Version tested: GameBoy Advance
Building up the GBA catalogue with rehashed 16-bit classics is par for the course nowadays, but on the bright side it does mean that from time to time we get something as exciting and enjoyable as Super Mario World to sink our teeth into. The game still stands up to 90% of GBA software and is the pinnacle of portable platforming delight. If you haven't played the ten year old SNES original recently, or found yourself slightly irked at the short-lived Super Mario Advance, then this could be just the game you've been looking for. What made the SNES version of the game so enjoyable was the sense of non-linearity and the scope of Mario's adventure, not to mention the large number of innovative and hardware-straining features first put to work during the course of the game. Although Super Mario World has none of its predecessor's impact and these days counts as a fairly simple game, it's a timeless platformer on a par with anything else currently available to handheld owners. The token story elements, outlined via crude cutscenes at the beginning of the game and after significant boss encounters, concerns the plight of Princess Peach who has once again been kidnapped in the plumbing protagonists' absence. Mario and Luigi are off adventuring on Dinosaur Island, and once they learn of the Princess' abduction it's up to them to put pay to the interminable Bowser and his endless stream of henchmen, hench-turtles and hench-soforth, rescuing trapped Yoshis along the way. Yoshi's inclusion eventually led to his own game (a pair of them, in fact), but it was here that he first really made his name. By hatching an egg (many of which are strewn around the game) players can jump on the back of Yoshi and use his big stomping feet to dispatch troublesome bad guys, or his tongue to slurp them up. Gobbled up items and baddies can often be spat out as fireballs, giving Yoshi riders a particular advantage over their enemies, and secret Star Road levels give players the chance to uncover different coloured Yoshis, some of which do much more than spit fireballs…
These days Super Mario World may seem a bit formulaic, but there are enough things to do and items to collect along the way to keep you coming back for weeks to uncover everything. By visiting the game's hidden Switch Palaces, players can give substance to the many block outlines seen during the game, allowing them to reap the rewards inside by bashing them with Mario's head. And as usual, mushrooms, flowers and feathers are available, capable of bestowing powers upon Mario until he takes a hit. The SNES original also introduced the idea of a stored item, which is kept in a box at the top of the screen and can be used by pressing select. Although Super Mario World is fairly faithful to the original SNES version, there are a few slight differences. The most obvious is that Luigi joins Mario on his quest, although his inclusion merely gives players an alternative character with superior jumping ability and adds nothing crucial to the story. The cart also remembers a lot more data than it did before, charting individual level successes and such, while the difficulty level has been cushioned a little, so that taking a hit when powered up with flower or feather abilities reduces players to 'Super' status, rather than a piddly and vulnerable shrunken Mario. Despite the addition of Luigi and other minor changes, the presentation is spotless and the tweaked game seems to be just as fluid as the original. Getting past some of the more strenuous levels is truly an achievement, and if you like to complete your games properly, Super Mario World will provide quite an exhaustive challenge that will keep you entertained for many hours. Things never get too frustrating though, as the game can be saved after a switch palace, boss character or at other selected areas along the way. This fits the dynamic nicely, and thanks to the lives structure means that players only end up playing the really tough bits once or twice at a pinch. It would be nice to think that 2D side-scrolling platform games have come a long way from the days of Super Mario World, but they haven't really. The 3D platform game is still being exploited on heftier platforms, but for handheld gamers this is the zenith. Following in the footsteps of the first Super Mario Advance, Nintendo have also tossed the multiplayer Mario Brothers shell game into the package. As nice as it would be to see a proper purpose-built Mario game on the GameBoy Advance, in its absence Super Mario World is the best we could have hoped for. And very, very enjoyable it is too.
9 / 10