Review by Donald Love 87
...and I think to myself - what a wonderful world
When the Super Nintendo was released back in the early 90's, Nintendo wanted a game to ship with it, something which would really show off the power of their new system. The game they decided would be best to do so with was Super Mario World - since Mario had become really famous from the three main series NES games and were the most well-known of all Nintendo characters this was a pretty obvious choice. Taking some elements from the earlier games and mixing them with new features, this game can't really fail. Or can it?
The graphics are bright and very colorful, and I'd dare to say that they have about the same quality and style of many newspaper comic strips - the color printed ones, of course. This marks a bit of a change compared to the dark style of the last NES installment, Super Mario Bros 3. It's not just a feeling you get because of the details in the backgrounds, but even things like skies or fields have a somewhat brighter and softer tone to them in SMW. For the backgrounds this is absolutely no problem in most cases though, since they are so detailed and beautiful with the stars or diamonds twinkling and the hills in the backgrounds or seaweed floating for the water levels. The thing I must say though is that the castles are a bit boring - their backgrounds consist mostly of endless patterns in bright shades of grey, while I like the black tone of SMB3 better; at least they could have done it a bit darker than it is now, but it seems like the Ghost Houses have taken the place of the only "scary" areas of the game.
I'm feeling that the character sprites went over a bit worse overhaul than backgrounds. While Mario sure look better than before and all details are cool - he's even got back pockets on his pants - the enemies are a bit worse off. While they surely are nicely animated and some cool effects are used for some, they just don't look like enemies anymore. Every creature feels a bit more rounded now and less dangerous - even Dry Bones and Thwomps feel softer. Same thing goes for environmental hazards like spikes, in Super Mario Bros 3 the spikes coming down from the ceiling in some fortresses were small shark-tooth like objects, here they are fat yellow road cones. It's just such a big contrast compared to the earlier games, and it goes in a direction which I feel is inferior. Still if I were to judge this by itself and not by the earlier installments of the series, I'd say that it's detailed and very good looking for an early SNES game.
Sound effects and music
Starting off with the music, there's one thing which comes as a bit of a surprise for me. With the exception of a hidden easter egg accessible very late in the game, there's no classic Super Mario songs present in Super Mario World. But unlike the graphics where I really do miss the style of the earlier games I think that the music is doing fine. Sure I would have liked the main theme from SMB or the grasslands theme from SMB3, but the songs present in this game at least have the overall same feeling. One thing which is really nicely pulled off is that almost all of the music in the game is built from this foundation of a melody, but that's something you won't really think of until you actually listen because all variations are so different when it comes to instrumentation and tempo. The coolest thing done with this, according to me, is to add a percussion track to the tune as soon as Mario jumps on Yoshi. People talk about music flowing with gameplay in modern games; Super Mario World pulled that off 20 years ago.
With the sound effects we start to get back to more classic Mario landscapes; here there are the classic jump sounds, shell kicking sounds and power up sounds. It's nice to hear those familiar things getting an upgrade for the SNES, and by getting something you already know a whirl with the power of the new console generation that's how you see the differences. Sure a fireball sound can't be much improved, but honestly, I think it feels a bit softer and smoother.
The story basics are really just the classic formula - Mario goes on a vacation to Dinosaur Land, but Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach so Mario has to go and rescue her. While that's just extremely basic stuff and not really worthy of a category of it's own, it could be worth analyzing a little. Especially the part about vacation. Maybe the in-game reason to the overhaul of graphics style is that we are in a different part of the Mario universe now? Considering how quickly Goombas are affected by their surroundings; they even get a darker skin tone when underground (as proved in SMB1) their new "round and cuddly" look could possibly be an effect from being taken to a non-hostile land. Even if it's just a theory that's a bit overanalyzed, I still like the fact that it is open for interpretation.
One thing which is a bit funny though is that Mario and company went here on vacation, since it seems that Bowser had been here for a while before the game started. First of all, he's captured all the Yoshis and imprisoned them in eggs within question mark boxes. While that might have gone unnoticed, it's a bit worse that he's managed to build seven castles, each for one of his kids, without the travel agencies noting. At least I hope they're newly built - since they're destroyed after each boss is defeated I'd feel terrible if it was the architectural heritage of Dinosaur Land that's being razed! Anyways, to sum this up I can only say that the story is a bit vague and unexplained, but as in many cases when it comes to Nintendo the story is only there to excuse the gameplay - and it's fun to make up your own theories to fill in the blanks!
This is what the Mario series is all about and always has been - perfect control of the main character. When you missed a jump in the NES installments, you knew it was your own fault and not because the game played a cheap trick on you. If we go further in the future to Super Mario 64, while it has some of the camera problems early 3D games tended to have there never were any problems moving Mario around when the camera was right. This game is no exception to that formula - the controls are easy to get into and most importantly they never mess you up.
Starting off with the steering cross, this is used for getting Mario to the left and right, to duck and look up. Looking up has no real use as far as I know, but ducking can be a real life-saver if you're Super Mario (having the mushroom power-up) and need to make yourself a smaller target. A nice detail is that you still can duck when being regular Mario; it won't save you from anything but it's nice to be consistent. Moving on to the other usual controls, running is done by holding down the Y button when pressing left or right, and works just as fine as it did on the NES. Holding down a button through most of the levels might seem a bit annoying, but since it puts your thumb at a nice position to jump or spin-jump it's really comfortable. You'll also tap it quite a bit, since Y is also used for attacking with the power-ups.
Jumping, which is also more or less a necessity for a platform game, is done with the B button. Jumping in this game is very dependent on your earlier actions - if you're standing still you'll just make a jump not very high and very short. But as soon as you start to move, your jumps will become higher and longer. This is much more interesting than many other games which have much more limited jump controls. Making it this adjustable, it's easy for one to quickly jump through levels which are familiar, but also take a more careful approach up a ledge by taking it slow. The aerial controls are also very nice to the player - instead of having Marios whole jump be decided when lifting off the ground you still can control him with left or right. This can be a life-saver in situations where you might would've gone over a ledge otherwise - sometimes it's better for physics to give away for good playability. The A button is used for a special type of jump; the spinning jump. This is not as high as a regular jump but has the advantage of being an offensive move with the cape power-up, and if you're upgraded with a mushroom or better this move can be used to break certain types of blocks under you.
Other than that, there are the standard features of pausing a game with the start button, and also added is the scrolling function of the L and R buttons. By pressing them for a second or so, the screen will move from having Mario in the center to either move further on (R) or back (L). While it's a nice idea, it's not really used for anything except tricking falling spikes and similar hazards to activate early. All in all, the controls are really simple and easy to get into, and the fact that Mario is so easy to control makes it a joy to play. You'll never feel that the game messes with you by playing dirty tricks or messing up your controls, but rather that YOU yourself made that wrong jump.
Starting off with what happens when you turn on the game, first you get to see a demo of a level introducing Yoshi and the looks of the game. As soon as you press that away you're treated, for the first time in the Mario series, to a file select menu. In this game, a battery save gives you the ability to save your progress in three different save files. You can only save after special types of areas, and the game will only save your level progress so every time you'll start over as small Mario with 5 lives and 0 points. Still, it's how far you got that matters most, and by looking at the number on the file select screen you can see how many of the 96 exits from the games 72 levels you've found so far. It is possible to finish all of them in one sitting, but it would have to be a long sitting and since this game don't have the same "world" idea as SMB3 where the warp flute replaced a save function, the battery save is great. Of course, battery saves are not infinite and it might die on you any day on a game this old, but the original thought is very good and the battery is replaceable if you know what you're doing.
After starting up one of the savefiles, you'll immediately be placed on one of the best features in this game - the world map. Even if Super Mario Bros 3 had good map screens, this takes it to the extreme. The "stage think" from SMB3 is gone, and while that one only branched off with selectable levels or extra ones leading to a mushroom house or something Super Mario World really let you custom-make your own route to the end of the game. With knowledge, you can easily beat the game in only 12 levels. This branching of the world map leads to many combinations and give the game a sense of freedom not found in most platformers. Another nice thing it does is of course that you see what you're about to enter - normal levels are yellow dots, levels with two exits are red dots, then you have the Ghost Houses, Fortresses and Castles, which all feel like good levels to enter a bit prepared. This also means if you find a level too hard for you, you might be able to find a way around it? This makes for a much more interesting gaming experience than the usual A-B-C level progression.
Upon entering a level, you'll find pretty much the same Mario experience as always. The platform jumping is nothing really new, except for that instead of the easily breakable bricks from earlier games now the most common block type is the "spin block", which just spins around for a while then become solid again when being hit. While some enemies are new and some old ones are re-made they still work by the same rules of if they're looking jumpable they're defeated with a jump. Koopa shells are a good weapon as always, but since they now fly out of the shell when jumped upon instead of hiding in it, they're both a bit more dangerous and you don't have to worry about the enemy coming back when you hold the shell. When speaking about the enemies, I must say that I'm a bit disappointed by the bosses. Even if they're a bit more varied than in Super Mario Bros 3, there are still only a handful of different types of boss battles, and the only really interesting one is the final one. Especially the difficulty is way too low - after surviving a hard castle and facing the boss of it, it feels pretty much like an anticlimax to be able to defeat him without even letting him attack once.
Even though easy bosses are the maximum of it, I'd say that this game is pretty easy overall. If it's a bad or a good thing should probably be judged by the player, but I'm experienced with both platform games and this games in particular so when firing up a savefile or new game I usually have about 50 lives half an hour later. One of the biggest reasons to this low difficulty level is the item/powerup system and how it's managed. The amount of powerups in Super Mario World are much fewer in numbers than they were back in SMB3. Only two of the classics are left in (not counting the invincibility star) - the mushroom and the fire flower. Both of these work just as usual, with mushrooms making you big and capable of taking an extra hit (also the spin jump is a Super Mario exclusive) and fire flowers letting you shoot fireballs to take out enemies from a distance. The two game breakers are the new items introduced in the game, and while SMB3 also had some overpowered stuff they were only meant for special types of levels and never universally useful like these two are. Starting off with feathers, they give you a cape which puts a horizontal area of attack to your spin jump and attack and also lets you fly, pretty much like the tails did in SMB3. The big difference is that you won't need to keep pressing B to fly, and because of differences in level design there are many levels where you can skip big chunks or even all of it by soaring high above all action, something which only the P Wing allowed you to do in SMB3. Item management is also extremely generous, since you can always have a spare item in the item box at the top of the screen, and this floats down whenever you get hit or press select, meaning that you can recover from being hit very quickly. Yoshi also has some advantages to make the game really easy, but at least he's more fun to use. Unlike other powerups in the series, Yoshi is a dinosaur whom Mario rides. By pressing Y while on Yoshi (Y for Yoshi...? Nah, probably just a coincidence) he reaches out his long tongue and swallow pretty much everything in his way - powerups, enemies, berries. Some things he won't swallow directly, though, so you can use him for transporting P Switches and Trampolines across the stage, and differently colored Koopa shells will also give him different powers. The thing that makes Yoshi so good to have isn't that, however, but rather the fact that instead of losing him at the moment you take a hit, he'll just run away. Meaning that you can catch up with him and jump on again. Another good life-saving trick is to sacrifice Yoshi by jumping off him while falling down a hole. Compared to earlier games where you really had to fight harder if you lost your high-level powerup, item boxes and Yoshi give you a lot of chances. Of course, both that and soaring over the levels with a cape is easy to choose to do or not yourself, but I liked it better in Super Mario Bros 3 where some items were great for some levels and some items for others.
There are also a lot of minigames included where you get a chance to get extra lives. The most noticeable of them is at the end of each level, where there's a rugby-like goalpost but with the middle bar being a tape (just like on a running track) going up and down. To complete the level you just need to pass that goalpost, but if you manage to cut the tape you'll receive an amount of stars (no, not the invincibility kind) ranging from 1-50 depending on the height you cut the tape at. When you get 100 stars at the end of the level, you're taking to a minigame with spinning blocks in a square where you have to hit them at the right time to form a pattern of symbols. It's hard to explain, but pretty easy to do in-game and it's surely more fun than the not very interactive end of levels that SMB3 had. These goalposts are also present in the middle of some levels, but in a smaller variant which serves no other purpose than being a checkpoint if you were to die; it's a nice thing to have. Another minigame is one you get to through pipes in several levels, where you are below three question mark boxes. By hitting one, you'll turn it into either a O or an X; if it's a O you can continue and hit another one, and if you get three O's you'll get an extra life. Then you can jump up to the next floor and try again there. It's a bit random but has a pretty fresh feel to it. While not exactly minigames, many levels also has hidden areas with coins (collecting 100 gives you an extra life like usual), 1UPs or other items; it pays off to explore.
A bit related to the minigames are the Switch Palaces. There are four of them in the game, and while that might sound little in such a big game they make a surprisingly huge impact on the levels. With the exception of the first, these are hidden rather well through secondary exits of certain levels and will take some effort (or a guide) to find. When entering a Switch Palace, you're first treated to a room where you, in different ways, get a chance to earn coins or a few extra lives. Then when you enter the pipe leading to the inner chambers you'll find a big switch with an exclamation mark on it. When pressing that switch a lot of blocks will fly out all across the land. This means that what once was just a transparent square in a level will become filled in with an exclamation mark block. Two of these blocks give out powerups when hit (yellow gives mushrooms and green gives cape feathers), but the other two are empty and the powerups are never the primary use of these but rather they work as stepping stones for tricky jumps or walls to trap enemies. These switches do make a difference, and a playthrough with late activation of these will be harder than if you get them as soon as possible. So it's yet another reason to go out there to try and find every exit for the levels!
On the other hand, exploring might make you run into enemies and other hazards. While I'm not too fond of the graphical design of them, I do really like how they work in the game even if I find it a bit funny that they're more dangerous than most bosses. Most of this isn't because of the enemies themselves - Koopa Troopas and a few others still work just as mindless drones wandering back and forth on platforms. While they're easy to avoid by themselves, they can make a difficult jump so much harder when you also need to avoid an enemy. Goombas also had a pretty interesting overhaul - instead of being the easiest enemy which goes down after just one hit, here a normal jump only punches one out for a while and you can use it as a throwing weapon. One of my favorite additions (to go with the goal posts) are the Chargin' Chucks - this large, football-gear clad type of Koopa are often the last obstacle between Mario and the end of the level, and are a bit dangerous because of their durability (they take three jumps to go down) and because of their blitzlike attacks with different weapons - footballs, baseballs, tackles... even rocks! There are also a new type of Koopa called the Super Koopa which has the same cape upgrade as Mario can get; these will fly or swoop down across the screen forcing you to react rather quickly. A new type of Hammer Bro is also in this game; a large Bro throwing hammers is standing on a platform which flies in a U pattern in the air, and that platform is often needed for you to get through the level. Having these enemies which are more on the offensive than just "occupied space" is nice, and I like that you need to get up close and personal to get past some of them.
A two-player multiplayer mode is available too, and works as well as it possibly can do in a platform game. Each time you start a new game or select a savefile, you get to choose if you want to play as one or two players (nice if your partner leaves halfway through), and then one of you will be controlling Mario and the other is playing as Luigi. Just like in earlier games it's more of co-op than competitive multiplayer as you're taking turns, so when one of you finish a level or lose a life, the other can take over. The strange Mario Bros minigame from SMB3 is gone, as is the teasing you could do by swooping in and steal a card game or mushroom house, though I must say that I don't miss any of them since they just made the game more competitive. Here, we've instead got a feature where the players can share lives, meaning that as long as one of you has at least two lives, both of you can continue. The multiplayer mode is fun, and since it'd be hard to play at the same time this is the best solution and it work really well.
So, how to summarize this up? It's a bit hard to give exact reasons to everything; the graphics style is looking good on it's own but is a harsh change when thinking of the Super Mario series legacy. The sounds are good but can become a bit repetitive since it's the same tune being repeated in different arrangements - which in turn is a great accomplishment as long as you're not thinking about it. Gameplay is a bit easy, but it's up to choice if you want to use the cape to pass a level without any dangers at all.
Moving on to the good stuff is that the controls are top-notch and the level design and overall gameplay is really really good - if you make a mistake you know it's YOU who made it, not the game. There are also a lot of minigames and other hidden stuff to uncover in the levels, add the very branching map to that and you've got a very varied gaming experience which rewards will to explore. The overpowered cape and Yoshi also has a flipside - if there's a hard level you can't seem to pass it's nice that you might have a way to pass it anyways.
Overall I'd say that letting the comparison of graphics and sounds to the older games (mind you it's the style I'm not too fond of, not the quality) would be a bit too much nitpicking, so I still think this game deserves a 9 out of 10. There's just so much content, and the gameplay is fun and quick enough that it's a game worth revisiting time and time again. Many of my other SNES games are just collecting dust even if I think they are good games, but this is one of the few I bring out every now and then to make another 96-exit playthrough - and that is saying a lot about the quality of Super Mario World.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Super Mario World (EU, 04/11/92)
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