If there is one game that defined Nintendo during the 16-bit era, this would be it! Created as a launch title for the newborn SNES, it came out the same year that Sonic the Hedgehog was released for the Genesis. This was the game that was tasked with selling the new hardware and convincing NES owners to upgrade to the SNES. And it did a spectacular job. Super Mario World pushed the franchise in new directions, adding content while toning down the difficulty from its predecessor. It became one of THE games we think of most when we think Mario.
Story-wise, I like to think of this as a sort of mop-up mission for Mario and his friends. While on vacation after the events of Super Mario Bros. 3, they come to find that Peach has been kidnapped again by an on-the-run Bowser. We also learn that the remnants of Bowser’s army have messed up Dinosaur Island. It’s up to Mario to save the day with the help of his new friend Yoshi! Perhaps the most important addition to the game was the inclusion of this new dino pal. Creator Shigeru Miyamoto claims that he had always wanted Mario to have an animal companion, but due to technical limitations of the NES hardware, this feature was cut. With the Super NES in development the team revisited this idea, and Yoshi came into being. Aside from giving Mario another hit and the ability to swallow some enemies, I loved how the Yoshi dynamic changed the course of a level in both structure and path. Whenever you saw Yoshi pop up in a level, you could be pretty sure that the level would be enhanced by using him.
That’s just the start. Similar to its forerunners, Super Mario World’s focus is on combining pure platforming action with pitch-perfect level design. This alone would have been enough but luckily we received more. Much like its predecessor, the real star of the show are the levels themselves. Dinosaur Island is an amazing world that was full of vistas and areas different from the Mushroom Kingdom, yet still fitting with the literary nonsense that is the basis for the Mario Universe. Now we have vanilla caverns and chocolate mountains. There is even a forest themed area that really messes with your mind by forcing you to find hidden exits. In fact the Forest of Illusion is a perfect example of another important innovation this world brings to the table. Dinosaur Island is one inter-connected landmass that contains all of the sixty-plus levels, allowing you to replay your favorites anytime you want! On top of that, levels now have the previously mentioned multiple exits, making the overworld branch out into new directions and opening new levels as you complete them. This is one of the most important additions to the Mario formula. As a child I was always excited to see how Mario’s journey would carve up Dinosaur Island, and the addition of secret optional levels was a real treat.
Stages are as tight as expected from a Mario title, with good enemy placement and little to no empty space. Super Mario World is light on new LEVEL concepts with the exception of the Ghost House which offers a great change of pace from other stages. The rest of the stages are instead dedicated to applying dynamic changes to the level based on the player’s choices. To use Yoshi or not to use Yoshi? Believe it or not the answer to this question can change the entire course you take through the level. Further changing the stages are the switch palaces. As you play you may notice that there are colored block outlines in some areas. These turn to solid blocks once you find that color’s hidden switch palace. The effect of having a switch on can range from giving you a power up to opening up a whole new level path, so it pays to seek them out. They sure make life easier once you reach the later levels! Or for a challenge complete as much of the game as you can by avoiding the switches, thereby playing the levels without their benefit.
Finally, even completing the game does not give you license to celebrate, since over a quarter of the game is hidden from view! Have you found the Star Road? It’s a whole world hidden from view that can operate like a shortcut to the endgame! Super Mario World takes secrets to an absurd level! Here’s how it works. Every level has a goal post that signals its end, but many levels have more than one. Activating each post carves a different path through the island, sometimes leading to entire areas that you will never see otherwise! Note that the hidden content doesn’t just consist of levels, as there are moves in Mario’s arsenal that you will never be forced to use throughout most of the game. Things like Yoshi Boosting, Spin-Hopping and Cape-Bombing can all be of use but are not generally required tactics. That is what the Special Stage is for! Anyone who brings up Super Mario World’s lack of difficulty can be pointed to levels such as Tubular and Awesome. Remember that Balloon power-up that you NEVER really use? Here it is required! There is also a level where you’ll need a Super Star and one penultimate stage that uses the clock itself against you! Luckily all of this is optional yet is there if you want it.
Ultimately the legacy of Super Mario World is this: As the first Mario title on the system, I do not think its purpose was to be more challenging than 3. Instead it was supposed to introduce a whole new generation of gamers to the Mario Universe. It succeeded, as Super Mario World sold 20 million games and SNES systems along with it. It is just a shame that these fans were never given the proper sequel that the NES gamers received. That’s why I think there wouldn’t be near the controversy over Super Mario World’s lack of difficulty if Nintendo had just put out the sequel we were all waiting for. The 1st Sonic game was very easy compared to the 3rd, but no one ever mentions this because fans of Sonic the Hedgehog received 4 games. Each game built on the next in terms of content and difficulty. We had to wait 18 YEARS for our sequel to come out. Take Mario World for what it is – A great way to kick start Mario on the SNES. It’s just too bad he retired so soon after.
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