Welcome back to Square Roots, the column wherein we seek to conclude whether this or that Virtual Console game is worth revisiting. In the case of Super Mario World, I’ll cut to the chase: the answer is yes. Virtual Console brought the experience into the 21st century faithfully (though with the thorny requirement that one own a Classic Controller), and that experience is one of the very best the industry has to offer. Whether you’re too young to have played it before or were just unplugged when it hit the US in 1991, Super Mario World marks the plumber’s best appearance in two dimensions.
Feel is the biggest reason for this. Until 16-bit Mario, the Mushroom Kingdom felt challenging because of its topography, but because players didn’t have the right, sharp tools to engage it. Modern players–and of course I stress the word “modern” here–wrestle more with Mario’s dry crenelated movements than the obstacles keeping them from the princess. A glance at Super Mario Bros. mapped out would make this clear; on paper, it just doesn’t look that tough.
An atlas of Super Mario World, however, would be a daunting work. Just watch the latter half of the game’s credits (better yet: earn the right to do so!) and you’ll see just how many different threats Mario had to deal with. But at least he had the right shoes on. Whatever numbers the Nintendo devs punched in to make Mario the vehicle he was here… they’re perfect. As a result, Super Mario World yields some serious “oh snap!” moments, mad dashes, U turns, and short hops.
Not to mention lots of crazy TAS speedruns.
The second biggest reason is in the name. “World” was not a carelessly chosen end-tag: What Miyamoto gifted us truly is a world, one that explores a spectrum of climes calqued on our own (in a way, at least: We don’t have Cookie Mountain and the Forest of Illusions, but we do have… you know… mountains and forests). This varied palette tastefully adds scope to an already sprawling adventure complete with secret worlds.
Here’s some cool context for the game’s original release, courtesy of David Sheff “Game Over: How Nintendo Zapped an American Industry, Captured Your Dollars, and Enslaved Your Children.” I can’t speak for the candor of that title; haven’t read the book! But anyway, by the year 1991, Nintendo had surpassed Toyota as “Japan’s most competitive company,” and by the next was “consistently earning after-tax profits of more than $500 million a year.” 1992 was also synonymous with an 80% market share for Nintendo in the US.
The big N was, in other words, on top of the world, and Mario’s was expanding accordingly. The resources devoted to it shot up in tandem with the fact, as a team of fifteen worked on the game (compared to just three with the original Donkey Kong).
Nintendo’s next generation should pick the brains of the old! The company will likely be showing off Mario’s next 2D opus this summer at E3, but in light of recent 2D forays, I’m keeping a lid on my excitement. Mario’s traction in New Super Mario Bros. Wii feels slightly off, translating residual input into excess movement.
I’ve never been one to denounce HD remake fever, but in this case especially, I can only dream out loud that Nintendo would one day bring Super Mario World back with mechanics untouched (and, mayhaps, some cel-shading?)