A New Era of Mario
If you ask me to describe my first memory of Super Mario World, I’m not sure I could pinpoint a specific time when I was made aware of the game. It always seemed to be around by the time I gained a sense of sentience. By 1991, “Super Mario Mania” had already taken hold of much of the United States. Kids were crazy about Mario and the NES games had been selling amazingly well for Nintendo. Bringing out a new Mario game after the phenomenal Super Mario Bros. 3 would be a tall order considering how chock-full of content SMB3 was.
The Super Nintendo released in the US in August 1991 with Super Mario World as a pack-in game. This meant that every new owner of a SNES could play Super Mario World as soon as they unpacked the box. This was probably a wise decision by Nintendo, who was already dealing with some flack with releasing a new video game console that couldn’t play people’s NES games. Super Mario World was a guaranteed hit from day one, but does it truly live up to the hype?
Right from the bat, it was clear that Super Mario World was on a different level from the NES games that people cherished. The vibrant visuals and multi-faceted audio hit you as soon as you load up the title screen, with a little demonstration of Mario running around the level performing various hijinks while waiting for the player to begin their game. It taught you how to play the game immediately by showing you the new features of the game – riding on Yoshi, eating turtle shells, collection Dragon Coins, eating a Pokey, etc. – without the need to show you a tutorial.
The introductory screen explaining the story as soon as you begin was a great way to instantly hook you into what was going on. You are not in the Mushroom Kingdom anymore, but Dinosaur Land instead. Princess Toadstool is missing again and it’s all Bowser’s fault. This is certainly not a new storyline and Mario games have never been known for their complex plots, but this added a new element that hadn’t really been seen much outside of instruction manuals and Nintendo Power articles.
Fans may have been frustrated to see that many of the power-ups that they enjoyed from Super Mario Bros. 3 – namely, the Tanooki Suit, P-Wing, Frog Suit, Hammer Bros. Suit, and Kuribo’s Shoe – are nowhere to be seen in this game. In fact, the only real power-ups that Mario himself can gain are the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and the new Cape Feather. It seems like a strange decision to scale back the amount of power-ups, but considering Yoshi makes his debut in the game with a slew of power-ups on his own, it makes sense that Mario doesn’t have as wide of an access to old powers as he could.
Yoshi’s main trait is the ability to eat almost anything (enemies included); in fact, the Koopa Shell colors carry special attributes that allow Yoshi to pull off different feats, such as breathing fire and gaining wings. These extra power-ups are certainly not necessary to complete the main game, but they become absolutely vital to solving more difficult puzzles in hidden areas of the world. While he had his limitations (such as not being able to enter Ghost Houses or Castles), Yoshi was a valuable ally throughout your travels. There were even variations on musical themes depending on whether you were riding Yoshi, so his inclusion into this game was certainly not a mere afterthought.
There are a total of 72 levels in Super Mario World, but many of these levels have secret exits that take you to strange and unique new areas. Exploring all of these secret areas is really tricky, requiring you to hone your platforming skills to almost insane levels. This culminates into a final world: The Special World. With level names taken straight out of a 1980s surfer lexicon, these levels took great pains to make sure you had to really EARN that ending. Each world had its own unique set of challenges players had to overcome, and by completing the last one, you will – quite literally – obtain the title of “Super Player.”
Super Mario World certainly marked a new era for Nintendo as a company.
It is hard to be neutral about this game. It was a very important part of my childhood development, helping me hone my gaming skills and sleuthing abilities. I even consider finding all of the 96 exits in the game a rite of passage for me as a young gamer. As I am writing this retrospective right now, I am listening to the soundtrack and find myself instantly transported back to when I was very young, sitting in front of a giant CRT TV with a controller in my hand, trying to figure out how to unlock the Secret Area so I have an unlimited supply of Yoshi eggs and power-ups. It is ingrained in my memory like few other games, constantly tempting me to go back and play through a few levels.
Super Mario World certainly marked a new era for Nintendo as a company. They were able to not only revitalize the video game market in North America, but kept a firm foothold in the market for several years to come. The Super Nintendo and Super Mario World were like a trojan horse for a new generation of gaming, and the console war that followed afterwards was considered the stuff of legends for my generation. And who do we have to thank for this? A cheeky plumber and his green dinosaur friend.