New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Gamers certainly have had to wait a hell of a long time for a new Mario side-scrolling game to arrive on a home console. 18 long years have been and gone since _Super Mario World_ was released on the SNES, along with three console generations and four Presidents of the United States. With the 3D dawn of a new age that was Mario 64 it seemed like there was no looking back – side-scrolling Mario had disappeared from out living room television sets. That is, until today…
_New Super Mario Bros Wii_ hits Nintendo’s home console on a wave of expectation. The handheld iteration, released for the DS in 2006 was a huge success for the company, fans revelling in the big N’s seeming return to its roots and championing the style with which they pulled it off. Indeed, on the surface, _New Super Mario Bros Wii_ looks very much like its more compact brethren, and plays almost like the gaming equivalent of a ‘greatest hits’ album, squeezing in as many wonderful nods to previous games as it possibly can. However, this familiar veneer hides beneath an incredibly innovative, not to mention robust design, demonstrating that _New Super Mario Bros Wii_ really does live up to the ‘New’ prefix in its title, and is well worth your attention.
_New Super Mario Bros Wii_ takes the absolutely superb game play of the DS version, wraps it in a deliciously satisfying bundle of creative and challenging stages and then completes the package by coating the whole thing in glorious multiplayer 4-player co-operative. Well, co-operative may well be a misleading term as, from personal experience, the game presents you with almost innumerable circumstances in which you can accidentally (or very much intentionally!) completely screw over your companion(s) in a wholly comical fashion. With a core game that focuses on precise jumps and co-ordinating challenging platform sections, having four players attempting to manoeuvre through an area at the same time will often mean that at least one unlucky player will be stomped mid-air by a team mate, sending them plunging to the lava/shear cliff face/etc. below and their death. However, a player always has a chance to seek revenge upon re-entering the game, whether that is through giving their ‘mate’ a taste of foot-on-face action themselves, or deciding instead to pick them up and throw them headfirst into a Goomba. Such exploits means chaotic multiplayer sessions rarely hit the frustration zone, and instead become about the camaraderie and playful banter. A cheeky dig in the shoulder after an inadvertent homicide is far more likely than a Wiimote lodged in the wall. It is only really in the later stages when real co-ordination and concentration will be required to get all four players safely through to the end of a level.
Whist an indulgence in nostalgia does seem to ooze from every pore of _New Super Mario Bros’_ being (and you will know already whether this is something that will appeal to you), it is far more than an act of wistful reminiscence. The level in quality of the stages and game play mechanics allow the game to stand alone, with levels varying from those that simply act as playgrounds for a new ability (original examples found in _NSMBW_ include the Propeller Suit allowing flight, and the Penguin Suit which can turn enemies into blocks of ice), to those that will really test your platforming ability – complete with screen filling swarms of Bullet Bills, cannonballs and parachuting Bob-ombs. However, the new addition of the ‘Super Guide’ feature, in which, after a certain number of deaths an option will appear for the game to run you through a level until you wish to take control, allows new players to learn the techniques required for success and also avoid any game quitting bouts of frustration. In addition, the boss fights are some of the best ever seen in a Mario game – the final battle proving to be especially entertaining. In today’s gaming landscape, it seems overpowered enemies at the end of stages are being labelled as an archaic part of design, and slowly disappearing – making a well executed example of how to pull off exhilarating level finales such as those found in _New Super Mario Bros_ all the more refreshing.
As is customary now on the Wii, motion control is implemented to an extent, but those worried that it will affect the core game play or seem intrusive can be reassured. Like the sparing use seen in _Super Mario Galaxy_, the game’s use of the Wii’s unique capabilities never feel gimmicky and never intrudes on the playing experience. A quick shake of the controller lets you pick up items or perform a spin jump, while tilting the Wiimote manipulates platforms or cannons. These uses are intuitive and feel natural, meaning the only real criticism one can have in the respect of motion controls is the fact that their implementation means that a classic controller or Gamecube pad cannot be used in _New Super Mario Bros Wii_. This seems odd and slightly disappointing, as this sort of game seems to be crying out for the ergonomic fit and feel of a traditional pad, and it would not have taken a huge stretch of the imagination to simply assign the tilting to L and R shoulder buttons.
While the new multiplayer in _New Super Mario Bros Wii_ is in many ways a triumph, it is not without its shortcomings. There is no online play for example, meaning to really relish the full four player experience, you need to have three willing friends and three pricey Wiimotes to boot. While this is understandable after the frustrations suffered by thousands of gamers following the disappointing online set up of _Super Smash Bros Brawl_, it does not provide an excuse as to why Nintendo has not gone about creating a more robust system for a new title.
The graphics as well are not without fault. While they are more crisp than the DS version, on a home console they cannot help but look a little flat in places and the decision to make both players 3 and 4 identical toad models (bar colouring) suggests that more effort could have been put in – those playing toad(s) will inevitably suffer inferiority complexes when following in the footsteps of the famed plumbing brothers.
However, such criticisms seem minor in relation to the overall package. The design and feel of the game may well feel very familiar, but the modern approach to level design and pacing, not to mention the fantastic multiplayer, creates a Mario game that plays very much like tradition dictates, and yet simultaneously feels exciting and new. Whether your first Mario game was on the NES, Gameboy or DS, _New Super Mario Bros Wii_ demonstrates that you don’t need dynamic camera angles and a complex plot to have a blast on a console. 2D Mario is back; and from this evidence, he has no reason to leave.