizes Mario and company in Super Mario Wonder.

It’s been an unexpected year of change for Mario. The Super Mario Bros. Movie reversed the series’ big-screen fortunes, delivering a blockbuster hit led by (non-Italian) Chris Pratt. More shockingly, Nintendo recently announced that longtime Mario voice actor Charles Martinet is stepping down from the role after decades of work. A new era is dawning on the Mushroom Kingdom, and you can feel a bit of anxiety among longtime fans who don’t want the character they love to change too much.
With all those complicated threads coming together, Super Mario Wonder feels like a fitting game for the moment. It’s a throwback to Mario’s traditional 2D platformers, keeping old fans happy while still promising some level of transformation -- and I’m not just talking about Mario’s new elephant form. Whether it was Nintendo’s intention for not, it could wind up being the most symbolic release in the franchise’s long history.

That context was in the back of my mind when I demoed an hour of Super Mario Wonder, jumping through six of its main courses and two bonus stages. Longtime fans won’t be disappointed, as the latest entry retains all of its staples and Nintendo’s enduring 2D design chops. What’s more exciting, though, is how many new ideas Super Mario Wonder brings to an old formula. It’s not a total transformation, but it exists in a healthy middle ground that should make it a reliable crowd-pleaser.
The Flower Kingdom
I’m not sure anyone needs me to go over the basics of a 2D Mario game at this point: run, jump, collect coins and power-ups. All of those gameplay hooks are unchanged, as is Nintendo’s level design philosophy. If you still love that formula, that’s probably all you need to know until reviews hit this October.

Read more