Always being asked what my favourite game is, I’m putting together a list of games to play before you die. Our gaming bucket list grows today with an entry from a series I’m sure everyone expected: Mario.
We go back in time a bit here. The Mario game to play before you die has to be Super Mario World.
Super Mario World was the venerable platformer’s entry on the Super Nintendo. Originally released in 1990 (in Japan; a year or two later around the world), it has been re-released many times, most recently for the Wii U’s Virtual Console.
Given its success, chances are there aren’t many people who are yet to play this but for any younger fans of the Mario series, it’s worth revisiting this classic.
It Expanded the Mario Universe
Super Mario World took over the mantle from the Super Mario Land series. In terms of scope, it does exactly what you would expect given its name. World takes place on Dinosaur Land and has Mario and Luigi travelling across different food-based lands to foil Bowser’s plot.
The game itself is gigantic. Each zone has several levels. Every zone also has several secret levels which need to be discovered. These secrets are no joke, either. But more on that later.
Dinosaur Land really does feel like its own little world. Different zones show variety in design. Donut Plains is your generic overground levels that are as famous as Mario himself.
Later in the game, however, players wander into the Forest of Illusion: a woodsy zone in which every level has a secret to discover.
Super Mario World also expands the series’ roster. Zones are controlled by one of the Koopa kids. Bowser’s many children before Bowser Jnr. came along and banished the others to obscurity.
Perhaps most importantly, Super Mario World introduced us to Yoshi – the loveable Dinosaur who has become one of the most popular characters ever.
The sheer scope of this game makes it feel large even when compared to modern titles such as New Super Mario Bros. The formula of Bowser Jnr. antagonising the heroes throughout the game before a final battle against his father makes some of these newer games feel more like to-do lists than rich worlds.
There’s no denying it. Some of these levels are hard. Jumps require absolute precision. Bosses challenge you to manage time (and not much time) as well as fighting.
Especially when compared to some of the modern games, Super Mario World is difficult. Not counting save states on the Wii U, save points are few and far between. Running out of lives can be punishing.
In-game secrets also make the world richer. And these too are not easy. Many levels have second exits that require Mario to swim below the screen boundary or fly under the goal.
One level in particular changes its areas based on how long it took the player to get through the one prior. Just to salt the wound, if you don’t get the right combination of areas in this level, you can’t make it through the game. In some cases, these secrets give players access to Switch Palaces, which turn coloured outlines into blocks on which Mario can run.
Discover the right secrets and players can get access to Star Road. Star Road is a series of secret levels that allow players to quickly traverse the world – assuming they’ve opened up the path to Star Road in each zone. Each level inside Star Road has a secret exit which players must find in order to progress.
It would be hard to argue that Super Mario World’s design is quintessentially Mario. It’s bright and cheerful. The music is gorgeous and simple.
Subtle changes in score are enough for players to notice something’s different but they will need to focus their attention on the music to really discover the changes. For example, when riding Yoshi, bongo drums will accompany whatever song is playing.
Given its age, some of the enemies do look unusual. The parrot that lives in caves, for instance. But so much of it looks, well, good. Bowser is drawn well.
Lines are crisp and clean so it’s easy to tell where one object ends and another begins. Just look at the MechaKoopa to see a fine example of how Super Mario World stands the test of time.
All in all, for me, Super Mario World is Mario. It feels like the purest representation of the intention behind the series. Past games lacked the visual power of the Super Nintendo but future games were trying to recapture the formula.
It looks good, it sounds great, it’s difficult. Super Mario World is everything you want from one of the most popular platforming series in the world.