Since the original “Super Mario Brothers”, 38 years have passed. Although throughout the years, “Mario Brothers” has presented levels that can be cleared solely with jumps in 2D, every iteration has managed to introduce new elements within the platform-jumping framework that are completely unexpected.
“Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” truly embodies the “surprise” mentioned in its title.
Innovations in 2D Mario
Historically, the storyline has been the “least important” aspect of the Mario series. However, “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” has made a slight deviation— at least players are no longer rescuing the princess.
Mario and company visit the Flower Kingdom. While meeting with Prince Lorian of the flowers, Bowser suddenly appears. With the “Surprise Flower” of the Flower Kingdom, he merges himself, his airship, and his castle, gaining immense power. Naturally, the game’s objective becomes using various powers to deal with this fused “Castle Bowser”.
Redirecting attention back to the gameplay itself, I believe most players, upon entering the first level, will notice a significant departure from traditional 2D Mario: the removal of the level timer.
Frankly, this change in “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” is very welcoming. In early 2D Mario games, the timer considerably increased players’ sense of urgency. But current 2D Mario games have secrets and collectibles comparable to 3D Mario games.
Without the slightly outdated timer mechanism, players have more time for exploration and trial-and-error, ensuring thorough playthroughs and collection.
Furthermore, without time constraints, more gameplay elements can be introduced into each level without worrying about players rushing through and overlooking the creators’ various innovations.
For this reason, the “Surprise Flower” mechanic is something I eagerly anticipate in every level. Whenever you consume a “Surprise Flower” in a level, the surrounding environment undergoes a massive transformation.
For instance, in the “Watch Out, Slow Roller Skates Turtle” level, after getting the Surprise Flower, the entire world dims, with only the character illuminating the path, revealing roads that weren’t visible before. You have to dodge monsters coming from all directions and find the correct route among various diverging paths.
Or, as seen in the trailer, there are pipes that come alive, wriggling like worms, and hordes of piranha plants. During the changes triggered by the Surprise Flower, players can also find a Surprise Flower seed, a vital resource to unlock subsequent levels.
Continuous Surprises in Level Design
Besides the Surprise Flower that aligns with the “surprise” theme, “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” introduces many new elements that are an absolute treat for the eyes.
The Elephant Fruit, seen in the demo, grants Mario and others strong melee capabilities. If Princess Peach is selected, her appearance after consuming the Elephant Fruit seems to have more theatrical effects than Mario’s in the demo.
Additionally, “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” features many never-before-seen enemies and items. Compared to old acquaintances like “Chestnut Boy”, perhaps newcomers like the Running Karl and Rolling Bell are more eye-catching. The appearance of these new enemies makes the game experience of “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” distinct from past 2D Mario titles.
However, it’s well-known that the difficulty level of Mario games tends to be relatively “gentle”. Even with the addition of many new enemies and elements, the barrier to completion hasn’t increased much, with challenges mainly arising when attempting full collection. Building on this, “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” incorporates a badge system, never before seen in 2D Mario.
Before entering each level, players can switch badges, but can only wear one at a time. Some special levels even offer hints, suggesting which badge would be most beneficial. Of course, you can also be rebellious and stubbornly choose another badge, adding an extra layer of difficulty to your playthrough.
I, personally, in most levels, insist on wearing the “Money-lover” badge, which grants coins upon defeating enemies. Only when I genuinely struggle do I consider heeding the hint provided at the level’s start, obediently switching to the recommended auxiliary badge.
However, the most delightful aspect of “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” for me is its online multiplayer.
In fact, as a lone-wolf player, not only do I consider a game’s inherent quality when choosing, but also whether it’s enjoyable solo. “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” offers fun solo gameplay even when supporting up to 4 players locally. More impressively, playing with other online players is just as enjoyable.
In online play, players can place signposts in levels, which serve as respawn points for everyone. All players exist in “ghost” form, preventing interference with each other, unlike in local multiplayer. This design truly considers individual player experiences.
However, players’ imaginations don’t stop there. At least after my time in online multiplayer, I’ve developed this mentality: if a signpost is placed where mistakes are likely, it’s purely a respawn point. If it’s in a safe, flat area, it’s probably another player’s hint about nearby hidden areas or rewards.
By following these hints, I’ve discovered content and rewards I missed in solo play. This playstyle makes the simple signpost reminiscent of the “advice” design seen in Souls-like games. Of course, who knows when players might start playing pranks, placing misleading signposts everywhere, leading others on fruitless explorations.
As a genuine 2D Mario sequel after many years, “Super Mario Brothers: Surprise” introduces a plethora of fresh gameplay elements and features, all while maintaining the classic side-scrolling framework.
Whether playing solo, locally with friends, or online, the variety of enemies and game items provide an outstanding gameplay experience. Undoubtedly, it stands as the best current 2D Mario game.