Super Mario World doesn’t change things a whole lot from Super Mario Bros 3. It is the closest any of these sequels has looked to the game before it, even taking into account SMW’s new SNES paint job. Yes, the series has made the jump to 16-bits, but the look of the series has started to solidify. They aren’t going back to the drawing board every time now, or massaging an unrelated game to make it look like a Mario one. This feeling is probably increased by my having most recently played the All-Stars versions of the NES games, were are designed to look as much like Super Mario World as possible.
In a few ways, Super Mario World reins things in from Super Mario Bros 3. There are fewer power ups, the plethora from Mario 3 reduced to just the fire flower and the cape. That is offset by making Mario himself more innately capable, with a new spin jump and the ability to climb on certain walls. That and the major addition of supporting character/power up Yoshi. While there are fewer power ups, the levels are much larger. That facilitates the game’s change of focus from from speedy completion to more sedate exploration. SMW’s levels, especially compared to its predecessor’s, are expansive. It plays somewhat slower, but encourages a more thoughtful approach. It helps that these larger levels are mostly very well designed.
Despite the fact that the games don’t play all that differently, there is a fundamental change to the Mario series that happens with Super Mario World. Before that the games were all still arcade influenced action games, designed to be beaten in one sitting. Super Mario World introduces saving and the game becomes much more exploration focused. While there are secrets in all of the games, compare what finding a secret area in Super Mario Bros or Super Mario Bros 3 gets the player with Super Mario World. In SMB you can warp rooms, which let you skip large portions of the game. The same is true in SMB3, where you find warp whistles that transport the player later in the game. There secrets there are designed to help facilitate the experienced player beat the game by skipping it. The games are designed to be beaten in one sitting, and jumping almost straight to world 4 really helps with that. Just knowing about the warp is not enough, an inexperienced player will be quickly stymied by the increased difficulty, but those who have seen it before can quickly get to the meat of the game. In Super Mario World, though, the secrets are not there to let the player skip the game, but to open up more game to beat. You can unlock star roads and alternate routes, but still you have to beat the vast majority of the game before you can have your showdown with Bowser.
That Super Mario World makes this change without dramatically changing how the game is played is rather remarkable. In many ways, Super Mario World is the last of the original run of Super Mario games. After this we got Yoshi’s Island, which changes things up significantly, and then the 3D evolution with Super Mario 64. By the time the series came back to 2D with New Super Mario Bros it wasn’t really the same thing. I’m not sure this is a bad thing. I’m playing through the series as fast as possible, one after the other (while still taking time out for Zelda, Persona and Dragon Quest) and I would be overjoyed if there were another handful of 2D Mario games before the series went 3D. Hell, we got 10 Mega Man games in that same time frame, and most of them are more than worthwhile. But each of the console Mario games has a distinctive feel. Mario World and Mario 3 might the be the closest any of the games feel to each other, with the exclusion of the glorified expansion pack The Lost Levels, and even between those two there are significant differences. I don’t see how Nintendo could have fit in any more games without repeating themselves. Super Mario World is the perfect end point for this vein of the series.
Super Mario World remains one of my favorite games. In the eternal, pointless argument between Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, I am strongly in favor of the SNES game. This playthrough did nothing to change that. I love Super Mario World, even if I usually peter out about three worlds in. Now it is on to relatively unexplored territory.