Checkpoint: Super Mario World

checkpointlogoThis column originally ran on February 23, 2010.

In 1990, the NES was reaching the end of its lifespan. Resurrecting an industry was one thing, but the public wanted to know what Nintendo had up its sleeve next. The answer: A brand-new system bundled with a revolutionary platformer that featured a familiar plumber. While we wait for Super Mario Galaxy 2, Checkpoint takes a look back at Mario’s journey into Dinosaur Land.

What makes cover art great? Is it Mario's determination, or Yoshi's...uh...
What makes cover art great? Is it Mario’s determination, or Yoshi’s…uh…

One Giant Leap

Chris: Super Mario World was the natural progression we were all waiting for. Franchise series on a new system? Check. Expanded gameplay on a great game (SMB 3)? Check. Yoshi? Check.

Shaun: Not a dream sequence? Check. Just like Super Mario 64 made me obsessed with procuring a Nintendo 64, Super Mario World made me realize that Super Nintendo was way better than Sega’s Genesis. Although a year later my parents would buy me a Sega with Lion King and begin a long chain of disappointment.

Lee: As Luigi’s first excursion into a new world, the creators couldn’t have done much better. A couple of new power-ups — Yoshis included — new level designs, and some pretty kickass bosses.

Shaun: I think it’s worth mentioning that the implementation of Yoshi was one of the single greatest aspects about that game, especially back then. It was an almost indestructible dinosaur that could eat everything. And Mario rode on it. It was one of many new ideas that would revolutionize the genre.

Chris: Everything just felt tighter here. As good as the simple two-button gameplay was, adding the spin jump, the ability to store items, etc. made for a much more complete experience.

Shaun: The whole first world was so compelling because it kept introducing new gameplay ideas and features that were never seen before. Every level was exciting because you didn’t know what you would find.

Lee: And they were able to combine elements from the three previous Luigi games. Super Mario World could sidescroll, go up and down, go backward, make you go underwater, and toss you in a pit of spikes.

Chris: Right. So many more ways to die than just pit or Goomba.

Shaun: Yeah, Luigi was there for moral support. Sent letters from home encouraging his brother.

Lee: If by moral support you mean showing his older brother how much portly inadequacy he truly has, then yes, moral support.

Shaun: And such a variety of enemy types as well. The caterpillars that couldn’t die, football players, and giant Bullet Bills come to mind.

Chris: I’ll be honest, I never really understood the football players. Not just why they were there, which was baffling enough. But also why they jumped like a frog and clapped their hands in the air.

Lee: Look, they were just practicing for the big game. Luigi was like one of those practice dummies. They were also trying out for the cheer squad.

Shaun: Exactly. They weren’t even actually evil. Just pumped up on steroids and preparing to win. You know how that goes.

Lee: Roids ruined the game, man.

Shaun: Roids ruined Luigi’s face, too.

Chris: Apparently it wasn’t enough that they ruined baseball. Now they went after Super Luigi World.

Shaun: Next stop…

Lee: Pleasure town?

Chris: DRAGON BALL Z

Shaun: …something bigger than Super Mario World. I messed that up, but I couldn’t think of anything.

Chris: We noticed.

Go ahead, Mario. There's only a couple possibilities in there.
Go ahead, Mario. There’s only a couple possibilities in there.

Taking Inventory

Chris: Anyway. SMW was also important because of all the new level elements. New underwater stuff, tons of new regular platforming additions, and the ability to take to the skies in a new way.

Shaun: The cape changed my life. Being able to fly without a stupid looking raccoon tail was baptismal for me.

Lee: Yeah, not so much for me. The cape was a good upgrade, but I missed my Tanooki Suit. You just don’t get to change into statues these days.

Shaun: Oh, of course, but I will always miss that suit. It’s a staple of Mario to always disappoint by omitting the Tanooki suit.

Lee: Overall, I think the items were a downgrade. You got so few when compared to Super Luigi Brothers 3.

Chris: I enjoyed the cape, if for nothing else than how you could spin around on the ground and hit things with it. But the best for me was being able to divebomb enemies from the sky. Mario sure showed the Taliban.

Shaun: Oooh, terrorist joke.

Lee: Come to think of it, those Goombas did chase you down and try to kill you with their own bodies. Super Luigi World was a political commentary way ahead of its time.

Shaun: You know, you have a good point Lee. About the items, not Mario being an allegory for terrorism in the modern world. I’m sitting here trying to think of all the great and unique items in SMW, and I’m having a difficult time. They were definitely not as unique and did not stand out as much as the ones in SMB 3.

Chris: Outside of the cape, the standard mushroom, and an uninspiring fire flower, that was about it for the items. Granted, I feel like there’s too many nowadays, but it was definitely a step back from SMB3.

Shaun: At least there was no Bee Suit.

You know, this is exactly what I thought front-row seats to Nine Inch Nails was like.
You know, this is exactly what I thought front-row seats to Nine Inch Nails was like.

Leveling the Playing Field

Chris: Even though the items took a step back, the levels definitely went in the right direction. Secret stage exits made the game so much better.

Lee: No, dolphins made the game better.

Shaun: True. Those factored heavily into replay value, until you found out that you get nothing for completing the world except a star by your profile. I was hoping for dynamite or something. Or a secret boss. Or permanent invincibility.

Chris: You’re the same guy who gets achievements just to watch his gamerscore rise. Suddenly rewards are important?

Shaun: The points are the reward, Chris. I tell you what, if completing the world gave me 50 points, then I’m sold.

Chris: Well, that little star is the reward. Although permanently being invincible would mean permanent star music, which I would be okay with. More importantly, secret exits bumped up the exploration something fierce, especially in ghost houses and the infamous star road.

Lee: Completing the world did give you points. They were super secret Luigi points. You don’t actually get to see them, but they are there. How does that make you feel?

Shaun: If the points are Luigi points, I would vomit a little bit, but super secret Mario points are pretty enticing. What a great addition the Ghost Houses were, though. On par with the castles as the best designed levels in that game.

Lee: Sorry, those coins give you cancer. I didn’t like the one bridge level where you had dive bomb underneath the goal to get the secret one. Not easy for pre-teen synapses.

Chris: I loved that idea for a secret exit. They tricked us multiple times, and I enjoyed the abuse. The star road levels made especially good use of that, particularly the shorter levels when you had to figure out just what they were looking for.

Shaun: I don’t recall that one specifically, only the jubilation that comes from having a hunch where the secret was, and then being correct.

Chris: Luckily, they kind of threw you a bone by making the stages red instead of yellow on the world map. That way you knew to go back and take another look around. I kinda felt like that was missing from New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

Lee: Agree. Personally, I wasn’t too happy with the secret exits in the Forest of Illusion. You found the secret, go back to a previous level.

Chris: Yeah, but I felt appropriately messed with there. I like that they managed to convey the sense of being lost in a forest into something so simple.

We can't really blame the Thwomps for being unhappy.
We can’t really blame the Thwomps for being unhappy.

The Net Result

Chris: We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the Koopa Kidz Bop — er, the Koopa Kids. I like that they had their own identity, and after beating them you got the little scene with putting a flag on the castle. Or destroying the castle. Or painting over it.

Shaun: My favorite part of SMW was the boss battles. Although the bosses have grown more sophisticated and shiny over the years, I think they reach their peak here. Every one is interesting and unique, and the final boss battle is epic, especially once you actually figure out how to kill the clown craft. Which, for me, took a while.

Chris: Yeah, I like that they didn’t hold your hand there. You figure it out or you die. And there’s epic lightning in the background, with great music. Good times.

Shaun: Not only were the boss fights themselves great, but the build up to their showdowns were extremely fun as well. There were conventions introduced here (two sided gates, level-long spikes) that were never seen before.

Lee: Luigi got really creative when he was breaking down those walls. My favorite was Ludwig von Koopa’s death. It actually changed the overworld map.

Shaun: Oh, yeah, that was pretty great, too. There were so many little touches that made the game so stellar. It’s hard to believe that Miyamoto was disappointed with the end result because production was rushed. Maybe looking back now you can find parts that suffered from the deadline, but it was impossible to tell at the time. With that said, it’s a little scary to think what he would have done had he got all the time he wanted with it.

Chris: True. Maybe the game would have been even more stellar. Then again, I wonder if that mentality set the stage for all the delays we’ve come to expect from Nintendo mainstays. I mean, it wouldn’t be a Zelda game without a two-year pushback on a release date, right?

Shaun: Exactly. I expect the new Zelda for the Wii in 2015.

Lee: What could Miyamoto have done with more time? Hopefully he was thinking of power-ups, but did he want more levels? More bosses? I think the game had a good pace to it, and ended pretty epically. Why change that?

Chris: Maybe it was more levels, kinda like the whole missing Light Temple thing in Ocarina of Time. Either way, I think you’re right. For me, Super Mario World was pretty damn good. I don’t know exactly how to rank it in the 3,260 Mario games that have come out, but it’s up there.

Shaun: For all of its importance to the series and to gaming in general, it goes number three for me. Number one is Super Mario 64, which pretty much established all of 3D gaming, and Super Mario Bros. 3…because it’s perfection.

Lee: Other than Super Luigi 64 missing its title character, I would have to agree. It was a great step forward with gaming, but Super Luigi World did so much with so little. It was an incredible game for the money, and I will keep playing it long after games have gone holographic, or whatever the next step is.

Chris: For some reason, I was never a huge fan of 3. Great, great game, don’t get me wrong. But I’d probably put SMW around No. 3 as well, behind the original SMB and 64 for their importance to the industry. Super Mario World helped usher in the 16-bit era and established the SNES from the get-go, even if I had Street Fighter II first instead.

supermarioworldCheckpoint is a series of discussions run by Chris, Shaun and Tech Guy back in their college newspaper days. For more entries in the series, click here.

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