If it's crap ... We'll tell you
And now, on to my final SNES review, at least for a while until I pick up some new games. And this I was the most apprehensive about, because despite being a huge Mario fan on the SNES....... I never played this game on the console. It wasn't until we had a Game Boy Advance that I played a bit of it and to be honest here, I struggled with it. When I purchased it earlier this month I made the promise to finish it in full, and today that happened. Was it the same struggle as before, or did this game finally shine through for me? Let's find out.
This has a very simple structure in terms of story to SMB3, except here the whole game takes place on Dinosaur Island, and your goal is to rescue the Princess, while also saving the trapped Yoshi's along the way. The levels are split into seven sub-areas, each with castles and Haunted Houses to complete. The game certainly does have a great sense of adventure to it, as the landscape varies constantly as you progress.
The game was also a big shake up of the series, bringing in new items, characters, enemies, and abilities. To name them all would take all day, but it is safe to say that this was as big a leap forward as Mario Brothers 3 was on the NES. One of the primary additions was Yoshi himself, which brought in a whole new style of playing Mario games for people. It is like having boosted strength and an extra health bar, and also brings on a nice little change to the music when you have him. Other new ideas were the Cape, which replaces the original Raccoon Tail. This had improved abilities in the form of hovering glides, dive-attacks on enemies, and of course making Mario look bad ass. But the improvement that really stood out for me was the spin attack, which helped you to jump over even invincible enemies and spinning blades.
Even the visual style feels more detailed, and yet holds the simplicity I mentioned in SMB3. The backgrounds are vague enough to give you an idea of what the setting is, without distracting you, and the colour palette is as we have seen from previous games - bright and vivid. I think that the inclusion of more organic foliage and trees does improve several levels, especially those in the Forest of Illusion. The trees pass by faster in the foreground giving a sense of perspective, which to a kid at the time must have looked like the coolest shit ever. The little details really set this game off, and of which I will discuss later.
Now on to the inner workings of Super Mario World. And first things first, this game is quite a jump in terms of difficulty. Having no copy of the instruction manual doesn't help things at all, but even outside of that, the levels are designed to test your gaming prowess and reaction times right from the get-go. Maybe I'm not as good a gamer as I used to be as a kid, but for the first two days playing this, I was an embarrassment. Luckily, this is not the game that beats you over the head with an insane difficulty... it rewards you for making progress and improving your skills. Every time you get a little further, or get a better score, you get more than enough reason to return to the game and try again.
The difficulty centres on the new control style, it isn't a different button layout, but the response from Mario feels very different from previous games. I think it was programmed to deliver better accuracy to jumps and momentum tracking, but at first it is challenging to master. This is immediately apparent with the Cape, where gliding in the air takes some exceptional levels of careful controls. A wrong button makes Mario dive to the ground or lose the lift from the air, which in later levels can end in losing a life almost instantaniously. But like I said, the more you try, the easier things become, to the point where dashing through a level no-sweat is very satisfying.
And from that point on, everything begins to shine brighter with this title. The music is inscribed into popular culture now, but is still very entertaining to listen to. The tunes are simple but hold a great beat, and add to the mood of each level. The Underground one is my personal favourite, which isn't surprising since almost every Underground theme from a Mario game is brilliance.
There is a huge range of enemies that you encounter, each with a specific action required to take them down. The number of "static enemies" has been greatly reduced, so you are constantly aware that doom could be just across the next screen. But luckily the ability to hold an item gives you a fighting chance, as does having a Yoshi. It is funny how the game initially appears to be out to get you, but on closer inspection is extremely balanced. However, this changes for the secret levels you find along the way, which will push your skills to the very limit. Completing these (without just using a Cape) is still one of the great retro gaming challenges, more so than just defeating Bowser.
A few other quick things to mention include the strategy required. Many parts of the game include levels that have secret exits, or even exits that just lead you in a circle such as in the Forest of Illusions. This was a great inclusion at extending the playability of the title, and I wonder why so few other platformer games use this anymore. Finding a key always feels like a bonus achievement that will lead you to some unknown location, it's just fantastic.
The other thing to mention is what I disliked. I missed the P-bar from SMB3 to help in judging your momentum. The variety of iems to use is rather small, some levels were rather bland in terms of layout, and the ice levels are pretty unbalanced. When everything is slippery, even ground you expect to be solid like a pipe, it just feels like unnecessary difficulty. These are all small little problems that I wish had been rectified, but they're not significant enough to take away from the gaming experience. Just another case of "Too bad this isn't there, oh well..." so nothing to fret about.
Indeed, I'm very happy I returned to this game, because upon completing it I've really grown to appreciate all the skill and imagination the staff put into it. The scale is so much bigger than any Mario game before it, it is an absolute joy to play even when you're on the seventh playthrough in a row, the levels are wonderfully creative and diverse, and the learning curve is so rewarding you can't help but fall for it. It's hard to compare it against the original NES games since I haven't played this as much as I have the others... but I still love it. This and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island are an immensely strong duo of games that are both different enough from each other to give you a first class gaming experience. Whether you pick this up on the Virtual Console, play it on an SNES, or get it by other questionable means, this is one not worth missing out on.
Thanks for reading! ^__^