Games: Super Mario Bros Wonder offers a trippy tribute to Mario's 2D roots

Mario can also transform into a moustachioed elephant in Super Mario Bros Wonder
Mario can also transform into a moustachioed elephant in Super Mario Bros Wonder

Preview: Super Mario Bros Wonder (Switch)

By: Nintendo

EVER since bursting onto the scene in Donkey Kong back in 1981, the Mario franchise has spawned over 200 games and spin-offs, casting the portly pipesmith as everything from doctor to professional golfer.

From its first spin-off – the Japan-only Super Mario Sweater (where players designed natty knitwear for their hero) – Nintendo have never been afraid to get weird, and over the years Mario's more obscure efforts have seen him engage in some eyebrow-raising adventures.

During the portable Game and Watch craze of the early 1980s, Mario enlisted in the army, hand-delivering explosives to his brothers-in-arms in Bombs Away, while in the PETA-baiting Donkey Kong Circus, he forced the big ape to perform cruel tricks or face ridicule.

But it's the mainline Mario adventures that have ensured Nintendo sits top of the platforming tree, and ever since the N64 brought their mascot into the third dimension, his 2D adventures have been limited to the New Super Mario Bros series. In fact, the last 2D Mario game before then was 1995's Super Mario World 2 – and it's the Super Nintendo-era platformers that have inspired his next blockbuster.

Billed by Nintendo as "the next evolution of 2D side-scrolling Super Mario Bros games", Wonder is the first new Mario game since Odyssey six years ago. Launching on October 20, Wonder ticks all the boxes for gamers who've been battling Bowser since the 1980s, with an overworld map, four-player co-op and a playable cast of Mario mainstays, including Peach, Daisy, Yoshi, Luigi and Toad.

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So far, so Mario. Things take a distinctly trippy turn, though, with Nintendo's latest gimmick – the Wonder Flower. This familiar-looking power-up doesn't just gift Mario the ability to shoot fireballs, instead transforming stages in wildly unpredictable ways.

One stage sees Mario become a giant, in another the level's iconic green pipes come to life while enemies bombard the screen or mutate into new forms. Oh, and Mario can also transform into a moustachioed elephant, merrily hopping around like Joseph Merrick in blue dungarees.

Super Mario Bros Wonder
Super Mario Bros Wonder

Nintendo explains that, "When you touch a Wonder Flower in the game, the wonders of the world unlock – pipes could come alive, hordes of enemies may appear, characters might change their looks, for example – transforming the gameplay in unpredictable ways. Excitement and different surprises await in each course."

It looks like the water supply at Nintendo HQ may have been spiked in a retro reboot that ditches the clean, sterile look of New Super Mario for a trippy nostalgia hit that looks like a thoroughly modern twist on the SNES heyday.

With the last marquee title for the Switch coming along just as a certain hedgehog makes his return to 2D gaming with Sonic Superstars, it seems gaming's most enduring rivalry is set to duke it out once more.