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Mario vs Sonic 2023: the best platformer of the year

Old rivalries never die, so was Super Mario Bros Wonder or Sonic Superstars the best platformer of 2023?

While the rivalries of the 90s may not be burning as strong as they once were, there are those of us who will always pick a side in our hearts for the great Mario vs Sonic debate. Things are a bit more low-stakes now Sega doesn’t have a presence in the console markets, but these two mascots helped define what the 2D platformer looked like for decades to come.

That’s why I was so thrilled to see that both mascots released landmark 2D platformers in the same week in 2023. Sonic Superstars launched on October 17, and Super Mario Wonder would drop just three days later on October 20. Both were among the best entries in their respective franchises in recent memory, but only one of them can truly be the best platformer of 2023.

super mario bros wonder special world entrances glhf (16)

There are some surprising similarities in how fans viewed each series before these games released. Before Superstars, Sonic Team hadn’t made a great 2D platformer in well over a decade. Sonic Mania was brilliant, but Sonic Team had very little involvement in that, meaning you have to go all the way back to the Sonic Rush games on the DS to find the last great 2D games.

Sonic Superstars finally found a way to modernize the classic gameplay style, giving us something visually fresh while introducing fun new mechanics that still held true to how the classic games felt.

Similarly, the “New Super Mario Bros” style of game had grown pretty tired by 2023. While the team behind Mario didn’t produce anything anywhere near as terrible as Sonic 4, the 2D platforming branch of the Mario series was feeling pretty stale. Then the first trailer for Mario Wonder came along, and suddenly, everyone sat up to take notice. A new art style, bold new mechanics, and even a new voice for the iconic plumber himself.

Sonic Superstars screenshot

This is why 2023 feels like it gave the 2D platformer a new lease on life. While the indie scene was thriving with great games like Pizza Tower, the two kings of the genre felt fresher and more important than they had in years.

Diving deeper into each game, Mario Wonder was an almost unbelievable playground for innovative mechanics and experimental concepts. The Wonder Flowers could entirely transform how levels played in an instant, either to give you memorable moments, a wild power fantasy, or a unique platforming challenge. There are some moments in Wonder that I honestly couldn’t believe made it into a 2D Mario game, they were so special.

The downside to it was that, without the Wonder Flowers, levels could feel a bit empty, which was a pain in cases where you had to replay a level just to rush through it and gather up a Wonder Seed or purple coin that you missed. It meant replayability takes a bit of a hit.

Second  Captain Toad location in Super Mario Bros. Wonder, overlooking World 2

Sonic Superstars, meanwhile, didn’t actually change much when it came to the classic Sonic formula, but in this case that was the better decision. So many of the bad 2D Sonic games came from Sonic Team trying to jam in ideas and mechanics that didn’t make any sense and only hampered the momentum-based gameplay. Instead, they just focused on making bright and colorful levels with memorable themes and a lot of ways to test your Sonic skills, making a game that is far more replayable, especially as all of the characters have unique abilities that change how you play.

It didn’t quite nail the new Emerald Abilities though. While they’re fun to mess around with, there are very few circumstances where they’re the fastest way to complete a level, and if your goal is simply to go fast, then you likely won’t bother using them much. Plus, it doesn’t handle co-op play very well, despite that being one of the biggest advertised features.

Sonic Superstars Sonic, Tails, Knuckles, and Amy

Like most people, I picked my side in this debate long ago, and I’ve always been extremely biased in Sonic’s favor. It’s the series I have the most nostalgia for, and the gameplay style I’ve always enjoyed the most – which is why it’s slightly painful for me to say that Mario Wonder is far and away the best platformer of 2023.

Sonic Superstars may have been a return to form for the series, but Mario Wonder felt like a huge step forward for a series that has remained relatively static for well over a decade. You never know what’s over the next horizon in Wonder, with almost every level giving you a memorable moment on top of some truly fiendishly difficult levels if you’re willing to put the time and effort in – it’s set a new gold standard for 2D platformers and it may take a long time for anything to live up to it.