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SummaryThe peak of fungivorous plumbery
The GoodAs far as platform games go, I'm far from being "hardcore". In fact, I'm so not-hardcore that I could never fathom the experience of playing through the original Super Mario Bros. games, because I knew I couldn't save my progress in them. I just can't stand the inability to save. I'm weird that way.
But Super Mario World is another story. It has aged remarkably well, in every aspect. It's easy to pick up, easy to play. It has all the mycophagous goodness from the previous games, plus a lot of improvements. Such as: you can save your game here!
Super Mario World has everything a hyper-active old-fashioned jump-and-run needs: furious arcade action, nice monster design, cool levels, boss battles, and a huge world to explore with many, many hidden levels and secrets.
Indeed, the world part of the game is no exaggeration: Super Mario World is one of the most open-ended, "explorable" platform games in history. There are loads of secret areas of all kinds, some hidden and hard to discover, others in plain sight, but leading to devilishly tough special levels. The "switch palaces" - secret areas which allowed you to change the shapes of "regular" levels, uncovering new exits - was a fantastic gameplay idea. Many hidden levels offer an alternate way of finishing a game part, even avoiding a castle. Non-linearity in a platform game? You bet!
The levels span a variety of areas: plains, forests, underground caves, underwater, and many others. You fly in the air and you descend to the sea bottom. Not to mention the great ghost houses and the devilishly difficult and exciting boss castles. The game divides itself cleverly into parts, each part embracing five-six levels (with a couple of hidden ones), all sharing a similar scenery, with a ghost house, which is usually more difficult and requires some puzzle-solving than the usual levels, and the final battle against a boss in a castle. Then you proceed to the next part. Thus, the tension is kept, and the player is never bored. The ghost houses and the castles were my favorite levels, because they had so much atmosphere. By the way, Super Mario World features cool music, especially in the castles. Generally, the castles changed the atmosphere a lot and provided a sharp contrast to the (usually) light, brightly colored Mario World.
One of the best things in the game is the upgrading part. Mario can be helpless, or he can be unbeatable. You upgrade the hero constantly by eating mushrooms, flowers or feathers, turning him, respectively, into Big Mario, Spitting Mario (I know he is actually called Fire Mario or something, but I think this name is cooler), and Flying Mario, who can... well, fly. The flying part of the game is a lot of fun, although it's not as easy as one might think, and requires balancing in the air and controlling altitude. Besides, in many places you find green mushrooms, which turn into the dinosaur Yoshi, whom you can ride. Yoshi is great when it comes to eating things, but he can be a pain in the neck when you lose control of him, because then he would just run away in panic and commit suicide by running amok and falling into the nearest pit. Yoshi can eat different kappas and learn some great abilities from them, which includes flying! Finally, you can also eat big yellow stars, which make you invincible for a while.
In short, there is just so much to do in the game, so many places to explore and so many ways of getting stronger, that it becomes genuinely addictive, in a way not at all typical for platform games.
The BadWell, it has all the usual trappings of platform games, such as the rare opportunities to save (that's why it's best enjoyed on an emulator), and the arbitrary difficulties of some levels; the castles, for example, are pretty impossible to beat after just one try, and alone the thought of repeating the whole castle level after being killed by a skeleton just near the door which leads to the boss can easily demoralize players with little patience (such as myself).
It's one of those games that doesn't really invent anything new; it's just "bigger and badder" than its predecessors. So from a historical point of view, it cannot be compared to the first Super Mario game, and can only be seen as a variation (albeit a very successful one) on one of the oldest and most embarrassingly often repeated themes in the history of video games.
Finally, like all Mario games, it is directed at younger players. You would think that by that time, Mario would mature; but he hasn't. It's still the same "save the princess while maiming koopas" kind of thing. I'm far from suggesting that Mario should quote Schopenhauer or offer deep insight into the Middle East conflict in his games (though on second thought, maybe that could have worked), but perhaps he could have gone more into the wacky direction. The character himself contains plenty of room for all kinds of interpretations; unfortunately, Nintendo has always stubbornly went with the same "innocent", child-oriented one, basically just cloning the potentially interesting character to death and turning him into a lifeless commercial mascot without any personality.