Super Mario World 30 Years Later: Celebrating a Flawed Classic

It was in 1990 that people first got to play Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Released in November of that year in Japan, the game would follow suit in North America a few months later in 1991. Super Mario World was a revolutionary title — here was the next chapter in a famed video game franchise for this new piece of hardware. It was also following the tremendous Super Mario Bros. 3 on NES, so the hype train was rolling fast.

While it may have been legendary in its day and remains iconic even now, when you really dissect Super Mario World, it’s disappointing to discover that it’s actually a bit problematic. That’s not to say it’s any less an important game — and it’s still very much a fun game, too — but looking at it now, there’s just no denying that it’s somewhat of a flawed classic.

Schoolyard Talk, Hype, and Reality

If you grew up during the ‘90s, Super Mario World was the talk of the playground. Kids were sharing strategies for beating levels and talking about how great the graphics looked. Sadly, I wouldn’t get a chance to play the game until a few years after its launch, but when I finally did, I was floored by how great it looked, sounded, and played. Several years later I would play the game once again — on the Wii Virtual Console — this time to completion. Again, floored. I was so stoked to be able to revisit an important piece of gaming history.

It was less than a month ago, however, that I decided to revisit the game yet again, now on the Switch Online SNES library. Once again, I was loving it… until I wasn’t.

The further I got into Super Mario World during my latest playthrough, the more I realized it was just sort of missing something. I didn’t know what that something was initially, but the more I played and the deeper into the game I got, it all started to become a bit clearer: Super Mario World is lacking the charm of other entries in the franchise like Super Mario Bros. 3, New Super Mario Bros., and even Super Mario Land.

A Mixed Bag of Level Design and Weak Enemies

Super Mario World is actually pretty outstanding for about the first five worlds. It’s during these levels that you’re treated to some fun level designs. Sure, the power-ups are kind of lacking — that stupid cape will never be as cool as the Tanooki Suit — but at least you’ve got Yoshi with his bongo drum theme music. There are tricky jumps, fun secrets to discover, and just a nice level of challenge. The majority of the game’s early parts are so well-constructed that you can even overlook the not-so-great float-y, slippery controls.

It’s in World 6: Chocolate Island, though, that things take a turn for the absolute worst. Here the game introduces a couple of levels that rely on blind jumps, which is just bad level design. There are also areas where rather than challenging you with clever obstacles and tough platforming, the game just throws handfuls of generic enemies at you.

Speaking of which, the enemy design of Super Mario World is one of the game’s biggest problems. Visually and mechanically, enemies just aren’t all that interesting. This game’s version of Goombas, the ever-awful Galoombas, are heinous. And don’t get me started on those football player enemies. Those things straight-up suck.

There are a few exceptions, like the Koopa Troopas and the Koopalings that are actually worth a damn. Actually, the battles against the Koopalings and Bowser himself at the end are a highlight. There are just too many generic or just plain bad enemy types thrown in with these otherwise great Super Mario foils.

Inspired Art Design, Wasted

One of the first things most folks notice when they play that first game on their shiny new console is the quality of the game’s graphics — it’s human nature. As such, it’s easy to see how people were amazed when they first laid eyes on Super Mario World. The game is bright and colorful, the character sprites are richly detailed, and the 16-bit stages are a sight to behold. Graphically, the game looks quite good even 30 years later.

Unfortunately, a lot of that inspired art design goes largely wasted on uninteresting enemy sprites and level themes that start to feel really same-y after a couple of hours. Yes, the game looks good, but because there’s very little variety outside of ghost houses and Koopaling towers, things get a bit stale after a while. It’s a shame when you take into consideration the amount of variety that a game like Super Mario Bros. 3 gave us just a few years prior.

These football player enemies, the Chargin’ Chucks, are just… awful.

At least the sound design is solid. There are plenty of catchy theme songs in Super Mario World, a couple of which are arguably the best in the series. And seriously, it’s hard not to find the bongo-remixed themes whenever you ride Yoshi completely endearing. The sound effects are also pretty unique — compared to other games in the series, SMW has a more cartoon-like sound. The sounds when Mario jumps, and the clicks and bops when he stomps on enemies or breaks blocks are all a bit different than anything else we ever heard from a Mario game before or after.

Super Mario World is definitely worthy of adulation

SMW has been part of many “greatest games of all time” lists. There’s also a great debate about whether Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World is the better game. Since its launch in the States in 1991, folks have sung the game’s praises. It has to be noted, though, that it is flawed and problematic due to uneven levels, poor enemy designs, and an inconsistent presentation.

Not to mention, when compared to other side-scrolling Mario games — from the original Super Mario Bros. all the way to Super Mario Bros. U — there’s no denying that the controls of Super Mario World are among the series’ worst due to just how slippery the movement and jumps are. Thankfully, there’s just enough charm as well as decent levels to help you forget about the controls… until you miss a blind jump because you mistimed it by a hair.

Look, I’m not trying to say Super Mario World isn’t worthy of being admired — it’s not even remotely close to being a bad game, after all. But in a world of five-star titles, SMW is very much a nice little three-star game. Of course, it’s still an important part of video game history, and it’s legendary in its own right. Ultimately, there’s a good enough amount of quality there to call Super Mario World a classic. It may be flawed, but it’s no less important to gaming and to the folks who played it back in its heyday.

Now, when you’re all ready to talk about how Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is actually a fantastic game and one of the best titles in the SNES library, you know where to find me.