“The screen is a magic medium.”
Congratulations! You are reading a review for one of the best games ever made. Spoilers. That’s reflected in my personal grade below.
The critically-acclaimed, best-selling Super Mario World, known in the land of the rising sun as Super Mario Bros. 4, is a launch-title platformer in the vein of the early side-scrollers released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. It is the 6th game in the Super Mario series and it would be succeeded by Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, another sweet platformer. However, it is Super Mario World which became one of the main reasons why I love gaming so much today.
First off, Super Mario World’s cover art (above) almost exactly matches this hardcore presidential portrait of Reagan on a velociraptor.
Seriously, that can’t be an oversight. Mario Mario and Luigi Mario, lest we forget, are Italian, so of course they’re from America. New York, New York, baby.
Secondly, I must have been around 6 or 7 years old when I was trailing my mom through a Sears and ran across a demo display with a SNES under a plastic case and a controller mounted on a metal prong. It was mounted a little too high. But I stepped up to it and began to play. Chirp, the Nintendo logo popped on the black screen and then that black opened up as if by some divine edict which said “let there be awesome”, and then there was awesome. Fully fledged, brightly colored 16-bit graphics and a Mario more bristling with shimmer and polish than I had ever seen before. Above was the multicolored epithet: Super Mario …World? A whole world, not just a land but an entire macrocosm awaited me. I played until the timer on the Sears demo ran out and its auto-reset kicked in. Mom was nowhere in sight, so I played it again.
She didn’t buy me the game and its console that day. In fact, I can’t remember when I did finally come to own the cartridge myself, but it’s a game I’ll return to more often than others on my favorite system of all time.
As the opening text explains, the Princess Toadstool (or Peach. Take your pick.) has been kidnapped yet again. She seriously needs to upgrade her home security system. That dastardly prowler and probable rapist, Bowser, is at it again. But this time, it’s no mere walk in the Mushroom Kingdom. Welcome to a strange new world.
Super Mario World takes all that you loved about Super Mario Bros. 3 and intensifies those things. Dig those overworld maps from SMB3? Primitive compared to the overworld’s seven areas in World. Enjoy the one-two, tag-team co-op of the plumber brothers? Same here, except now you can share extra lives. Tired of tussling about the Mushroom Kingdom in search of a certain princess? In World you’ll follow Mario and Luigi through Dinosaur Land, a far more varied environment with funny place-names like will make you hungry (Donut Plains, Butter Bridge, Vanilla Fortress, Chocolate Island).
Want more items than the paltry pantry of SMB3 could supply? Feast your un-sated nerd palate on the Power Balloon, Wings, Dragon Coins, Keys, and Baby Yoshies. You like the secrets tucked behind corners and white blocks in SMB3? Prepare your bladder for imminent release! There’s a whole secret world to be found in Star Road, which leads to another secret area!
Enjoy the battle against Bowser in previous games? Face off against the King of the Koopas in a far more dramatic and imposing castle as he floats above you, menacingly, in his weird clown-faced dirigible. Hey, I’ll bet you liked the “tanooki” tail Super Leaf flight? Strap yourselves in because you’re headed for the ionosphere with a new flight power up, the Cape Feather, which lets you glide.
Ever say to yourself, “Self, I know you love Super Mario Bros. 3, but you know what it’s missing? Being able to ride a frickin’ dinosaur.” Well now you can get that frickin’ dinosaur. Super Mario World introduces Yoshi, a voracious bottomless-pit pet dromaeosaurid-slash-cameleon, who is now a Nintendo staple. And he comes in multiple colors. Fashion!
But wait there’s more: game saves, secondary items, Ghost Houses, Bowser’s Koopalings, flying Yoshi, Magikoopas, Spin Jumping, Switch Palaces, Special World and the cosmetic changes for beating it, 72 different levels and secret level exits which lead to even more secrets.
Man, I want to replay it right now!
The 8-Bit Review
Sure the backgrounds might look a little like something you could crap out on Microsoft Paint, but upon release, the video game world had never seen anything this vibrant before. Super Mario World‘s candy-colored imagery also boasts some great pixel sprites. It’s as colorful and fun as any Mario game had ever been and firmly established that this franchise was going to be one of the most cartoonishly exuberant in the industry.
Its visual appeal may seem a little straight forward or even archaic in our time but when you consider that World was developed by only sixteen people over the course of three years, and that what they produced became not only one of the most coveted and exemplary games of the 16-bit era but a beast of a game that dominated and defined Nintendo’s look, you may begin to appreciate it just a bit more.
Has there ever been a game with a soundtrack that so perfectly matches it? Mario has always had this strange, pseudo-reggae/jazz, steel drum sound. It’s downright bizarre when you think about it, but of course we’re so used to it that it seems a totally acceptable musical accompaniment for an Italian plumber fighting turtles to rescue a princess. Super Mario World doesn’t rehash or rely too heavily but plows forward all on its pioneering lonesome. Instead of using the classic Mario theme, composer Koji Kondo’s keyboard treads out a new theme. The Super Mario World theme is played with great variation in nearly all of the game’s levels: echoing in caves, slowed to a 3/4 underwater, sped up on bridges, and foreboding of danger in a minor key in castles. The result is a unique, broad and lighthearted soundtrack united by a singular theme with bits of synthetic ukulele, bass, keys, and bongos. The last instrument plays an interesting role: saddling up Yoshi will add a layer of extra percussion to the level’s track. That’s innovation, adapting the soundtrack to match what the player causes to happen on screen. This soundtrack has become definitive of the Super Nintendo since its launch.
Below are the overworld, castle, ghost house, and athletic themes so you can hear the recurring melody in its different variants.
Super Mario World is about as solid and definitive of a 2D platformer as you can find. Level design has improved significantly even over the massive stages from SMB3, which opened up vertically to give room for flight. The bonkers amount of secrets helps to drive the endgame forward with multiple exits, warps, Star Road and Special World. Yoshi is a welcome addition to the platforming franchise, bringing with him a whole new variation on defeating enemies by eating them rather than just stomping on them. Plus depending on what kind of enemy Yoshi devours he’ll gain certain unique abilities, such as spitting fireballs or another take on flight that’s different from Mario’s magic cape. And finally, being able to stockpile one extra power up (accessible by pressing “select”) means Mario can explore even further through the many levels without dying so easily, or it means a savvy player can change up his attack strategy by swapping in and out, say, a Fire Flower and a Cape Feather by cycling through his items.
The multiplayer concept is practically built on the backs of these two brothers. Mario and his second fiddle Luigi are synonymous with two-player alternating gameplay. Super Mario World accentuates this with its extra life sharing feature. Brother Weegie low on lives? Tap L or R on the overworld map to spread the extra life love. Now your pal can stay in the game longer, rather than face the humiliation of sitting there and watching as you proceed through level after level on your own.
Super Mario World is hard, especially for those unfamiliar with platforming. Though many gamers can muscle their way past Bowser’s ill-behaved children and beat the King of Koopas himself, getting through Star Road and Special World afterward is particularly grueling. Special’s levels (inappropriately named “Gnarly” and “Tubular” when they’re anything but) will push your timing skills to the test. Finding every last secret exit was also quite the challenge. I say “was” because back then it’s not like I could just hop on my smart phone and look up these secrets. I might never figure them out without the proper Nintendo Power magazine from my local library. There were two secret exists that always eluded me. But that’s part of the charm of classic difficulty. You couldn’t just FAQ it. You had to use every resource and skill and trial by error available to you, and by the time you found everything, the game seemed indeed like it was yours.
What keeps us coming back to Super Mario World? Its challenges, its gameplay, its multiplayer, its accessibility, its 16-bit aesthetics, its scope, or is it the mustachioed man himself? Maybe it’s all of these things.
Though Super Mario World was built on the foundations of the previous titles in the Mario series, it was the first step taken in this new age of the 16-bit systems. It is fresh enough to put those older Mario games, as great as they are, far behind it, in the distant past. Super Mario World was nothing short of revolutionary upon its unveiling to our world, its many elements and upgrades setting the bar for platformers higher than ever, indeed higher than many thousands of games could ever reach. Paradoxically, it is both classic Mario while being cutting edge. Being instantly recognizable doesn’t just happen without a huge helping of distinctiveness, and Super Mario World has that in bucket loads.
My Personal Grade: 10/10
Super Mario World is the standard for 2D platforming. Period. Though the SNES also saw fantastic platforming titles in Mega Man X, Donkey Kong Country 2, Super Metroid, Earthworm Jim and Yoshi’s Island (to name just a few), but Super Mario World doesn’t overcrowd itself with a multitude of weapons, mounts, bosses or complicated controls. It’s simple enough for a 6 or 7 year old to pick up and play on a demo in Sears, yet challenging enough to keep an adult from mastering its every secret on a whim. As a launch title and one of the best games on the system, Super Mario World has come to represent the Super Nintendo more fully than perhaps any other contemporary game. What more can I say? Who doesn’t love this game? It’s worthy of being creator Shigeru Miyamoto’s favorite Mario game of all time.
It’s what Super Mario World taught us about ourselves. I know now I can always believe in myself, and you can too, because:
Aggregated Score: 9.8