Top 100 Retro Games: Super Mario World

Super Mario World
Super Nintendo

Christmas 1991 was a big day for me. The new Super Nintendo arrived along with a handful of games. Under the tree was the system plus Gradius III, Super Ghouls N Ghosts, a surprise pick by my parents because my mother thought it looked cool, and, of course, Super Mario World. This was a pretty good haul, plus I got to see Super Castlevania IV at a friend’s house later in the day. This was one of the most memorable days of my childhood. I can remember exactly where I was at a bunch of moments during the day. The Super Nintendo is my favorite system, and heading into 1992 I began spending even more time than normal with video games. A lot of the best video games of all time like Final Fantasy IV and VI, Earthbound, Mario Kart, Sim City, and A Link To The Past would be coming over the next few years.

A few people in our neighborhood had switched allegiances to Sega that year, but we would hold strong for Nintendo because of games like this. I would not get a Genesis until the next year. The SNES debut had an incredible lineup of games ready to play.

We had a lot of family over for Christmas 1991. I think a few of my aunts and my grandparents were there. I remember spending a lot of the morning alternating between Super Mario World and Super Ghouls and Ghosts. I got to the second world and then headed to a friend’s house for a few hours. He had gotten Super Castlevania IV and I sat on his bed absolutely in awe at how Simon could move through doors into the background and flip his whip around. He got to the level where you needed to whip into the hooks that made the level rotate, and I could not believe what I was seeing. He wanted to hear about SG&G and showed me another game he had gotten but not played yet: F Zero!

He got a little farther than I did in World Two and discovered the Star World, which after I left I could not wait to discover myself after spending time with family. I loved how the world constantly changed as you advanced, and it made me so curious for what would come next. I was pretty pleased with my progress and went back to SG&G and some Gradius III with a family member before everyone began leaving.

A few days went by, and I figured out the way to use the Star Road as a shortcut to Bowser’s castle. I beat the game after a few tries and could not believe what I had done! There was still plenty of game to play, but I felt pretty cool for finding such a shortcut.

Except….So did everyone else….

I forget if my friend called me, or I called him, but either way we found out that both of us had discovered the shortcut. Another kid in the neighborhood heard I had and came over to see it.

There was still plenty of game to play, and it would be at least a few more months, I think into the spring, before we all began clearing all or most of the gates in the game. My friend definitely did it before I did because I remember going over to his house to see how to beat a tricky level near Bowser’s castle. I got there as well.

After my family left, I settled in for the night. There was NBA basketball on NBC and I leafed through a few issues of various gaming magazines, rereading information about the SNES to see what new insights I could gain now that I actually had the system. I remember hanging up the huge poster that came with the system. I stared up at it and thought about how happy I had been that day. Happy days did not come around too often back then, and it was so nice to just sit there watching basketball with a pile of Nintendo related boxes. As I have discussed on previous episodes, especially our episode about Castlevania III, this was right around when some pretty devastating things happened in my life. Video games made me happy in ways that helped me to survive my problems.

So, the plot of Super Mario World goes something like this: While vacationing after the events of Super Mario III, Mario and Luigi take a nap and wake up to discover Princess Toadstool has been kidnapped by Bowser yet again. As they begin looking for her they encounter a new friend named Yoshi who joins them on the adventure to rescue Toadstool from not only Bowser, but his children the Koopalings and their amusing names.

The cover of Super Mario World is quite iconic. I love how it introduces not only Yoshi, but the idea that you will be riding on him as well. The blue is gorgeous. The cover also announces that there are 96 levels in the game, which seemed so overwhelming at the time. It turned out to be much more manageable, but numerically, I think it was the biggest game yet at the time for platformers.

Super Mario World has an absolutely classic soundtrack that really develops from what the series had done in its excellent soundtracks on the NES. This is the soundtrack I think of when I think of this series.

Super Mario World has been reissued a number of times. First and foremost it was packed in with the “Super Mario All Stars” collection in its second iteration, which became a pack in game for the Super Nintendo in 1994. That was a cool idea. It was ported to the Gameboy Advance in 2002 with some alterations.

The game has also been on all of the various Vurtual Consoles over the years plus the SNES Classic and the Nintendo Switch’s online service.

When we replayed this game for the podcast back in 2016, we used the version on the 3DS, which was a great way to play the game. I could sit in bed at night before bedtime and play a few stages. It was really fun. This time around, I played via the version on the Switch’s Online service. I had a blast doing this. I would play right after dinner for a bit each night for a while over a couple of weeks as I made my way through the game. It was really fun and a great way to play through the game.

Super Mario World is a fascinating game in regard to how it builds and develops the map. The first time you play the game, a small area is shown that then expands and grows into this fairly large, for the time, map. It’s definitely, upon playing through it again this year, a bit smaller than it seemed back in late 1991 when we were all first playing the game, but still large enough to let its 96 levels have their own space.

In our episode about Super Mario Brothers, one of the major comments I had about the game was how wonderfully it instructs you about the game. You learn quickly how to kill enemies, ways in which you die, how to smash blocks, clean pipes, things that could come out of pipes, and what happens when you smash a shell. That’s all in level 1-1. Super Mario World does the same thing.

1-1 and 1-2 introduce a lot of stuff to new players. The massive bullet that comes at you early on sets a standard for the game: Stay on your toes and explore methodically. I have taken this advice, really taken seriously for the first time when this game came out, to heart over the years. Platformers are best explored slowly and methodically.

You are also introduced to the block system and switches. What are these blocks for, you wonder early in the game. You get one of the colors fast, but the others will have to wait.

A new friend named Yoshi is also introduced to you in level 1-1. I’ve grown to appreciate him more over the years, but originally, I was fairly lukewarm. In this play through, I really enjoyed using him as a shield to get an extra hit from enemies without losing a life.

I’d never really noticed it much before, but I love how the music changes very subtly when you are riding on Yoshi. It’s a neat little thing in a game filled with them.

Another clever aspect of the game is Yoshi’s refusal to go into castles. That is an excellent way to introduce not only a character trait, but a slight ramp up in difficulty for what are supposed to be different parts of the game. You can’t rely on Yoshi’s ability to suck up enemies and also take an additional hit from them in the castles, which are both easy to rely on in other parts of the game.

The changing environment as new levels open up really blew my mind in 1991. Game maps were very static normal….just an image…but in Super Mario World it constantly shifted and altered to change the landscape in front of you as you traversed the game.

2-1 then introduces another new item, the cape feather. I like how this is not introduced until a new world where it can be used immediately to your advantage. I think this is one of the best items in this game series, which is filled with great ones, and really fun to use.

Something else Super Mario World does well is water levels. Water levels have been in this series since the first game in it, but they have always been fairly imperfect. Great ideas, but not implemented the best. In Super Mario World, they are finally so well done. Mario smoothly traverses the water, enemy placement is good, and generally, they look great too.

In Super Mario World you really do need to go slow through many levels, but especially in castles. There were a number of levels this time around that I complete with minimal amounts of time to spare. The level before Bowser I finished with five seconds left! Taking your time allows for better exploration and do make finding the different paths out of levels much easier to circumnavigate.

One of the reasons why you can take your time is that this game offers a significant amount of extra lives. I regularly had 25 or more lives available, so if I lost 3-4 exploring a level, it was not a big deal at all. I think for an expansive game that is really fun to explore like this, it’s a great reward knowing you can do that without much penalty.

A few observations from this play through: I do not know about anyone else, but I always seem to find the backway first in levels with multiple exits. I guess it makes sense to an extent because the keys are often visible, if not immediately accessible, but this time around I found myself doing so 90% of the time to the point where it was very noticeable.

The green foliage throughout this game is gorgeous. The bright greens of the Super Nintendo just look incredible, as do the fiery reds in castles. This is such an aesthetically pleasing game.

Something I want to specifically mention is how much the castle theme sounds like it came out of a Castlevania game. It has a tip of a Nintendo style to it, but I can see it. Apparently, there are a few nods to Beethoven in it too?

There are some levels worth specifically calling out as well. Yoshi’s Island 4 is an early level that can be a bit tricky due to all the fishy jumping around and the way you need to leverage your jumps to make sure you make it to different platforms. It sets a good standard for what is to come next.

The floating one up is a really clever trick in the fourth forest level. Of course, when you pick it up, the Lakitu will start attacking you. Whoops! This reminds me of the poisoned mushrooms in the original Super Mario II. Another personal favorite is the rotating platforms in Chocolate Island 3. I love the patience required to ensure doing that right.


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