New Super Mario Bros. Wii // Wii
January 22, 2010
I’ve been slack. Once a devoted Nintendo fanboy who would devour any new Mario games within days of release, I’ve recently allowed myself to become distracted by numerous other games on other consoles. Today, I was determined to make amends, to give New Super Mario Bros. Wii the dedicated attention it deserved, and sat down to my save at World 5 determined not to get up again until the final credits rolled.
Nostalgia can be a seductive beast. A phenomenon which afflicts it’s host with misty eyes and rose-tinted spectacles, it all too often gives way to bitter disappointment once a title is revisited many years later. New Super Mario Bros. Wii had the potential to inflict such pain, based as it is on the old school mechanics of the NES and SNES installments, but the fact that it avoids such disappointment and instead makes you want to revisit those early games is a triumph in itself. That it achieves all this whilst nudging the series in subtle new directions whilst retaining the absolute core feel of Mario ensures that the big ‘N’ can still appeal to its hardcore fans after its undeniable shift in focus to casual gamers.
Loving homage to the 1987 debut of Super Mario Bros. is evident within the very first level, echoing the placement of the question blocks and bricks that have been a series stalwart since day one. From that point on, New Super Mario Bros. Wii updates everything you loved about the original series, gives it all a delicious lick of paint, throws in inevitable Wiimote sections and then lets you loose to do what you’ve always done in Mario games. Your goal is as simple as it has ever been – rescue the Princess. Yes, she’s going to be in another castle.
Making welcome returns to the series are Bowser’s kids, not seen since the seminal Super Mario Bros. 3, and here given little character flourishes that the NES hardware was incapable of conveying. Throughout the game, Magikoopa weaves his geometric magic to aid the Koopa Kids, often imbuing them with extra special attacks, or supersized weapons. Baby Bowser is a constant thorn in your side too, this time piloting Dad’s Koopa Clown Car himself – the vehicle (actually a helicopter) that Bowser attacked Mario from in Super Mario World on the SNES. If such mish-mashing of each title from the series’ past sounds messy, it is anything but; nobody knows the back catalogue like Nintendo, and favourite elements from each of them are present, correct and just as engaging as the first time round.
If the majority of New Super Mario Bros. Wii feels comfortably familiar, then the inclusion of 4-player simultaneous multiplayer is a radical departure for the series. Mario, Luigi and, for some reason, two identical Toads (apart from different colour clothes) are the characters available for multiplayer mode, which can only be described as competitive co-op. Every character can get in each other’s way, and often an erroneous bounce on a fellow competitor’s head will result in a swift chasm-based death. You also have the ability to pick up another player (with a brisk shake of the Wiimote) but this often turns sour as you ‘accidently’ hurl your friend into a piranha plant or bullet bill. Inevitably, one player will be much better than the others, navigating the platforms with ease and snaffling up all the coins in the process. A quick stab of the A button ensconces you in an invulnerable bubble and a shake of the Wiimote sends you after another player, so players finding a particular platform tricky to navigate have this to fall back on. The game is remarkably generous in doling out continues for losing all your lives, Game Over only being displayed if all four players die at the same point in a level, which happens very rarely.
The main gripe I have about multiplayer is actually a pretty serious flaw, but one I’m undecided whether is intentional or not. If another player dies, there is a tiny micro-delay, where all the other characters are frozen for a fraction of a second. Should you be in mid-jump, the delay is often enough to make you lose your bearings and plummet to your death; particularly if several of your friends die within a short space of time. It’s a small delay, but has a big effect on gameplay, and is essentially the only major blip in an otherwise frenetic and frenzied multiplayer mode that manages to squeeze even more fun out of the franchise than the singleplayer mode.
Even Nintendo are guilty of tacking on motion controls to their games, it seems. As a developer that has proved their mastery of the mechanics of 2D platforming for over two decades, it seems churlish to accuse them of a mis-step, but the platforming sections that utilise the motion-sensing capabilities of the Wiimote do little to enhance the overall package. Tilting a particular platform whilst also lining up a pinpoint running jump is frustrating at best, but in fairness the shake-enabled Propeller Mushroom does have a satisfying tactility to it. Perhaps if more was made out of the motion controls, there would be greater justification for their inclusion, but used as sparingly as they are they represent a rather superficial element of the overall package.
The princess is in another castle
With New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s very strong early sales outstripping the lifetime sales of the sublime Super Mario Galaxy in only a few months, it would be a brave man to bet against a continuation of the old school 2D Mario platformer, whether that happens in this console lifecycle or the next. But, on this form, there’s every reason for Nintendo to keep going. The very real danger of the series becoming stale after several decades has been side-stepped so efficiently here, with Nintendo subtly adding to a formula that already boasts an astonishing legacy of quality. With the hardware finally rendering the Mushroom Kingdom as beautifully as imagined in the mind of its creator Shigeru Miyamoto, there is little sign of the old Mario magic disappearing just yet.