Somehow, Super Mario Wonder Makes Water Really Good

We all know how this happens. You’re jumping and whizzing your way through a series of beautifully designed platforming stages in the latest Mario game, and then suddenly you see waves of blue approaching and the your entire movement is thrown away. That’s right, kids, it’s time for the water level. But cheer up, because it’s amazing, Super Mario Bros. It’s amazing what makes a never-before-seen Mario game: It makes water stages look great. Even the fun kind! At least, not terrible! This is the real wonder.

Water stages have long been an annoying slog in Mario games (not to mention many other platformers). Your movement is greatly reduced, you sink to the bottom and have to tap the Jump button to paddle, and enemies all move in irregular swimming patterns that aren’t very predictable even if your own movement is greatly restricted. Mario and his friends can’t breathe like another retro platforming series, but everything about this level is notorious for being the worst part of any Mario game. Frankly, it’s unbelievable that Super Mario Bros. 3 is pretty good considering they put an entire water world in it (not to be confused with Water World).

But Mario Wonder rejiggered the Mario formula in several ways. Wonder effects provide constant surprises, playing while connected allows you to see player shadows and standees, and badges provide an equipment system that can be adapted to your needs in each stage. And these are the badges that made the developers of Mario Wonder look at the long-maligned type of water stage and say: I can heal him.

That’s because the new Dolphin Kick badge makes Mario and his friends swim like mermaids or, well, dolphins. They kick their back legs to give them quick, smooth, multidirectional control. Think Ecco the Dolphin, but with a Mario platforming episode. Suddenly, the underwater stages aren’t a slow slog through a series of enemies who are more adept at swimming than you. You will feel that you are in full control, you are a fast swimmer like the rest of them, and you can run fast through a stage of water like a standard.

Sure, Dolphin Kick is mostly useless outside of water stages, giving it limited utility given that only a few underwater stages exist. But that makes it all the more impressive that Nintendo thought to include it. This helps emphasize the badge system as a handy tool for meeting stage challenges. Water stages provide only a very narrow example of this.

You can still navigate the water stages in the classic traditional style if you want, but you also always have access to a tool that makes controlling Mario more a game specifically designed to occur underwater. When you’re done, just go back to a land-lubber badge and continue your wonderful Mario platforming. In addition, giving you better access to movement means that water stages can have more ambitious enemy patterns, obstacles, and Wonder effects than if you were still swimming like a mafia. wearing you concrete shoes first.

The water stages are by far the best part of Mario Wonder. Overall they’re still pretty forgettable compared to Marvel’s array of expertly designed platforming stages and effects. But they’re no longer actively annoying, allowing the fun to shine through, and that’s a feat no other Mario game has accomplished.

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