Now that SNES games are available on Nintendo Switch Online, we've decided to revisit each of them in a fresh review. Expect to see updated reviews for all of the titles currently available over the next few weeks.
Impressive software is vital for a console's launch, and the powerful one-two combination of the Mode 7 razzmatazz in F-Zero and sublime gameplay in Super Mario World ensured that Nintendo's November 1990 Japanese launch of the Super Famicom would sting its Mega Drive and PC Engine competition from the outset.
Since then gamers have deservedly showered Super Mario World in accolades – just one example is the readers' votes for Issue 150 of Retro Gamer magazine, declaring Nintendo's side-scrolling platformer as number one in their '150 Greatest Games Ever' list. Over the years, hundreds of video games can reasonably be considered as a 'classic', but only a limited few like Super Mario World are a masterpiece.
Released seven months before SEGA's comparably impactful Sonic the Hedgehog, upon first embarking on Mario's adventure the game instantly stood out with its world map of Dinosaur Land presenting pathways through intriguing locations like Donut Plains, Vanilla Dome, Cheese Bridge, the Forest of Illusion and Chocolate Island. All of these routes led to the daunting Valley of Bowser to rescue Princess Toadstool. In each area dwells the Koopalings' castles – as Iggy, Morton, Lemmy, Ludwig von, Roy, Wendy O. and Larry were quirkily named after musicians, just like the boss group of Triceratops named Reznor – as well as mystery-door-solving Ghost House puzzles to explore.
Initially, Super Mario World's graphics weren't a technical showcase for the new SNES hardware based upon flashy effects, but it's a delightful-looking 16-bit game for its subtleties. These visual niceties include the vibrant use of colour, alongside cute animation details like teeny Mario's rapid feet while sprinting, or the plumber punching Yoshi's head to fire his tongue out, and holding up V for victory fingers upon course completion.
Effects like the transparent foreground clouds outside each Ghost House are effective, as well as charismatic sprites like the peek-a-boo Big Boo. There's a bold, striking simplicity to the pure white clouds over Cheese Bridge or the imagination behind Chocolate Island, which contrasts with the Mode 7 showmanship of the final Bowser boss battle, as he zooms in and out of the screen in a clown-faced copter. These creative locations carried over successfully when Super Mario Kart was also set in Dinosaur Land two years later.
Koji Kondo excelled himself with his Super Mario World compositions, from the iconic theme found in the Yoshi's Island 1 course, to the glorious piano in the Yoshi's Island 3 stage. The soundtrack is also diverse enough to alter its mood in each eerie Ghost House, plus the mysterious Forest of Illusion map tune, and rescuing Yoshi trapped inside an egg results in a charming drumbeat change into funky Soca beats. There's even a sense of triumphant joy during the quirky, hyperactive end credits music, which settles into beautiful melancholy when the adventure is over and Mario is back at Yoshi's House.
Side-scrolling Mario games have always innovated with diverse power-ups to the point that some like the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Super Star are standardised. However, Super Mario World continued to be inventive with new additions like the P-Balloon and the cape-endowing Feather – which saw Mario sprinting with arms outstretched, soaring skywards, dive-bombing and then flying upwards again for a satisfying glide. The Cape Feather was so much fun that its concept was recreated in Batman: Arkham City. And let's not forget the impact that Yoshi made; a ridable power-up ally who changed the game and would inspire titles like Donkey Kong Country.
Controls are perfect throughout, with Mario sliding down hills to butt crush enemies, spin-jumping on top of green bubbles in Vanilla Ghost House, carrying enemies as a defensive shield, or tapping the jump button to float gradually with the Cape Feather over lava Blarggs and Cheese Bridge chainsaws. If you're a fan of the creation tools in Super Mario Maker 2, Super Mario World's imaginative courses are an immaculate example of Nintendo's design expertise, especially the layout of the challenging castles.
The game is packed with perks, from collecting five Dragon Coins for an extra life to breaking exit gate tape as high as possible to collect 100 Goal Stars for a Bonus Game. The game is also generous with 1-Up Mushrooms with a limit of 99 lives, although they reset to five starting lives when rebooting a save made after beating a Ghost House or castle.
Its design brims with long-lasting appeal, from finding exclamation blocks that link to Switch Palaces and trigger new platforms, to red spots on the map tantalising the possibility of secret routes and concealed keys, including unlocking the fabled Star World – which in itself hid more 'Special' surprises. The ultimate aim is to uncover all 96 exits that lead to a total of 72 courses. Subsequently, Super Mario World is meticulously designed for gamers who relish searching for secrets.
Takashi Tezuka, game director of Super Mario World, explained in a 2017 Nintendo.com interview that "development was shorter than for Super Mario Bros. 3." However, he elaborated that "launch titles are the first games that let players try the new hardware's features, so they benefit in being able to surprise many players who are experiencing those features for the first time."
While some may argue that Super Mario World was a refinement of the series in comparison to how the second and third games distinctly innovated on previous gameplay mechanics, in any case, Super Mario World was an outstanding SNES launch game that fine-tuned the exemplary gameplay established in Super Mario Bros. 3. Earning a prestigious second place in our poll of the 20 debut SNES Games On Nintendo Switch Online, revisiting Super Mario World is an essential way of experiencing a triumph in 16-bit platforming.
While many retro games can claim to be a classic, not many are a solid gold masterpiece. Super Mario World is a masterclass in side-scrolling platforming design, to the point that modern 2D game developers should be encouraged to study it as a pre-requisite of mastering their craft. The artistry on display here is not just the way Koji Kondo's tunes fit perfectly with Dinosaur Land's locations in its creative world map – with courses that were presented with subtle 16-bit graphical flair for the November 1990 launch of the Super Famicom – but its success as an outstanding video game is predominantly due to stellar course design and its tantalising 96 level exits. It's the hidden gameplay surprises that keep you playing and returning for more, so it's the secrets that are ultimately Super Mario World's 'special' sauce.