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I played Super Mario Bros Wonder and didn't stop smiling for a second

 Super Mario Bros Wonder Preview
Super Mario Bros Wonder Preview

Nothing can quite rival the joy I feel when I see Toad transform into an elephant during my hands-on session with Super Mario Bros Wonder. I was instantly taken by the new Power-Up when Mario's upcoming 2D scroller was first announced back in June, but I'm elated to see first-hand that it can be used by any one of the famous cast of characters, with the likes of Peach, Daisy, Luigi, Yoshi, Nabbit, Toadette, and of course, Toad, joining Mario in the lineup. Every character's elephant form retains their signature attire, such as Toad's mushroom, or Peach's crown, and, let me tell you, seeing the transformation and using its abilities never gets old.

I'm joined by two other players who control Daisy and Luigi respectively in the first course we try out. It's not long before we get our hands on this Power-Up and begin using our elephant weight to crash through giant blocks, or shoot water onto plants from our trunks after drinking some up on the path. When I go through a pipe, I discover that my large new form prompts an animation of Toad squeezing out of the other side – a touch that brings a giant smile to my face. Everything looks polished, bright, inviting, and distinctly Mario. But as I soon see, this is a fresh 2D side-scroller that's shaking things up in a unique way. Alongside the introduction of some brilliant Power-Ups, Super Mario Bros Wonder takes us to the new setting of the Flower Kingdom that's home to some rather trippy, game-changing Wonder Flowers.

Surprises in store

Super Mario Bros Wonder Preview
Super Mario Bros Wonder Preview

Gamescom 2023

Gamescom
Gamescom

GamesRadar+ was in Cologne, Germany to play the most anticipated new games of 2023 and beyond. For more hands-on previews, interviews, news, and features, be sure to visit the Gamescom 2023 coverage hub for all of our exclusive access and reporting.

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I don't know what to expect the first time I encounter a Wonder Flower, but that, as it turns out, is the whole point. You can find these flowers in each course, and jumping up to one will trigger events known as Wonder Effects. Witnessing one won't make you any wiser to what's in store in the next course, and I'm continually surprised by what unfolds each time we come across one throughout the session.

My first encounter with one sees the flower burst, and a silhouette of the plant washes over the screen, changing up the background to a hue as dark as the night. The pipe below my feet and in the background begin to move up, and one even starts sparkling and moving along the ground like a worm when I land on top of it. It's quite a spectacle, making everything go a little topsy-turvy  – it essentially feels like these Wonder Flowers throw out the rulebook of the course. The only thing you can know for certain is to expect the unexpected.

After messing around as an elephant and experiencing my first Wonder Effect event, we're taken to another course which gives me yet more reasons to smile. I begin by jumping out of the way of bulls that barrel across the level. I then come across another Power-Up that turns me into a little Goomba. This time I switch things up to play as Peach and the Goomba adorns her crown and eyelashes as I totter along the path with my fellow player. Since I can't jump very high, I have to go a little stealthy and hide behind bushes on the course to avoid the stampeding bulls, which instantly gives the section of the level a different feel that puts my timing to the test.

When I reach the next Wonder Flower, the course once again turns on its head, and what happens next is chaos. The bulls have now formed what appears to be a psychedelic conga line as they swirl and soar through the air in our direction, leaving me and my fellow players to try and dive out of their path. In a moment of quick thinking, I leap on top of them and ride them like a train through the remainder of the course, jumping as I go to collect coins in the air. While I don't get to spend overly long with Super Mario Bros. Wonder before my session ends, in just these two courses alone, I get a sense for how much variety the Wonder Flowers and Power-Ups bring to the side-scrolling experience, and open it up in a fresh way.

Friendly flowers

Super Mario Bros Wonder Preview
Super Mario Bros Wonder Preview

As we navigate from course to course, we see how we can freely run around the hub world map. As a co-op experience, you can play Super Mario Bros. Wonder with friends and family. Up to 12 players including you can be visible in the world, and four players can venture through a course together. Every course has a difficulty star rating, but there are ways to customize the difficulty. The adventure features Badges that can change up the abilities and properties of a character, which means you can swap abilities around to help you on your way.

I try to learn how to use a high jump in a badge challenge that's tied to the ability. When I can't quite get the hang of it, I surreptitiously jump onto the back of Yoshi, who's being controlled by another player. I feel rather cheeky when I realize I can literally have Yoshi carry me through the course – which is a great feature if you're playing with a more experienced player and you can't quite get past a section.

Everything about Super Mario Bros Wonder is designed with positivity in mind, which I see reflected in the option to place down standees that can help other players in my session out as I progress through each level. I also notice that the flowers that decorate the course often shout out encouragement as I pass them by, which is a welcome little touch that just adds to Wonder's charm.

By the end of my time with Super Mario Bros Wonder, I realize I haven't stopped smiling for a single second. I'm left with a desire to see what other unexpected events are in store in what looks set to be a creative twist on the 2D side-scrolling formula in the world of Mario. I can't wait to return to the Flower Kingdom when it releases on October 20, 2023.


Super Mario Bros Wonder is set to come to Switch on October 20, 2023. See what other exciting releases are on the way with our roundup of upcoming Switch games.