Super Mario Bros. 3 was one of the earliest video games I can remember that achieved a high degree of mainstream hype prior to its release and lived up to it afterwards, leaving its stamp on video game history. It even had a movie, The Wizard, to act as a glorified commercial for it, starring Fred Savage, Christian Slater, and dad-in-early-90s-movies star Beau Bridges. The question is, how does a Mario game top what this entry had established and achieved? I think Super Mario World heightens the bar and rises above expectations set by its predecessor and offers one of the most complete platform game experiences in the history of gaming.
The hardest thing about breaking down the many elements I think makes Super Mario World such a treasure of a game, or why I think it's better than SMB3, which is a debate in and of itself. Or rather, it'll be hard to be concise about it. Because even if I rule out graphics, the smooth gameplay, the insane replay value, I could go on for paragraphs about just the surprises. I believe that this was peak Mario, because it did so many different things that would later become elements you came to expect from Mario games.
Like giant Bullet Bills. The very first time you see them, you're more so taking it in rather than being killed by it. I remember the commercial for the game showcasing the large Bullet Bill, it's fleeting and can be avoided very easily, but it's only a harbinger. The brick blocks that became so routine to smash are now yellow rotating blocks that spin vertically for five seconds when you hit them. They can only be broken from above with the drill spin that is new to Mario's arsenal. Giving him two different jumps opened up new means of approaching hazards. Or how about the first time you jumped on a Koopa Troopa and he popped OUT of his shell?
Even the Fire Flowers were turned into tulips for this entry. Just a tiny aesthetic change like that adds a splash of uniqueness to something familiar. Speaking of the weapons, Super Mario World added the storage box at the top of the screen that dropped a powerup that was retained there. Once I discovered I could carry a Feather and a Fire Flower and alternate them at will, I felt invincible. And that's ANOTHER ONE, the Feather and Mario's method of flight. It's a follow-up to the Tanuki tail, but now capable of sustaining flight for a longer period of time. It's also the last time I thought flying was fun in a Mario game, because I didn't quite care for that cap in Super Mario 64, an the propellor suit in New Super Mario Brothers I always found to be janky and unreliable.
The mountains of secrets and doing them over and over again has kept me playing Super Mario World for more than two decades. I could finish this game, delete the save I just finished, and start over, just to go back and do them all again. Finding the secret switches is always rewarding. But I don't try to speed run it, it's just a great game to take in and pace myself. I don't diss speed-runners, but my mindset is how can you enjoy your food without chewing it?
By the way, I did several paragraphs and didn't even mention Yoshi, which roughly translates to Hit Point. Or the Star Road hidden world, a secret I recall being first revealed on the GamePro TV series. As far as challenge goes, Super Mario World is a very lax game that chucks many extra lives at you, so it's technically an easier game than SMB3, but once you hit Star Road and complete that, the ante gets kicked up a notch, giving you the eight hardest stages in the game in Special World. And yeah, in Star Road, you gain access to Yoshis of several color, each with their own abilities (*throws arms up in the air* This is STILL just one game, right!?). I always liked using the yellow one, he had a short range ground stomp move for every shell he held in his mouth. There's seldom a dearth of content in this game, even as I write this, I feel an urge to go, "Oooh remember this!?".
Like remember how it was that Hammer Bros were completely different? Or Goombas were round and could be grabbed and tossed around?
Remember how Bullet Bills could be defeated by jumping on them, but the one time you encountered Torpedo Teds and they were faster and much harder to deal with?
Remember how many times you tried to properly unlock the Chocolate Secret by beating the stage in the correct manner, only to forget how to do it the next time you played through when starting a new game and play through it 12 times?
Remember the first time reaching Forest of Illusions and thinking the game was totally broken when you went in circles trying to properly beat it? And then taking it in that it's one of the most aptly named Mario levels?
I could literally go on for a near eternity, but Super Mario World is always a blast to play. There's so much to talk about, trying to compact it into a single Retro Reboot would be nearly impossible. I tried to bring as many elements I thought caught me off guard upon my first experience with it, as discussing such a critically acclaimed game and trying to think of new things to say can be a daunting challenge. If you've played it, you pretty much know.