The fourth Super Mario game, Super Mario World, was not only Mario’s biggest adventure yet, it also served as an impressive tech demo for the SNES it launched beside. While not as flashy and faux-3D as F-Zero or Pilotwings, SMW showed off a number of new techniques that made it far more graphically impressive than anything on the NES.
While Super Mario World was a technical marvel, its quality as a game was uncompromised. Featuring solid design and tons of creative ideas, it was a worthy follow up to Super Mario Bros. 3, albeit one with a different core philosophy. While its predecessor relied on quick, unique stages, SMW was filled with longer stages hiding tons of secrets. A save system, combined with the ability to replay (most) previously beaten stages, slowed the pace considerably. It feels like a different game in many ways.
SMW toned down the wide variety of powerups of SMB3, exchanging Mario’s raccoon tail for a cape and eschewing his three suits entirely. Instead, the game introduced Yoshi, a dinosaur Mario could ride who had his own set of abilities. Yoshi could safely leap on top of dangerous obstacles, eat enemies, and essentially absorb a hit for Mario for starters. Riding Yoshi also resulted in the addition of extra instruments to the soundtrack, an interesting touch. Serving as kind of an alternate powerup path to the Fire Flower and Cape, Yoshi proved to be a very useful dinosaur.
The structure of Super Mario World differs slightly from previous games in the series. Gone are the warp zones, and while you can still skip to the end of the game very early (if you’re good enough), you can’t skip directly to any other areas. Instead, there are many secret level exits that can bypass large parts of entire segments of the game. There are also four “switch palaces” to find, secret levels that add helpful blocks to levels across the entire game.
One of the best aspects of Super Mario World is its difficulty curve. Assuming you find the switch palaces, the game never gets all that hard, and it’s generous with 1UPs. The save system means you’ll never get a meaningful “game over” anyway. The optional star worlds offer a greater challenge, and the best of players can reach the brutally difficult special world as well. The game even offers a choose-your-own-difficulty feature, in a sense: by forgoing the switch palaces, the game can be made quite a bit more challenging.
All the specific details aside, what makes Super Mario World shine is its level design. The levels aren’t quite as individually unique as those in SMB3, but when SMW revisits a concept it tends to expand upon it in exciting ways. The levels are fun, and the secrets are challenging and rewarding to find. The puzzles vary wildly, as do the platforming challenges. Even some of the most gimmicky ideas, such as fast-scrolling backgrounds to give the illusion of a breakneck pace, are a lot of fun.
The simple fact is, Super Mario World is a joy to play. The main game is not as technically demanding as its predecessors can sometimes be, but that challenge exists for those who want it. It’s a colorful, fun game with a ton to discover and dozens of charming levels. It was the first SNES game, but even over the system’s history it always remained one of the best.