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How Super Mario Bros. Wonder transformed Mario's 2D capabilities

As the first 2D Mario title in 11 years, Nintendo wanted to inject real surprise into Super Mario Bros. Wonder and set a new foundation for future 2D entries.

Justin Carter

October 17, 2023

3 Min Read
Mario, Bowser, Luigi, and the Mushroom Kingdom people in Nintendo's Super Mario Bros. Wonder.

At the time, some journalists and players were saying that Super Mario Maker had eliminated the need for another 2D Mario game. [...] In hindsight, those kinds of sentiments may have been what motivated me to come up with ideas for this game. --Super Mario Bros. Wonder producer Takashi Tezuka

Later this week, Super Mario Bros. Wonder will release for the Nintendo Switch. It's notably the first 2D entry in the series since 2012's New Super Mario Bros. U, and the key staff on Wonder saw this new game as an opportunity to revitalize the 2D subsection of the franchise. 

As revealed in a new two-part developer roundtable, Wonder producer Takashi Tezuka wanted to create "a Mario game full of hidden surprises and wonders," said designer Koichi Hayashida. 

Coming up with that sense of surprise wasn't easy at first, according to director Shiro Mouri. Because the initial Wonder team was so small, it took time for them to find the core mechanic which would give players fun surprises. 

Mouri eventually looked to Hayashida for help. Hayashida, who previously directed Super Mario 3D World and directed Super Mario Odyssey, held an idea meeting where "everyone from programmers to designers and sound designers" wrote down ideas on what would be 2,000 sticky notes. 

One of those suggestions involved twisting and bending pipes, and the eventual prototype helped the game find its "core," according to Mouri. Pipes in Mario games are static, solid objects, but he noted "you've got to take everything to the extreme. If you think you've gone too far, you can make adjustments later."

At the time, Mouri remembered Tezuka asked about making so the course transforms without players needing to warp. Hayashida thought at the time he was "asking the impossible," but the pipe prototype helped him see how this could be an "interesting gameplay mechanic" to implement.

"We took great pains to create a world that could incorporate this idea," said art director Masanobu Sato. To justify the pipes' transformation, the team came up with what he dubbed "the Wonder effect," which would be conveyed by "unconventional visuals." 

The Wonder Effect in action

The transforming pipe became the baseline for other ideas the team incorporated, and their prototypes had to match the Wonder effect. It eventually led to the creation of Elephant Mario: the team wanted a mechanic that made him bigger in size, let him hit blocks from the side, and spray water—things elephants could do, obviously. 

"Just when I was thinking that something was missing, Mouri-san suggested Elephant Mario, and I liked it," recalled Tezuka. Mouri and Hayashida previously worked on Super Mario Sunshinewhich came to inform the elephant transformation. 

As fun an idea as the elephant transformation was, the team cut abilities that would've let elephant players carry their co-op partners through a level, and one that let them inflate shells with their trunk. Still, being an elephant Mario (or Peach) has been an attention grabbing feature that validates the work put into it.

"In hindsight, 'asking the impossible' was exactly what we needed," said Mouri. 

More insight into the development of Super Mario Bros. Wonder, including how sound director Koji Kondo transformed its audio, can be read here and here.

About the Author(s)

Justin Carter

Contributing Editor, GameDeveloper.com

A Kansas City, MO native, Justin Carter has written for numerous sites including IGN, Polygon, and SyFy Wire. In addition to Game Developer, his writing can be found at io9 over on Gizmodo. Don't ask him about how much gum he's had, because the answer will be more than he's willing to admit.

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