New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a great game, no question. This fresh platformer brings back all the gameplay elements that made the series such a noteworthy and inspiring franchise. And even though the series has made the successful leap from side-scroller to 3D platformer, the original formula still works extremely well today. New Super Mario Bros. Wii continues to prove that fact.
The Wii game lifts the efforts that went into the company's original revival on the Nintendo DS. That portable game brought the 2D platformer formula back for a new generation of gamers. The end product was a fantastic experience, mostly because -- for gamers like myself who grew up on Super Mario -- it was an incredible thrill to play through a fresh Nintendo-developed experience that captured everything we loved about the franchise. The 2006 release was docked a bit for being a bit on the easy side and offering some unbalanced Mario elements (two worlds are locked?), but ultimately it's still one of the Nintendo DS system's best titles.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii isn't a port of the DS game but it certainly has the DS game to thank for a lot of its production. The game brings back the classic platformer gameplay of the 8 and 16-bit designs of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World, and -- like the Nintendo DS game --introduces new gameplay mechanics that just wouldn't have been possible on the gaming hardware back in the day. You're going to get platforms that tilt and sway, cloud mists that obscure the levels, areas that are quite literally infested with dozens of enemies, and sizeable bosses that take up nearly the entire screen.
The game controls just as the original games: there's an option to plug in a Nunchuk for analog stick control, but this game plays best with a stock Wii Remote to mirror the original NES pad. The game features identical control to the 8-bit designs with a bit of a current generation twist. Not only are there gameplay elements where tilting the controller affects the game world, but players can give the remote a bit of a shake for contextual control: carry obstacles by holding the button and shaking the controller, or get a bit of a jump "pause" by thrusting the Wii remote at the peak of a leap.
New to the game are power-ups such as the Ice Flower, the opposite of the Fire Flower stand-by, that'll freeze enemies in place and turn them into slippery platforms or obstacles to pick up and throw and the Penguin Suit that enables non-slippery walking on ice and spectacular swimming underwater. These additions feel natural to the design, though the Penguin Suit doesn't look nearly as hip as the classic Raccoon wear of the original suit game, Super Mario 3.
The game is a great challenge. Not brutally hard, mind you, but it puts up a good fight especially compared to the Nintendo DS game. Expect to put in several hours just in getting through to the final boss, and then returning to the levels to score each of the three coins that'll unlock even more levels. And then, to give it even more replay, there's the multiplayer aspect.
The original Mario Bros., an arcade game released in 1983, revolved around the idea that there were two brothers working together towards a single goal. But when Nintendo created Super Mario Bros., that partnership sort of disappeared and the adventure became solo. New Super Mario Bros. Wii brings the camaraderie back in a big way: not only can you play two players at the same time during the adventure, but it can become a quartet if you've got the controllers on hand.
This multiplayer aspect works extremely well for the Super Mario Bros. design, and Nintendo clearly made sure that its team focused on balancing the gameplay so that each level can be fun not just for the lone gamer, but also for people who like to play in groups. Consider that at any time a player can join in at the start of any level, and then -- at any time -- choose to say "you know, this level is too hard for me" and tap a button to let the skilled player get through the challenge for them. That's just smart design, especially when you see just how vicious some of the levels can get.
It's tough to say whether New Super Mario Bros. Wii is easier or more difficult with two, three, or four players in the standard level progression. On the one hand, the level doesn't end and start over on a player's death -- as long as someone's still alive, the game continues, so the action can go much quicker with players unlocking the worlds and levels at a record pace. However, there's also the issue of chaos. More players means more things to manage: the players now have to work together to not get in each others' way and cause deaths where a single player wouldn't even blink. And some levels have been constructed with speed runs in mind, so if you get a straggler it'll ruin the pace and death will come swiftly.
The multiplayer is a fantastic addition, both in cooperative as well as in competitive. But in this generation it's extremely difficult to accept that a high profile game with a multiplayer focus completely dismisses any sort of online. This is aimed squarely at Nintendo and all the fanboys defending its decision: make any excuse you want, but any other first party publisher on any other current generation system would have ensured that a game as high a caliber as New Super Mario Bros Wii would have put focus on getting the game online. The fact that this game totally shuns online completely shows Wii owners just how unimportant internet play is to the company. Or rather, it continues to show how ignorant Nintendo is to the online demand.
And it's not just the online component where Nintendo misses with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Built into the game are real-time gameplay "videos" that people can unlock and watch. They're not exactly videos as they are replay files, controller input recordings that are played back in the game's engine. With all the Super Guide hint playbacks and clever Super Play videos it's clear that team members had a ball creating them. So with the code in the game, why didn't the team open this option up to the gamer? If I had a spectacular run-through of world 7-6, I would have loved the opportunity to save that session and upload it to a server or send it to a friend, much like an option that is already available to players of Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It's certainly not a dealbreaker, but it shows just how safe Nintendo is playing it with the game -- New Super Mario Bros. Wii is status quo and barely goes beyond that.
That's the best way to describe New Super Mario Bros. Wii: the game plays it safe. It doesn't go crazy with presentation or options, it simply offers up a basic, decent and acceptable experience with conservative visuals and basic additions. In a sense, it's just a slight letdown when you consider how much Super Mario Galaxy, a 2007 release, completely wowed us with incredible graphics and innovative gameplay mechanics. It even had a crazy over-the-top introduction cutscene that really set the tone. Awesome as it is to play through classic Super Mario Bros. platform designs in a fresh experience, when you look at New Super Mario Bros. Wii from the perspective of a Super Mario Galaxy successor it's hard not to feel like this took a step backwards.
©2009-11-13, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved