The lights are on
As the Super NES launched, Mario Mania was at a fever pitch. Comic books, plush toys, T-shirts, and a slew of other merchandise flooded the stores that had felt apprehensive about stocking the original NES game just a few years earlier. After the runaway success of the NES, the Super NES looked like a surefire winner in the U.S. market. However, Nintendo took nothing for granted and bundled the fledgling console with the game that is, for many, Mario’s greatest adventure.
Rather than completely shaking up the formula of the last game, Super Mario World continued to evolve and refine the recipe from Super Mario Bros. 3. Gone was the plethora of power-ups seen in its predecessor, with the list pared down to just the super mushroom, fire flower, and a new feather that slapped a cape on Mario’s back and let him fly in a much more refined manner than in Mario 3. Mario could also take to the sky using the P-Balloon, which puffed him up with air and allowed him to reach previously inaccessible areas.
Super Mario World also introduced players to Yoshi, the now-beloved green dinosaur that Mario rides. Using Yoshi’s abilities, Mario could attack and interact with enemies in new ways. With his long tongue, Yoshi could eat Bowser’s minions and even hold different colored Koopa Troopa shells in his mouth to absorb temporary new powers. In addition, Yoshi gave Mario the power to absorb an extra hit, causing the green dino to straddle the line between a support character and a power-up.
Super Mario World maintained the overworld map system introduced by Mario 3, but this time, players could save their progress, allowing them more time to explore the game’s many secrets. This encouraged players to scour each level to find hidden exits and unlock secret passageways to new stages, adding new depth to an already proven formula.
Super Mario World also featured smoother animations, brighter colors, and higher fidelity music, but to truly show off the added power of the Super NES, Miyamoto and Tezuka added new elements to wow players. “As we build up the series, the almost obsessive idea arises that if we don't add new elements, fans of the previous games won’t be satisfied,” Miyamoto said in a 2010 Iwata Asks. “That’s why Tezuka-san, in developing the Super Mario Bros. series from Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario World, started making things like minigames such as roulette. At that time, roulette was the best way to show the Super Famicom’s high functionality.”
For Super Mario World, the level-design process also evolved from the previous way of doing things. “Up to Super Mario Bros. 3, we drew all of the levels on graph paper, and then starting with Super Mario World, it was a combination of graph paper plus some editing tools on the PC that we had,” Miyamoto told Time in a 2015 interview.
For Miyamoto, Super Mario World holds a special place in his heart. “Super Mario World is something that included of course all the action you saw in Super Mario Bros. but it also had the map features, so it also had that element of players having to think about where they were going and what they were going to do next,” Miyamoto said in a 2010 interview with USA Today’s Game Hunters. “I also think that it is a game that developed a large number of staff people who became producers and directors.”
Super Mario World’s acclaim could not have come at a more important time for Nintendo, as it was no longer the only player in town when it came to the home-console market. Sega, with its attitude-infused Sonic the Hedge hog franchise and marketing lingo that used phras es like “blast processing,” was beginning to en croach on Nintendo’s turf. The Genesis was more popular than its predecessor, Sega’s Master System. If Nintendo hadn’t produced a strong follow-up to the NES, the home-console market could have been Sega’s for the taking. With the success of the Super NES, however, Nintendo solidified itself as the leader of the market.
As the team began looking at what directions to take the series following the success of Super Mario World, they decided to capitalize on the popularity of the new character Yoshi. Yoshi had become such a beloved inclusion in the Super Mario series that he would receive his own spin-off series, which Nintendo experimented with in its follow-up to Super Mario World. With 1995’s Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island, the series’ formula was drastically shaken up once more. No longer was Mario the main protagonist. Instead, players controlled Yoshi as he watched over a baby version of Mario in an effort to rescue Baby Luigi from Baby Bowser.
Yoshi’s Island did more than serve as a starting point for Yoshi’s spin-off series, however. The follow-up to Super Mario World hinted that Nintendo was interested in further exploring what it meant to be a Super Mario game. With much more powerful technology on the horizon, Nintendo was on the precipice of redefining Mario as a character and changing the series forever.
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