Super Mario World (1990)

My earliest memories of playing video games were sitting in the back of the car on a road trip playing Super Mario World on my Game Boy Advance. While I hold more nostalgia towards GameCube games like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Metroid Prime, and of course Super Mario Sunshine, there’s something about Super Mario World that is special to me. Surprisingly, I have never revisited the game over the years, but after replaying it recently I was blown away with how excellent it was. Many games from its era are dated, overly difficult, and hard-to-control relics that are better left in the past. But Super Mario World is a joyful masterpiece.

Everything about Super Mario World exudes charm and personality. Being the launch title of the SNES, it made use of the expanded color palette and sound system. There’s a plethora of enemies and characters, each wonderfully designed to fit their environment and taking on personalities of their own. Super Mario World was Yoshi’s first appearance, and there’s a reason why everybody loves Mario’s dinosaur companion.

Yoshi is now an iconic character, and much of that can be attributed to how integral he was in Super Mario World. The game takes place in Dinosaur Land, the home of all different kinds of Yoshi. Mario travels from section to section, comedically toppling castles and rescuing Yoshi eggs. The world itself is vibrant, colorful, diverse, and full of secrets. While each world has an overall theme, the levels themselves also distinct archetypes. There are traditional levels, underwater adventures, fast-moving contraptions with ropes and saws, castles with lava and deadly smashers, and mysterious ghost houses. This variety keeps things fresh and avoids the repetition that may come from themed worlds.

Another aspect that really sets Super Mario World apart from its predecessors is how it handles secrets. While early Super Mario games did have secrets within levels, you could only hope to get some coins, a 1-Up, or to find a Warp Pipe to let you skip to future worlds. Super Mario World instead focuses on secret exits that reveal hidden levels. Finding all the secret levels is a great motivator for exploring and engaging with stages instead of blazing towards the finish line.

 These secret levels make the overworld of Super Mario World feel more interconnected. Secret levels can open up alternative paths through the world, which is a great reward for discovering hidden exits. Moreover, there are five routes to Star World, which acts as a central hub that makes it faster to travel around the map.

For being an early SNES title, I was surprised with how smooth the gameplay was. The controls are fantastic as they balance precision and the momentum-based movement that Mario is known for. In the early Super Mario games, Mario would have a hefty amount of momentum, making precise jumps more difficult. While momentum is still present, it does not feel like you are slipping around on ice at all times anymore. Super Mario World is easier than its predecessors because of this, but I wouldn’t say the game is a pushover either. There are plenty of more challenging levels that will test your mastery of platforming.

The biggest strength of Super Mario World is its simplicity and charm. It makes full use of the expanded color palette and music capabilities that the SNES offered. It’s easy to take these things for granted today, but at the time Super Mario World was so much more vibrant, colorful, and visually pleasing than other games. The levels are absurdly creative, making use of a huge variety of enemies, obstacles, and settings. Every single level is memorable for its own reason, and there was not a single level that I disliked. Not to mention the music from Koji Kondo is masterful as always. The catchy and famous main melody of the game is frequently reused in recognizable but unique ways depending on the level’s setting. An echoey version is used in caves, a slower-tempo and grandiose version is used in castles, the athletic piano version that we all know as quintessential Mario is used in the obstacle courses.

While Super Mario World may seem simple by today’s standards, it set the gold standard for platformers going forward. It’s just pure fun to explore the levels, uncover secret bonus levels, and master the movement and courses so you can speed through. The vibrant visuals, memorable music, imaginative environments, and clean controls make Super Mario World the purest kind of game. It’s a classic game that has aged gracefully, and its one that everyone should experience.

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