The goal of The Game Hoard is to play every video game ever released and review them along the way, so it was only a matter of a time before I got to reviewing a game as monumentally important as Super Mario World. Essentially standing as the Super Nintendo’s representative game, Super Mario World both propelled the SNES to greatness and stands as one of the best games in its library still to this day. It would be foolish to try and act like this game isn’t going to get a high rating, but a rating without an explanation is meaningless, so think of this more as an explanation why Super Mario World is such an important and enjoyable title rather than a review that could have convinced someone on the fence to buy it.
Super Mario World does begin like many other Mario games. Princess Toadstool is missing and Bowser is the obvious guy to blame, although Bowser went the extra mile this time and decided to capture the eggs of a bunch of dinosaurs known as Yoshis as well. Mario, and Luigi if you play two-player, must now set off and explore Dinosaur Land to take down Bowser’s minions the Koopalings, rescue the eggs, and then take the princess back as well. Dinosaur Land itself is a lot more fleshed out than previous Mario overworlds, and even future Mario games rarely matched the design of the world map in making it look like you were exploring an actual location instead of just going between themed worlds. The platforming levels in this game all come with designs that make the levels feel different from each other even when they may be repeating the same visual elements. While not all areas are visually appealing because the layout of the level takes priority over the appearance, that does mean you’ll at least be having fun while running across those sometimes bland looking hills.
The game isn’t ugly really, just a bit limited in design… and yeah, the Koopaling bosses are actually ugly, as is Bowser himself. Still, their appearances don’t detract from the game, and each of them put up a good fight even if the battles are rather simple. Helping the levels along with feeling better is some top quality music. Catchy and bouncy tunes will accompany you through most levels, peeled back only for atmospheric songs in the underground levels and ghost houses. Speaking of those ghost houses, Super Mario World gets a bit more experimental with its levels than previous Mario games, sometimes to its detriment with concepts that don’t exactly add much to the experience, but mostly contributing a much appreciated dash of variety to the runs from left to right. Even simple levels will try to introduce something different, usually in the form of a new enemy to deal with or a new platform type. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the levels has to be the abundance of secrets, with extra exits found in any level that is flashing red on the map instead of yellow. Super Mario World asks you to solve puzzles or explore the levels more closely at times, either to give you a way to some new optional levels to play or, like in the Forest of Illusion area or the ghost houses, making it the core concept of that level archetype.
Top-notch level design is all well and good, but if Mario had just been running and jumping, this would hardly make Super Mario World stand out. Mario’s got tons of new things at his disposal as well as a few familiar power-ups that make Dinosaur Island a lot more fun and interesting. The obvious addition to mention is Yoshi, a dinosaur you can ride through levels who can eat enemies and spit them out. Normally, Mario can only take one hit before dying, but if he gets a power-up, he is able to take two hits, losing the power-up and returning to just run-and-jump little Mario. Yoshi, however, adds a third hit, running off when you take damage and quite nicely allowing you to hop back on him if you’re quick enough. Not only that, you can use Yoshi in a few interesting ways, like leaping off his back for a boost or having him eat certain enemies to get brief abilities like spitting fire or flight! Yoshi’s not the only one who can fly though, as Mario’s got two new ways to take to the sky. Joining the Mushroom that just made Mario bigger and the Fire Flower that gave him an attack method that isn’t just hopping on the heads of his enemies, Mario now has a Cape power-up, where if you can get a good run going, Mario is able to soar up into the air like a superhero. Flight is limited by your ability to maintain it, and some levels are designed specifically to keep you grounded, but it’s a good option there for more casual players who want to breeze past a hard level and it can help even an experienced player drift to a platform they almost missed. The other means of flight is much rarer and almost not worth mentioning, but the P Balloon that turns Mario into a balloon is also a show of the designer’s restraint in that they won’t inundate you with elements simply because they exist. Some things you rarely see, but it makes them more of a treat to use or encounter. Yoshi, thankfully, isn’t so rare, although he is restricted in use in that Mario forced to leave him outside of castles and ghost houses. He still gets a lot more use than the later Mario 2D platformers that brought him back and forgot the appeal of the dinosaur mount. Those games restricted Yoshi only to certain levels and very rarely dished him out. In Super Mario World, you’ll get many uses of the dinosaur and can carry him between levels too! Another nice feature seemingly abandoned for no reason is the ability to store a power-up for later. If you grab another power-up item in a level or get an upgrade from the basic Mushroom, the other item will be saved in a box at the top of the screen. Pressing select or getting hurt will send that power-up dropping in from above, giving you the chance to get back up to speed even after taking damage!
Much like the sprite design on the bosses though, sometimes you’ll see the game’s age. Mainly, in the form of the game’s save system, where you must beat certain level types to save at all. This was Mario learning how to implement a save system when they weren’t exactly standard, but it can lead to set-backs, and the areas you need to beat to save are often the more challenging levels like the Ghost Houses and Fortresses. You can also save after activating the Hidden Switch Palaces though, which are both easy to beat and incredibly helpful. Find these secret areas and tons of levels throughout the game will have extra blocks added to them to make things easier. The game isn’t impossible without the switches either, meaning that they are simply another way of augmenting the difficulty to be easier for those who need it. The challenge in Super Mario World does ramp up at a steady pace, the later levels requiring more caution and intelligence to navigate as level puzzles become requirements and hazards become stronger, but you should be trained up by that point to know what to expect and how to deal with it. Some of the secret levels though will push you to the brink with unusual puzzles to solve or tight platforming challenges, but as they are billed as being pretty much the super secret area, they are designed that way to be the ultimate test of your Super Mario World skills.
THE VERDICT: Being the flagships Super Nintendo title did mean Super Mario World had a few issues with its visual presentation, with some odd looking sprites and basic backgrounds, but the game as a whole still has a visual appeal and definitely delivers in the audio department as well. When even the sound effects endear themselves to the player, you know you’ve got something special on your hands. Mario’s got enough abilities to vary up the experience when coupled with the constantly advancing levels, and all of this blends together so well that it makes a game that fans both casual and experienced can still find a lot of joy in Super Mario World.
And so, I give Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo…
A FANTASTIC rating. Super Mario World lands right in the sweet spot of what a 2D Mario platformer should be. Plenty of variety, fun power-ups, accessibility, and a game that is packed with little touches that make it more than just a typical Mario Bros. game. The side-scrolling Mario games that followed such as the New Super Mario Bros. series struggled to capture the same magic found in Super Mario World, and while the aren’t exactly bad, Super Mario World prospered for advancing its format instead of trying to recapture the appeal of the earlier titles.
This review wasn’t my first brush with Super Mario World and it certainly won’t be my last. It’s easily replayable and got a few secrets worth sticking your nose into even after going down the main route. Super Mario World is certainly worth a visit if it passed you by and worth a revisit if it’s been a while since you played it. While other 2D platformers might do one aspect or another better than Super Mario World, this game managed to balance simplicity, appeal, and accessibility so expertly that it’s no surprise it’s the best-selling Super Nintendo game released.