As one of the most popular and influential series in video games, Super Mario Bros. must appeal to a wide audience of players across a massive spectrum of skills. The main stages of nearly every Super Mario Bros. game accomplish this daunting feat through balanced level design, innovative gimmicks, and fun challenges that nearly anyone can complete. However, late-game and special stages have traditionally been the place where Nintendo tests the mettle and skill of more veteran players.
Areas like Special Zone in Super Mario World and stages like Champion’s Road in Super Mario 3D World are just a couple of examples of Nintendo flexing its game-design muscles in ways rarely seen during the main courses. While we don’t know if Super Mario Bros. Wonder has any kind of post- or late-game challenge along those lines, in my conversations with producer Takashi Tezuka and director Shiro Mouri as part of this issue’s cover story, the topic of difficulty came up.
Though the many stages I’ve played over the course of my three hands-on sessions have been a ton of fun, they’ve also been in line with Mario’s tradition of being approachable to players of varied skill levels. However, according to Mouri, my time with the game has barely scratched the surface. “What you’ve played is just a really, very thin slice of what’s in store, and there are a lot wilder, more inventive experiences in the full version,” he says. “More than that would be a spoiler, so I just want to encourage you to give it a try and really experience it for yourself.”
A couple of stages – namely, Bloomps of the Desert Skies and Countdown to Drop Down – are clearly more difficult than the others I’ve played, but nothing tripped me up more than a stumble here or here. Still, Nintendo teases that if you hope to accomplish everything in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, it might put your skills to the test in some areas.
One aspect of Super Mario Bros. Wonder completionists will want to tackle is collecting every Badge. While some can be purchased through the in-game store using collectible Flower Coins, others must be outright earned. “It really is going to be quite challenging to be able to collect all of the Badges, so if you feel confident in your Mario-playing skills, I implore you to give it a shot,” Mouri says.
In response to Mouri, Tezuka chimes in, “No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t get the last one.”
“As you can see, it’s really difficult even for the developers themselves,” Mouri responded. “I got all the Badges!”
“Up until now, I have completed pretty much every single Mario game that I’ve worked on,” Tezuka, who started work on the Mario series with the first Super Mario Bros. game, says. “But for this one, I did have to have help with two courses. All the rest, I did myself.”
Tezuka says that ultimately, he was able to clear every course, but “with some regrets.” “There were two courses where I couldn’t complete every aspect there was to complete,” he says. “I’m just not as skilled as the other staff members. As for the most challenging stages, I’m glad it’s at the difficulty level it is because creating courses based on my skill level would surely make it feel lacking for many players.”
Though that final Badge tripped up Tezuka’s quest for 100-percent completion, once you have them in your inventory, Badges can serve as a way to adjust your character’s abilities if you’d like to make certain sequences easier. For example, Action Badges give you useful abilities you can activate whenever you want, like higher jumps or a gliding action, while Boost Badges grant passive abilities, like being able to automatically bounce out of a pit or start each stage with a Super Mushroom. If you’re hoping to inject more challenge into the experience, a third Badge type, Expert Badges, provides difficult-to-master abilities, like forcing your character to sprint through the stage or turning them invisible to both enemies and players. These are meant to provide gameplay bonuses, but until you master their effects, they can layer on difficulty as well.
“We can have Badges that, like, auto-save you if you fall down a pit, or you can have Badges that turn you invisible,” Mouri says. “There are Badges that are suited for supporting novice players and also Badges that kind of provide advanced players with a little bit of handicapping as they’re playing the game. I think this really provides a lot of options and a lot of variety for all different kinds of players.”
Even the characters themselves are a good way to adjust the difficulty. Mario, Luigi, Peach, Daisy, and the Toads all play identically, while Nabbit and the Yoshis are meant for less experienced players, as they can’t take damage from enemies. However, those characters are balanced by not being able to use power-ups, so some of the unique and explorative elements might be lost in that way.
“Both these characters, I think they’re really good choices for people who are maybe not very good at action games, but for other folks who maybe do play [action games], their pride might not allow them to select Yoshi or Nabbit,” Tezuka says. “But they are really unique characters, and we put a lot of effort into designing them. I think it would be great for people to consider playing with Yoshi and Nabbit from time to time, regardless of that earlier reluctance as a result of their own pride.”
In addition, for those who struggle with more difficult Mario courses, Mouri recommends using Super Mario Bros. Wonder’s multiplayer features, including the Standee function that can act as an in-stage checkpoint of sorts. “Even though there may be some very challenging courses, there are several ways of playing the game that will help aid you in clearing those courses,” he says. “I’d like to really ask everyone to give it a shot.”
In many games, boss battles serve as skill-check moments for players. We’ve only received glimpses of what to expect on that front, but according to Nintendo, we should look forward to some wild, over-the-top encounters in the upcoming platformer. “Right off the bat, we felt that the boss battles themselves also needed some kind of new coat of paint, “Mouri says. “When I was considering what kind of boss battle experiences would fit this title, I came to the conclusion that they would have to be using the powers of Wonder. This is stepping into spoiler territory, so I’m not able to share much, but just expect a lot of Wonder-induced attacks.”
Whether or not those inventive encounters translate to a high degree of difficulty remains to be seen, but at the very least, we should hopefully experience boss encounters unlike anything else we’ve seen in the series to date. Super Mario Bros. Wonder arrives on Switch on October 20. For more on the upcoming game, be sure to check out our coverage hub by visiting the banner below.