Right from the six-note melody that opens the first stage, you can tell there's something special about Super Mario World. This is the Super Nintendo launch title that set the bar impossibly high for day-one releases, created the magic that games such as Super Mario 64, Sonic Adventure, and Luigi's Mansion have hoped to echo since, and that nearly two decades on is still regarded by many as the gold standard of platforming adventures.
It's a true classic in every sense of the word, but unlike some other Nintendo mainstays, Super Mario World has only been re-released a few times before now: once bundled with Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES, once as a GBA remake, and once on the Wii Virtual Console. Now that it's arrived on the Wii U Virtual Console, is it worth picking up once again? We think so; off-screen play, customizable controls and Miiverse integration make this the best version yet. And if you're wondering whether to play Super Mario World for the first time, feel free to go ahead and start it downloading before you read the rest of this review. You're going to love it.
Super Mario World carries on the platforming legacy of the Super Mario Bros. series, and the basic gameplay here is much the same: players guide our heroic plumber across a world map, running and jumping from left to right through seventy-odd levels spread out over seven (or more?) connected worlds, all in a bid to rescue the predictably kidnapped Princess Toadstool. This time around, Mario's familiar Mushroom Kingdom is swapped for the terra incognita of Dinosaur Land, and you'll meet plenty of prehistoric friends along the way who need to be rescued from Bowser's Koopalings as well.
The Dinosaur Land setting means that Super Mario World doesn't rely on the "fire world, ice world" themes that often appear in platformers; instead, its considerable variety goes well beyond a change of scenery, and individual levels mix things up in a way that keeps it feeling fresh throughout the entire journey. In addition to straightforward platforming, you'll have to work your way out of brain-bending, maze-like Ghost Houses, contend with forced-scrolling obstacle courses in the Koopalings' fortresses, and leap through aerial stages with hardly any ground to touch. In a welcome change from the Super Mario Bros. games, each world's Koopaling boss puts up a unique fight; you'll still get plenty of mileage out of the three-bops-on-the-head technique, but each boss' attack patterns, arenas, and strategies are different, and they're all fun to battle.
In fact, this title is incredibly fun in its entirety, from start to finish. In addition to the bucketfuls of charm present at every turn, there are a few specific aspects that make it such an absolute joy to play. Foremost is the game's incomparable controls. You'll run through Dinosaur Land with some of the smoothest, tightest platforming controls seen anywhere. Mario's moves are few - jumping, spin-jumping, running, and ducking - but with clever combinations of these basic maneuvers you can pull off some seriously satisfying tricks.
That feeds directly into what is possibly Super Mario World's biggest achievement: it's an unrivaled master class in level design. There's a sense of momentum to the stages that becomes clear as you play, turning what at first appears to be a staccato sequence of individual obstacles into an elegant racing line of jumps, dashes, bops and shell-tosses. It rewards players who tape down the run button and fly through on instinct, but there's also plenty to entice you into stopping and smelling the Piranha Plants. Five Dragon Coins placed tantalizingly just out of reach in each level reward you with a 1-up, unmarked warp pipes to coin stashes and power-ups are dotted all over, and there are dozens of secret exits from stages, leading to new and hidden areas on the map that are well worth reaching.
Along with excellent level design, inventive power-ups have always been a big part of Mario platformers, and this one is no exception. The Tanooki, Frog, and Hammer suits from Super Mario Bros. 3 are sadly gone, but Super Mario World has some new tricks up its overalls that more than make up for their absence. The first is the feather power-up, which grants Mario a superhero cape and lets him float, glide, and spin-attack his way through stages. It might not be as adorable as the Tanooki suit, but it's definitely a lot of fun, and leaping and bounding over levels with the cape billowing behind feels as great as it sounds.
We're fans of the feather here at Nintendo Life, but the introduction of a plumage-based power-up isn't a patch on this game's biggest addition: Yoshi. The lovable green dino makes his first appearance in Super Mario World as Mario's companion, and Nintendo games have never been the same since. Yoshi can use his lengthy tongue to eat up almost any enemy, as well as apples scattered around stages for coins and some cool bonuses. By holding different coloured Koopa shells in his mouth, he can spit fire, kick up deadly sand clouds, and even fly - can your Tanooki suit do all that? Yoshi changes the way you'll look at levels; there are lots of routes and exits you can only take with the green steed in tow, and a few that you'll need to leave him behind for. Beyond that, riding Yoshi is just plain fun - it's impossible not to smile when you break open a '?' block and find a green egg inside. There's a reason a generation of gamers tried almost everything to unlock him in Super Mario 64.
Later generations who were introduced to platforming with the New Super Mario Bros. series will be surprised to learn that Mario's multiplayer antics weren't always so rowdy. Before he and Luigi were fighting a pair of Toads for coins and screen-space on the Wii, they enjoyed the classic, comparatively civilized two-player co-op mode found in Super Mario World, where players take turns moving around the map and clearing levels. (As anyone with siblings can tell you, the younger player is obligatorily Luigi.) Depending on how you play, it can be a friendship-affirming buddy-quest or a continuous battle of 1-upmanship, but either way it's a blast. Just as with real-world adventures, this game is best enjoyed in company, and playing through the game with a friend is one of the finest ways to spend a day that we can think of.
While opinions vary on whether or not this is the best-looking 2D Mario outing (Yoshi's Island's pastel-painted style is hard to beat), Super Mario World is an absolutely beautiful game in its own right. It's bright and bold, with clean lines and a cartoon-like style that reminds us a bit of The Wind Waker, in a very good way. This is iconic 16-bit Mario - the graphical holy grail that retro-styled games aspire to - and it holds up incredibly well even today.
The soundtrack by legendary composer Koji Kondo is similarly timeless. It's full of memorable melodies, many of which are variations on a single theme that runs throughout the game. You'll hear the level 1-1 tune bubble up as a waltz in underwater sections, echo nervously underground, and charge quickly and confidently ahead in the air. In a truly lovely touch, hopping onto Yoshi's back adds a bouncy bongo beat to whatever stage music is playing. The excellent sound effects provide another interactive layer to the soundscape - from Yoshi's famous 'start-up' noise to grabbing coins, breaking blocks, spin-jumping, entering pipes and even being shot out of them, every action has a unique identifying sound.
Super Mario World has always been a phenomenal game, and this Wii U edition adds a few new features to the mix that make it the best version yet. First, the most immediately exciting: off-screen play via the GamePad marks the first time you can potentially play Super Mario World in bed. (Sure, there was the GBA remake, but this is the original.) Dinosaur Land looks excellent on the small screen, with crisp lines and a colour palette that's serendipitously very well suited to the Wii U's streaming technology - it looks so good that we constantly found ourselves looking at the GamePad even while playing on the TV.
One of the coolest additions afforded by Super Mario World's new Wii U home is Miiverse integration. Its community is a great place to share memories and see some amazing art, but for a game as full of secrets as this one, it's also a fantastic resource. It's been a fair few years since we'd last made it out of the secret-exit-ridden Forest of Illusion, for instance, and when we got stuck on the fourth stage, a quick trip to Miiverse was all it took to bail us out. We found a post by someone else having the same problem, read the helpful (and marked-as-spoilers!) tips in the comments, and were back on our journey within a minute. It's amazing what Miiverse can do - when Super Mario World was originally released, players had to rely on playground intel to find all 96 exits, and anyone who's spent fruitless summer days searching for Mew under a truck can attest to the fact that that isn't always a reliable source.
Given the Wii U's bevy of possible control inputs, it's great to see that almost every option you can imagine is supported here. Players who grew up with the original Super Mario World should have no trouble translating their skills to the GamePad or Wii U Pro Controller - and the game feels wonderful on those pads - but if you're looking for a more authentic experience, you can plug in an original Wii Classic Controller — or the SNES Classic Controller if you're lucky enough to own one — and party like it's 1990. Another first for this release is the ability to customize the controls entirely to your liking. Struggled to pull off a running spin-jump on the SNES? Cut your platforming teeth on Rayman Origins or another series with shoulder-button dashes? Remap a run button to 'ZR' and rock on. It's worth mentioning that we initially ran into a frustrating amount of difficulty trying to assign a controller to a second player. The Virtual Console interface is unnecessarily obtuse about this, but it's easy enough to do once you know how.
Finally, as with all Virtual Console games on the Wii U, you can create a restore point to come back to at any time. Super Mario World was actually the first Mario game to let you save your progress - with in-game save points dotted fairly regularly along your journey - so a Game Over won't set you back as far as in the Super Mario Bros. titles, but restore points are still a welcome option to have.
For anyone still on the fence about Super Mario World, the answer is yes, download it now. This is the apex of 16-bit platforming, a cornerstone of the gaming canon, and - most importantly - just as much fun to play today as it was twenty years ago. If you're yet to experience the thrill of discovering a secret exit, the joy of soaring through a level with your super-cape, or the unique tragicomedy of accidentally running off a cliff while trying to catch up to a runaway Yoshi, you're in for some of gaming's best-loved and most iconic moments. And if you already have fond memories of beating the game back in the day - or if the original cartridge is sitting in your SNES as you read this - off-screen play, a vibrant Miiverse community, and the chance to play through it all again may well be reason enough to dive back into Dinosaur Land. This is one of the best games of all time; clear your weekend, call over a Player Two, and enjoy!