Join us as we review all the games on the SNES Classic Mini Edition in chronological order!
Whenever a new console lets Nintendo tap into additional processing power, it traditionally funnels those extra resources into its games' mechanics. First, it does what it can to realize long-held dreams for its series, e.g. "We've always wanted to make Mario ride a dinosaur, so now that we have the means to make him do so, Mario's going to ride a damn dinosaur." Once that's done, Nintendo uses whatever's left to gussy up a game's graphics and sound.
That's likely the reason why Super Mario World for the SNES isn't a very fancy-looking game, but its depth is unmatched by other action titles. That's something I noticed as far back as the early '90s, when my friends were gushing over Sonic the Hedgehog's sky-high "Cool!" factor and Mario World was dragged through the mud in commercials for the Sega Genesis.
"That's not right!" I said. "Yeah, Mario World is slower than Sonic, but that's because Mario World is about exploration and careful movements. It's a game that rewards players who wander off the path. Sonic's more about raw platforming and speed."
Unfortunately, my classmates were too riled up by the 16-bit Console Wars to heed my wisdom. I wasn't executed or exiled, but a Sega fan once lobbed a block of wood at me in Wood Shop, and I guess that kind of sucked.
Ah, but the magic of hindsight lets me smile back on those days. I was right. I was totally right. Better still, Super Mario World is a gem of a game, and I did the right thing by standing up for it. Now if only I'd funneled that quasi-religious fervor into ending world hunger or something useful.
Given the critical and commercial success of Super Mario Bros 3 for the NES, few people would've begrudged Nintendo for re-visiting the Mushroom Kingdom with a brighter color palette. But Super Mario World takes us far away from familiar fields and guides us to Dinosaur Land, a prehistoric realm inhabited by "dinosaurs" whose bizarre biology is more suggestive of dragons and other fantasy creatures.
Nintendo's decision to make Mario World so different from its predecessor is ultimately the right one. Mario World feels less rigid than Mario 3. Its map offers more opportunities for exploration, its levels are longer, and there's a host of new challenges to contend with. Though even I must admit it was initially a little off-putting to observe how differently Mario World looked and played next to Mario 3. "Capes?" I said. "What, Nintendo, are you too cool for raccoon tails now?"
But when I played Mario World for the first time, I quickly learned Nintendo wasn't trying to alter its past image; it just had a whole bunch of new ideas it wanted to try out. In addition to levels that ask you to adhere to the classic Mario ruleset (move from left to right and avoid enemies and pits until you reach the end goal), you need to tackle new and tricky terrain like Ghost Houses. These haunted mansions are brimming with illusions and secrets – not to mention restless souls capable of killing Mario with a touch. Unlike Mario 3, not all ghosts in Mario World are stymied by a stare. Survival requires some fancy footwork.
Luckily, Mario has a new move set and power-ups to help him survive his "vacation" in Dinosaur Land. The SNES controller has six action buttons compared to the NES's simple "A" and "B," and Nintendo puts the extra inputs to work by giving Mario two different flavors of jumping. The "B" jump is Mario's trusty vanilla leap that lets him clear tall buildings and stomp weak enemies like Goombas and Koopas, but it's the new spinning "A" jump that will get you out of a jam time and time again. The "A" jump can dispatch enemies that would otherwise survive a normal stomp, it can break bricks underneath Mario's feet, and skilled players can even use it to bounce off spiked enemies who'd otherwise puncture the soles of Mario's boots.
While your initial reaction to Mario having two kinds of jump might understandably be "Who needs it? Why can't Nintendo keep things simple?", Mario World does an excellent job tutoring players on Mario's new skills. One of the earliest levels in the game features a pipe that can only be accessed if a powered-up Mario uses his new spin-jump to clear a path. When you enter the pipe, you find a Dragon Coin as a reward (every level has five Dragon Coins, and collecting them all nets you a 1UP). Alternatively, you can skip the pipe altogether and keep going across the surface of the level. You rarely encounter a moment in the game when using the spin-jump is mandatory.
In fact, much of Mario World's appeal lies in the fact it can be as straightforward or as complex as you want it to be. Like most Mario games, it's possible to finish the games in mere minutes if you employ warps – or, in this case, travel along the "Star Road" that acts as a tesseract between the game's worlds. But to even access the Star Road, you need to sample a taste of the myriad secrets Mario World has on-hand. Levels marked with a yellow dot contain one exit, but Ghost Houses and levels marked with a red dot have two or more exits. Alternate exits open new pathways, new levels, and the aforementioned Star Road. Will you make a beeline for Bowser in ten moves or less? Or will you dig up all 96 exits and uncover the secrets they offer? It's up to you.
If you're intent on uncovering every corner of Dinosaur Land (which is the right thing to do), you're going to want to enlist the help of Mario's dinosaur pal, Yoshi. Yoshi can grab-and-gulp foes with his tongue, and the enemies he can't digest are spit back out as fire or projectiles. One hit sends him running, but Yoshi eggs are plentiful – and explorers can even find rare differently-colored baby Yoshis with innate powers.
Yoshi is a big part of what makes Mario World a special game. Sure, Mario can get the job done on his own, but cavalry is always cooler than foot soldiers. Moreover, Yoshi can step on hazardous terrain, and riding him lets Mario take a hit from an enemy without losing his power-up (or his life). You can also vault off his back to get a little extra height during a jump. This is especially handy when you're – ahem – in danger of falling into a pit.
That said, Mario's scaly buddy is also the source of one of Mario World's few shortcomings: Finding regular power-ups doesn't feel as rewarding as it does in older, Yoshi-free Mario games. The Fire Flower, once the pinnacle of power-ups, is a joke in Mario World. Whereas the Fire Flower makes Mario an ironic underwater fire-king in Super Mario Bros and Super Mario Bros 3, Yoshi's versatility renders it flaccid.
Again, though – Mario Word is loath to make you do anything. You don't have to trigger the Switch Palaces that bridge some gaps and make the game easier. You don't have to use Yoshi; you can just leave him bouncing on top of the Question Block you found him in for all of eternity, if that's your preference. You don't have to seek out the Star Road, or find every secret exit, or conquer every mini-fortress, or push every Koopa Kid off their roost.
No, you don't have to do any of that, but you probably will. Super Mario World is a game that knows you're going to start off with a nibble, and it's ready to serve you when you inevitably decide to tuck in for the full meal.
Also, it's still better than any of Sonic the Hedgehog games for the Sega Genesis.
"But Nadia, earlier you said the Sonic games and the Mario games are totally different—"
Is Super Mario World the best Mario game ever? Civilizations will go to war before we have a definitive answer, but for now, we can safely classify it as one of the best platforming games ever made.