Super Mario World

Title: Super Mario World
Platform: SNES
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 1990

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There are over seventy user reviews on GameFAQs for this game, most of which are 9/10s and 10/10s. These reviews break down the game into controls, sound, graphics, and replay value, as per typical game review format.

Obviously, the game’s controls are some of the tightest on the system, the graphics spectacular (the game’s sprites are so brightly colored and well animated and that dense world map…< 3), and the music memorable and completely whistle-worthy (every time I or anyone in a video beats a stage, I find myself whistling that end level melody). Only trolls don’t like the game and while there are a large number of people who find Super Mario Bros. 3 to be the best of the series, there are still countless others that claim Super Mario World to be the best Mario game.

Great.

But what is so special about this game? Why do I think it’s the best Mario game? On paper, it’s essentially a reiteration of its predecessor with updated graphics and controls. What is it that makes this game feel…so immense?

When the player starts up a new file, he’s given the option of either going left or right on the world map. Those familiar with the game (and who are not doing a speedrun) will go left first, as that is the path that leads to the first switch in the game. There are a handful of hidden switches on the world map that cause blocks to appear in a number of stages, making them easier or even possible at all. These switches represent one of the biggest changes from Super Mario Bros. 3: the world is no longer broken up into smaller world maps separated by video game logic.

There are a few great moments on the Super Mario Bros. 3 world maps that are worth mentioning – the secrets found when sailing all the way to the right on World 3, or when you move to the cloud section in World 5. World maps in general are so interesting to look at and see how the game uses minimal visual languages to represent larger concepts and spacial relationships.

Super Mario World, as its name implies, takes place in one huge living, breathing world, a vast donut-shaped island. The decision to create one big map for Super Mario World gives the formula new life and makes the player feel more attached to the world. There is also a larger sense of exploration. Every obscure corner of the game’s stages is worth exploring and makes the island feel like an intricate and endless labyrinth of tunnels and pipes.

One of the greatest moments in the game is after finding the secret exit in Donut Plains 1 (isn’t that just such a satisfying name for a level?) and opening up the secret path through the game’s second area. By exploring this route off the normal path, the player will tumble down a pipe and find himself at Donut Secret 2, a level that is actually located in the upper left corner of the Valley of Bowser, the final area of the game. It gives new players a preview of what’s to come and introduces this flashing, rock and rollish pocket of hell, complete with blinding lightning and Bowser’s glowing eyes floating in the darkness. The music that plays is raucous and shocking compared to the rest of the game up to this point and lets the player know he’s in for one hell of a time. Such attention to the game world and to the player’s individual experience was unheard of for a Mario game, or for any platformer, and so this moment is as important as it is memorable.

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The game continues in this fashion, giving the player secret tunnels and pipes to explore, a secret Star World which is fairly mysterious unless you’ve beaten it a few times, and the even more secret Secret World, which features eight levels not for the faint of heart (appropriately named Outrageous and Awesome are two of the most difficult stages in the game – and the most fun). When completed, Secret World rewards determined players with an alternate color-swapped world map and enemy sprites – my friends and I used to refer to it as the Halloween version, and apparently it is fall-themed, but either way, the semi-hellish alien world is a great reward. Can you imagine if Super Mario 64 had an alternate hell world?

There are just so many secret areas to find, some easier to discover than others, some I just learned about today from watching videos (I think the last thing for me to learn about this game is that there’s a Bonus Game room in Morton’s Castle – not necessary to complete the game’s 96-exits, but something I never knew was there). There’s even an area called Top Secret Area, which would be impossible to find on a blind first play through, which is simply a small room with power-ups. The world is endlessly explorable and thanks to the game having save features, a luxury missing from its NES predecessors, a player can go and mess around with any level whenever he wants. It’s a gaming playground with enough variety in each stage to never grow old.

Koji Kondo really outdid himself with the soundtrack. His songs are energetic, quirky, cartoonish, memorable, and entirely perfect fit for the candied graphics and syrupy colors, not to mention the fast paced gameplay. Some highlights include the Athletic track, which plays on various stages and features a variety of quirky SNES instruments, the Valley of Bowser theme, with a bumpin’ bass and sinister synth melody, the Vanilla Dome theme, a mix of shimmering sound effects and thumping bass, the Castle theme, which is richly textured and grows more ominous with each section, and of course, Bowser’s theme, a perfect example of SNES rock-inspired tunes which embodies everything evil in 1991. The song can really rock up there, even with some of the more jammin’ tunes from the Sega Genesis. And again, I always whistle along with the stage end melody.

I want to point out a few important details within the first few levels:

In Yoshi’s Island 1, the stage begins with an enemy falling toward you then BAM a giant Bullet Bill hurtles at you. Some floating ?-blocks, platforms cut at odd angles, Mario’s new block breaking tornado move, stoned out dragon enemies, a checkpoint, then another giant Bullet Bill. And then a football playing Koopa attacks you at the end of the level. Whoa.

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Afterward, on the world map, you climb a giant ladder, wade through a floating lake, and reach the top of this perfectly SNESesque hill, where a giant yellow button must be pressed. You get a preview of the next area from up on the hill, where you can see another castle, a Boo house with matching Boo floating around it, and just a snippet of the game’s final area, half sunk at the bottom of the ocean. You realize that everything about this game is massive, bright, and explosive.

In Yoshi’s Island 2, the player is introduced to several new features to the Mario universe, including the addition of Yoshi, everyone’s favorite rideable dino companion. Ride him, let him eat enemies, find different colored Yoshis with cool powers, sacrifice Yoshi to get one more jump, and most importantly, use him to glitch through walls (this is very difficult to actually do).

Some other highlights from the level include a line of red-shelled Koopas that are supposed to be wiped out with one shell to gain an extra life right at the beginning, as if the developers were saying “you’ve never seen anything like this before,” and the first appearance of Monty Mole, a new enemy that springs out of the level to attack with an animation with a lot of personality.

It’s at this point you realize you haven’t seen a single Goomba yet, a Mario staple enemy. There actually aren’t very many Goombas in the entire game, which signifies the evolution of the series. In the older games, Goombas were a common and simple enemy that merely wandered toward Mario. In Super Mario World, Goombas can be stunned and carried, and often travel in bubbles along with explosive Bob-ombs.

Yoshi’s Island 3 is where the shit really hits the fan. As you enter the stage, your task is not to move right, but to ascend a few platforms to the top of a hill, far beyond the first screen.

You’re then presented with a platform on some sort of chain. You jump on it unsuspectingly and then it starts swinging! Then there’s the shrinking/growing platforms. Toward the end, there’s a part where you have to jump from a swinging platform to a series of shrinking/growing platforms (some of which extend upward) – it’s exhilarating and completely different from anything seen in Super Mario Bros. 3.

And there’s a little arrow posted near the end, telling you you’re almost there. It’s pretty encouraging and gives the stage personality.

And the game continues like this, for over seventy levels.

– – –

For what seems to be an updated rehash of Super Mario Bros. 3 quickly turns into one expectation broken after another, turning the Mario formula on its head with each additional stage. Mario is no longer jumping through the hurdles of a timed arcade obstacle course. He’s on a proper quest to defeat King Bowser under the depths of the island and save the Princess. There’s so much to do in the game and so many hidden paths to uncover, so many tricks to learn and stages to perfect.

I’ve been watching this guy all day beat the crap out of Super Mario World. I prefer the 96-exit videos to the any-percent ones because they’re longer and truly showcase the abilities of the speedrunner as well as show off the game’s gorgeous levels (visuals and design) and energetic music. The speedrun community has scoured the game, much like other Nintendo speedrun favorites (Ocarina of Time being my favorite to watch), and discovered tricks to move through each stage as gracefully and quickly as possible. It’s a testament to how complex the game is that there are so many tricks to uncover and take advantage of and to how beloved the game is that these guys took the time to master them.

Super Mario World is the perfect game to speedrun. Everything about the game is so carnivalized (oh boy – me and Bakhtin’s favorite term) and is perfect for a community to grow around and flourish and entertain itself with. The cheery, absurd visuals and music, the saccharine atmosphere and joyous, sugary locations, and probably most important, the fact that it’s a game, a really fun, eccentric game, allow the SNES cartridge to transcend media and entertainment and become a true carnivalization and a 16-bit affirmation of life that appeals to practically everyone everywhere. It’s one of the most video gamey games of all time and certainly one of the most ecstatic and festive games ever made.

Super Mario World is probably perfect.

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