Are old-school Sonic and Mario really that good?

As human beings, we have an inherent tendency to believe that any new iteration of anything is worse than the version it replaces. Sequels to much-loved movies are automatically rubbish, and the toast we ate this morning is always a shallow, commercialised insult to the breakfast we ate yesterday, back when toast was keeping it real.

And as gamers, the trait applies doubly so as our favourite franchises evolve. But are we right, or is it just nostalgia? We all ‘know’ that the new 3D Sonic games are crap compared to the hedgehog’s amazotron 2D days, but was 16-bit Sonic really that good? And with New Super Mario Bros. Wii splitting opinion amongst long-time Nintendo stalwarts, we have to ask, are we comparing it to halcyon childhood reminiscence rather than the actual ‘90s reality? It’s time, we think, for an objective re-review of both franchise’s landmark titles, played again today and judged by today's standards. Super Mario World and Sonic 2, the rose-tinted specs are off.

Super Mario World

After his mind-boggling evolution of the Super Mario Bros. series on the NES, Shigeru Miyamoto became gaming’s most respected pioneer. With the dawn of the new 16-bit SNES in 1992, the world expected him to deliver something truly landscape changing with the next instalment. Did he manage to do so? Mostly, yes.


Above: This little spot changes the whole dynamic of the game. Know how to unlock it?

The trademark of the Mario series has always been the way in which it expands upon its basic concepts in new and unexpected ways with each addition. Super Mario Bros. 3 represented a quantum leap in this respect, but against all odds Super Mario World managed to develop our perceptions of the 2D platformer even further, albeit to a slightly smaller degree than its predecessor.

Playing Super Mario World now, it’s even clearer how much deeper and more layered the overall production is than almost any other platformer before or since. The majority of SMW’s level design is ingenius at best and slick at worst, but the real cleverness of Miyamoto’s design comes in the way everything is held together. 


The world is yours

The “World” part of the game’s title is more significant than you might think. Taking SMB3’s hub-map structure as a jumping off point, SMW exists within a much more organic, fundamentally changing environment in which the actions of the player have relevance to much more than their completion of a particular stage.

The inclusion of Switch Palaces – monster-sized versions of SMB3’s environment changing devices, capable of showering every level in the game with new blocks – add a level of progressive world development that gives the platformer the feel of an RPG. As you progress, the game world is affected by your actions, it and the levels within it evolving and changing to provide new layouts, routes, areas, secrets and gameplay approaches upon replay.


Above: Mario running up a vertical wall, in a player-transformed level, towards a secret exit. SMW's evolution summed up in one image.

Similarly, seemingly innocuous tweaks to the power-up system are actually fundamental in creating a free-flowing, customisable experience. The ability to keep an item in reserve to be accessed in real-time during a level adds a whole new player-driven tactical element to approaching the game, aided in no small part by the new ability to raid completed levels for the right tools with which to tackle the next, before quitting out by pressing Start and Select.

Super Mario Bros. 3 provided a foundation for this by allowing a stash of power-ups to be slowly accrued from Toad Houses, but the somewhat random nature of what was acquired as well as the need to tool up before a level (not to mention the comparable divorcing of hub and levels) makes Super Mario World a vast evolution.


  • Connors116 - January 9, 2010 8:34 p.m.

    Sonic The Hedgehog 2 was sort of a let-down for some, as no characters from the comic book (Which is still running today as the longest game-based comic book ever) never got into it. Hell, Sonic 3 never even lived up to it. If they actually had them, it would be too story based, but all we needed was one. And it was canceled. No one saw that coming coming. But Super Mario World still holds up to this day, along with the Sonic The Hedgehog Games. And yes, I know how to get to Top Secret Area. My Cousin taught me on his SNES.
  • SausageLozenge - December 14, 2009 11:45 a.m.

    Nail on the head.
  • B3rt - December 13, 2009 10:58 p.m.

    The Sonic 2 score dosent really line up with one of gamesradar previous articles where they reviewed all the old 2d sonics. Im pretty sure Sonic 2 got a 9 in that article.
  • Ravenbom - December 11, 2009 8:49 p.m.

    I'd like to see more of these retro reviews. Yeah, I find Sonic 2 to be overrated. I just played through Mario 3, Super Mario World and the first 3 Sonic games recently, and I still can't understand what was supposed to be so great about Sonic 2. That being said, my last play through of Super Mario World was sublime. My only complaint is how easy you can make the game with Blue Yoshi and a Cape (and Top Secret Area). Making the game easy is hardly a complaint, because the onus is on the player to make the game easier by seeking out Blue yoshi and a cape.
  • StoveToTheFace - December 8, 2009 10:40 a.m.

    I agree that mario should be a 10, one of the best games EVER! BUT come on Sonic isnt a 7 it should be atleast a 8.5, i would give it a 9. The boss battles arnt the best but Marios arnt anything that great either so if you arnt gonna knock Mario for it you cant knock Sonic for it, dosent sound like your being fair to deff more of a Mario fan then Sonic but i think your not giving Sonic a fair score.
  • Tomsta666 - December 7, 2009 2:01 p.m.

    Im old enough to have been there when these buggers first came out. Let me tell you, I still have as much fun with them now as I did when I was a nipper. Super Mario World for me, is the ultimate 2D platformer. It has everything that you could possibly wish for from something of the genre. It's probably the game that i've beat the most. Seriously, i've lost count of how many times i've done it. Way back when on the SNES, done it shitloads on GBA too. Aswell as Virtual Console and dodgy emulators! I Always keep coming back to it. Sonic 2 still holds up too. I'll agree with you that isn't as good as SMW it's still a damn good game, and my personal favourite of the oldskool Sonic Games.
  • rxb - December 7, 2009 1:40 p.m.

    Its impossible for me not to be bias reading this as I love Super Mario world more than some members of my own family. I think it could be judged by modern standards and still get a 10. A contender for best made in my book. I remember Sonic Twosday as well, a 10 year old me was very excited.
  • TheWebSwinger - December 7, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    How much, exactly did Nintendo-circa-1990 pay you to write this? /s.
  • HeavyTank - December 6, 2009 10:56 p.m.

    Yeah, these two particular old games are still very good today, you should review other classic games as well... Mario games are stil (pretty) good, but today's Sonic games cannot be compared in ANY way to the older games...
  • RoxasXXion - December 6, 2009 5:56 p.m.

    sigh I remeber when I used to sit for hours on end playing sonic and quakshot on the sega mainly because you couldn't save but still
  • AuthorityFigure - December 6, 2009 9:46 a.m.

    Sonic3 is even worse, and I made a review that points out the very same problems you've noted. It is here:,109381/
  • HeroicBilby - December 6, 2009 4:07 a.m.

    Personally I never understood why Sonic 2 was considered the "greatest". Sonic 3 & Knuckles(As they were always meant to be played) is the only real gemstone of 2D Sonic in my heart, just like Super Mario World is a ultimate example of 2D Mario to me.. ^^ S3&K also DEFINITELY did the bosses right. I'm a bit perplexed why they didn't pick the real best to compare, even if they only used one of the two they're still better done than S2( Except for that HORRID Carnival Night Zone puzzle! AARRRGGH! Definitely a 3/10 game just for that alone! ;D )
  • rampage198 - December 6, 2009 12:25 a.m.

    Really good article. While there have been lots of Mario Vs. Sonic peices written over the years this is one of the best.
  • TractorBoy21 - December 5, 2009 10:14 p.m.

    Claiming that the article is "biased" is a very ignorant thing to say, as all arguments are biased to some extent, fact. However, I would say that this was one of the best constructed articles I have read for a vey long time and would really enjoy this becoming a reular feature of sorts. I admit that I am a Sonic fanboy, however, I think that all the comments made by David were completely valid, especially when you look at the game as an example of a specific genre, or an era etc. The reason that we gain pleasure from different things, especially within games, because they are so imersing, is that we share personal experiences with the games, which is why I do not have an issue with the boss levels on Sonic, and would argue that the Mario boss levels are of the same school of thought. However, I acknowledge that the Sonic boss levels are "tacky" because that is what it is in the game, at least at this stage in the game, that appeals to me, because in my opinion, it seems intentional, and is like nothing else, so enjoyable, and yt epic at the same time. That is what makes a game for me, that it can be loved on so many different levels, just like both the games mentioned in the article. Again, loved the article, hope to see it re-occur.
  • Scotch - December 5, 2009 9:18 p.m.

    the retro reviews are a great idea! and i love how the guy with a sonic avatar is complaining about the sonic review! i guess that is one bad thing, if GR continues to do this fan boys can get mad AGAIN XD
  • B3rt - December 5, 2009 7:51 p.m.

    Sonic 2 was a great game but why doesn't any game site ever mention the combination of sonic 3 and knuckles? I found that game to be much more refined and more varied than sonic 2 and the length of the two games combined really improved the experience.
  • GameManiac - December 5, 2009 5:47 p.m.

    My gaming origin was 10 years ago, when I bought a PS1 and GameBoy Color. I have found a way to play these games eventually (such as when they came out for the GBA). And just from that, my money's on SMW.
  • SuperStingray - December 5, 2009 4:10 p.m.

    I honestly don't know why people see Sonic 2 as the best of the original games. Don't get me wrong, I love it, but I prefer S3&K by far. This is an interesting article, I will say, to look back on these games retrospectively and see how they fair by today's standards.
  • wrapdump - December 5, 2009 1:07 p.m.

    For my money this is backwards. Back when I first got into videogames around 1992, Mario still looked like utter crap. That's not really important, but it just wasn't compulsive enough, it wasn't very fun or engaging at all. I had absolutely no desre to keep playing to see what level was next. Were they cleverly designed? Absolutely, the amount of depth to almost every level, and the amount of thought that had gone into the construction was clearly huge, even to an 8 year old. But it was still crap. Sonic was a revelation. The boss fights were never important, they were an entertaining victory goal to each level, and if you really struggled with coping with some of the enemies, then you still need practice, 17 years on.
  • Xobi - December 5, 2009 10:36 a.m.

    Sonic 2 ..... 10

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