New Super Mario Bros. Wii
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Release Date: 11/15/2009
Christmas came a bit early for me this year. More exactly, it came on November 15th, when New Super Mario Bros. Wii was released in stores all around North America. I will readily admit that I am more or less a Mario fanboy. I have played through every game in the main series of platformers, and even played many of the spin-offs. While I guess that it does make me a “fanboy”, it also means that I know the series in and out, and that I can make the difference between a great Mario game such as Super Mario Galaxy and one which is lacking in some departments, such as Super Mario Sunshine.
With that said, let’s concentrate on the game at hand. Being the newest entry in a long series of game, New Super Mario Bros. Wii tries to differentiate itself from its predecessor with three main features:
-It is the first Mario 2D platformer on a home console since Super Mario World all the way back in 1991.
-It is the first time that a Mario platformer allows two or more players to play at the same time.
-It is the first game to introduce Nintendo’s new “Super Guide”, which lets a player watch the game as it plays itself if things get too tough.
Much noise has been made regarding these items since the game was first shown at E3, as fans of the series were hungry for a new 2D home console game after an 18 years break and many people were curious about the “Super Guide” feature and the impact it would have on future games. The game itself has been on many people’s radar since then, despite the publicity campaign being relatively low-key for such a big release in one of Nintendo’s main franchises.
So here we are, the moment of truth: Will New Super Mario Bros. Wii take its place with the best games the series has to offer, or will it be a disappointment that will make fans all over the world wish that their memories of Super Mario World and co. had been left alone?
Let’s be honest here: Mario games were never known for their intriguing story and intricate twists. If it’s not an RPG, the series usually sticks to the “Bowser kidnaps Peach” formula. The biggest exception to that rule was Super Mario Galaxy, which featured a brand new character called Rosalina and a back story told through a storybook, but even then, Bowser STILL kidnapped Peach.
Guess what happens here? That’s right, Bowser kidnaps Peach. The variation this time is that it is actually his son, Bowser Jr., who does the kidnapping. He does so by hiding inside a cake destined for Peach’s birthday, jumping out, dumping it on top of the Princess and then running away with the cake/princess combo. There are also Koopalings involved, a first since Super Mario World, I believe. Mario, Luigi, a yellow Toad and a blue Toad give chase, resulting in the adventure that unfolds as you play.
As you can see, the story is the same as ever. Sure, the way it is conveyed is cute and charming, but it is still the same storyline we have been served for 25 years now. While we can wonder if it truly would be a Mario game without Peach getting in trouble, we can also hope that one day, we will be served something a bit more imaginative. Of course, I don’t think that people play these games for the story, which is actually the exact reason why I think that shuffling the roles a bit would not constitute a huge risk for the series. Why can’t Bowser just do something else? There are a lot of dastardly deeds to be done other than kidnapping. It is all a bit disappointing after seeing what Nintendo could do with SMG.
At least, the game does offer more modes than habitual for the franchise: there is the main adventure, which can be played alone or with up to three players. In that case, the game simply carries along as any other Super Mario title, making you progress through stages on a map in order to get to the end. The Free Play mode lets you and your friends enjoy the levels you have already unlocked in any way you please, while the Coin Battle mode pits everybody against one another in order to see who can cross the finish line with the most money. Throwing your friends in bottomless pits and bumping them into enemies are two great ways to get what you want, resulting in courses as frantic and unpredictable as any deathmatch mode you would usually see in a first-person shooter.
The good selection of mode unfortunately gets dragged down by the unimaginative story, resulting in a barely passing grade.
Story/Modes Rating: Decent
The graphics in NSMBW are OK, which is to say that they are aesthetically pleasing, if a little bit underwhelming. Don’t get me wrong, everything looks smooth and polished, and the 3D models of the characters and enemies are charming and full of style. The problem is just the 2D plane of movements does not really lend itself well to appreciating 3D characters that take up an incredibly small amount of the screen.
Because of that, the backgrounds become the graphical stars of the game, and they don’t disappoint. With each world depicting a different theme, there is a lot of room for varied atmospheres to be showcased, making each new stage an absolute joy for the eyes. As usual for the series, everything is bright and colourful, full of charm and personality.
My only complaint really is with the characters. They look good up close, but when played with more than one player, the game seems to zoom out a little bit, leaving Mario and his gang a bit blurry. Otherwise, without pushing the system to its limits, the graphics are beautiful without being spectacular.
Graphics Rating: Good
The classic Mario music is now recognizable by a vast majority of gamers. While this game’s soundtrack will probably never attain the iconic status of some of the series’ older tunes, it does provide an incredibly varied array of songs that are just as hummable and just as guaranteed to be stuck in your head for a while. The tropical music from World 4 comes to mind particularly in that case.
Along with the new songs are remixed versions of older themes, mainly from Super Mario Bros. 3 but also from the original game. There are new versions of the “Flying Ship” theme, the Hammer Brothers’ stages music, and even the level’s end music changes to the very familiar song from the first SMB if you meet the criteria to get the famed fireworks as you touch the flagpole. Let me tell you, the musical magic is still there and in full effect.
As far as sound effects go, the game once again mixes the familiar with the new. Stomping goombas and koopa troopas still sounds the same, as does throwing a fireball and getting hit by an enemy. The big difference this time around is that the characters talk, albeit in small doses. Mario and co. will say little things like “Help me!” or “Come back!” during the action, which is a small touch but adds a bit of personality to the game.
I usually prefer to play games with the sound down while listening to my own music, with a few exceptions, but this game, with its distinct audio signature and pleasant tunes, make me want to keep the volume all the way up.
Sound Rating: Classic
CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
If you have ever played a Super Mario game, or any 2D platformer for that matter, in the last 25 years, then you know what’s the deal here. You run to the end of the course, avoiding or killing enemies along the way, and jumping on platforms while trying not to fall into the many obstacles along the way. What makes these games different from one another is the level design, which in this case, is impeccable. NSMBW throws a lot of different designs at you, with some old ideas returning such as auto-scrolling levels and water levels, but also with new tricks, such as a level that uses a small moving platform which stops if too many enemies are aboard at the same time, and another one relying on gusts of wind to make travelling the stage that much harder.
The game is divided in 8 normal worlds (and a special one to be unlocked under certain conditions), each with its own theme. Of course, these are mostly the same themes you have seen in previous games of the series, such as forest, desert, sky and volcano, but these merely serve as backgrounds to make the stages more varied. Each world offers different types of level, such as castles, ghost houses and short enemy-themed levels. Each of these stages offers a different kind of challenge, with castles usually being harder and ghost houses being trickier, with hidden exits and small puzzles.
If you are a veteran player, don’t worry: the game has plenty of new tricks up its sleeve for you to conquer: there are rolling hills, rotating platforms designed to throw you off and ice slides to race your way across. The new suits, which are quite frankly a joy to play, and much better than the ill-fated koopa shell suit from New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, also permit new mechanics to make their way into the gameplay. For example, the penguin suit allows you to slide on ice and turn enemies into ice blocks, while the propeller suit allows you to beat some of the auto-scrolling stages more easily and makes reaching some of the secret exits possible. Of all the special suits, only the micro mushroom once again feels useless, with its only use being that it makes you fit in small places to find some of the big coins and hidden exits.
Speaking of the secret exits, let me tell you that some of these are devilishly hard to find. They are necessary to find in order to access the warp zones and some hidden stages, meaning that I was completely obsessed with them. Careful items management, daredevil jumps and skilful wall jumping are par for the course here, meaning that only the most avid players will be able to find them all. The hidden exits are never necessary in order to progress though, which means that more casual players will be able to make their way through the game all the same.
These more casual players however might be stopped by some of the later stages, some of which seem to come from the Lost Levels school of thought, which is to say that they will seem incredibly hard to people who bought this game simply because they liked the DS game. I applaud Nintendo for taking a risk here and upping the challenge to a level that will be appealing to old-time players, but still finding a way to make sure their new casual crowd can finish the game. The solution here is the brand-new Super Guide, which appears after a player’s death count on a stage has reached 8. When that occurs, a block appears at the start of the course, enabling the computer to play through the stage automatically, effectively showing what should be done in order to clear obstacles. The player can take back control at any time, but can also wait until the end of the stage to assimilate everything and then try on his own. It’s an innovative way to find a good balance between difficulty and accessibility, one which will most likely find its way and many more Nintendo games, considering the publicity that has been made around the concept.
If you are minded on finishing the game on you own all the way through, the game provides more than enough 1-ups to make sure that you will never run out of lives. Collecting 100 coins, jumping on top of a flag pole, green Toad houses and hitting 8 enemies in a row are only some of the many ways to obtain extra lives. By the time I reached the 4th world, I was already at 50 extra lives. You will never run out of them, but you will use much more than is usual for a Mario title.
It is of note that both Yoshi and the Koopalings are making their return in this game. The latter are all over the game, acting as bosses in each world, while the former is still fun but grossly misused. Unlike in SMW, Yoshis are limited to the stage in which they were acquired, and will not follow you into the next stage. The gameplay mechanic of using Yoshi is so much fun that it is a shame that he barely appears in a dozen levels or so.
Finally, I want to mention the multiplayer mode, which is, after all, one of the main new thing in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. As one of my friends put it “this is probably the greatest thing to ever happen to Super Mario. There are three modes available when playing with someone else. The first one is the normal adventure, which is basically the single-player mode but with more people on screen. Cooperation is a must in this case, as some of the castles and some of the tougher levels feature short ledges that can barely accommodate one player, let alone three or four. This means that communication is absolutely necessary in order to figure out where and when to jump, and when or where to dispose of enemies. Still, it is absolutely hilarious when you hit someone behind the head with an ice block, or when someone keeps falling to their death while the rest of the group keep making their way across the course.
The other mode is a coin battle, which is basically a frantic race across any course already unlocked to see who can cross the finish line with the most coins. This is frantic because leaving people behind leads them to their death if they fall off screen, but just running in front of everybody means that you will not accumulate any coin at all. The strategy here is to find a balance between being a nuisance to your adversaries and collecting coins. Finally, there is also the Free Play mode, which allows you to practice any stage without losing lives or affecting your main game file.
I guess that all I want to say with the last few paragraphs is that this is, in terms of gameplay, one of the greatest game to bear the Super Mario name. My only grip is with the Yoshis being slightly misused, and even then, it’s more myself wishing that they were more present than any real inconvenient to the gameplay.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Unparalleled
Once you are finished with the main courses, there are still a couple of things to do with this game. First of all, the game worlds all have branching paths, with hidden courses and exits to be found. With the quality of level design here, I would highly recommend taking the time to do so, as more or less every stage is pure platforming bliss.
Every once in a while, once you finish a course, you will hear a Toad screaming “HELP ME!” with his little Toad face being shown in a balloon above a stage point on the world map. That means that this stage can be replayed in order to rescue the Toad that is trapped there. Rescuing a Toad transforms the stage into more of an obstacle course as you need to carry him all the way to the finish, effectively depriving you of any attack that is not a jump. It is a fun distraction and adds a little bit of mileage to the game.
Finally, there are the big coins, three of which need to be collected in each level in order to unlock stages in a secret 9th world (all right, so it’s not so secret anymore). Some of these coins require particular suit and a lot of ingenuity from the player in order to be found, so these may be more for completists and obsessed collectors. Once again though, the challenge from these “secret” stages is well worth the hunt.
Let’s not forget about the multiplayer modes, all of which is arguably the most fun I had this year playing video games with other people. You can’t really ask for much more.
Replayability Rating: Classic
This game really goes from “super easy” to “very hard” as it moves along, but all of this is done in a very natural way that makes the first world more of a trainer course for people new to Mario. Advanced player will breeze through this first world but eventually meet their match as they play along.
During the course of a game, it is possible to go back to Peach’s Castle in world 1 in order to buy skill videos with the coins acquired over time. These videos act as tutorials to show you things you might have missed as well as advanced techniques that can help make it through some of the hardest levels.
The introduction of the “Super Guide” is also a plus in the balance department as it permits Nintendo to go all-out in the difficulty’s progression instead of stopping at “mildly challenging” as it did in New Super Mario Bros. for the DS. There truly is something for everyone here.
Balance Rating: Unparalleled
In all honesty, finding originality in a Super Mario game gets harder and harder as the years pass by. We are talking about a franchise which presented its first platformer 25 years ago. Most of the main games in the series have been following the same pattern since then, and things get even worse if you count the many clones that tried to emulate that formula.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii does take that formula once again and run with out, but frankly, it’s about as original as a game featuring Mario can get. Sure, we have the usual array of new suits and baddies, but Nintendo actually tried to introduce some gameplay mechanics, some of which are based on the controller’s motion sensing abilities. Here you will encounter tilting platforms influenced by the Wiimote’s position and corkscrew platforms which can be raised and lowered by shaking the controller. Mario also gained the ability to freeze enemies into ice blocks which can then be used as projectiles against enemies, or your friends if you are a bit of a jerk.
The game also introduces concepts that have been seen in 3D Mario games before, but which are new to 2D platformers of the series. We’re talking about things like red coins collecting, wall jumps, triple jumps and rock ledges which you can either hang from or tip-toe along.
The biggest introduction is, once again, the multiplayer mode. That alone will probably give the SMB series a new boost as it seems like a breath of fresh air in a genre that definitely needed it.
It’s nothing revolutionizing, but it is the most original Nintendo has been with its mascot since sending him in the third dimension back in 1996.
Originality Rating: Above Average
Let me just say that I simply couldn’t stop playing this game until I beat Bowser. It gets even worse when you play with a friend. The perfect level design means that you will never get frustrated enough to throw down the controller, even after a few deaths. When that happens, you just know that you can do it if you jump just a little sooner, or a little further. I got two people hooked on this game after a single night of hot Mario action. I don’t know if it’s the fun levels, or the hilariousness of throwing your friend at enemies, or even the cooperative aspect, but there’s just something here that makes you never want to quit.
Addictiveness Rating: Classic
It’s Mario. Sure, maybe those Pokémon might have taken over as Nintendo’s best-selling franchise, but he is still arguably their most recognizable mascot. He has been around for more than 25 years, which gives him a big advantage in terms of visibility.
The franchise is also one of those which you just expect to churn out great games. When it comes to the main platform games, I don’t think that a single Super Mario game could be considered bad, or even below average.
Finally, there’s also the all-ages aspect. With a recognizable, friendly and non-threatening hero like the Italian plumber, parents will probably be customers of choice when it comes to this game.
With nostalgic long-time gamers, kids and parents on its side, I think this game has a huge audience waiting for it. The sales from the first few weeks seem to agree with me here.
Appeal Factor Rating: Unparalleled
Let’s address the lack of online gameplay here. Sure, it might have been easy to include, and just for the sake of satisfying everybody, it could have been done, but I can see why it wasn’t. I think that most of the fun of the multiplayer aspect from this game comes from sitting on a couch with people you know and then helping them when they need it, and ribbing them when they fail. As Left 4 Dead 2 as shown us, cooperativeness between strangers is certainly possible, but hard to maintain. Sure, Nintendo could have let the public find out by themselves that people playing online are often jerks, but with the final result being so much fun, I don’t think that the lack of online gameplay can be seen as that much of a flaw.
One thing that this game does well however is play with its public’s nostalgia. As every turn, you will find references to past games from the series mixed in with the new stuff: remixes of old tunes like the underground theme, flying ships from SMB3, the return of the Koopalings, a special level finish song and the return of the fireworks… if you grew up with the classic Super Mario games, then this game will be a treat.
Miscellaneous Rating: Classic
Originality: Above Average
Final Score: Incredible Game
Short Attention Span Summary
What more can I say? This is, along with Super Mario Galaxy, arguably the greatest game on the Wii right now. It’s simply up to your preferences on the number of dimensions you like your platformers to have. If you have ever liked a Mario game, get this. If you like gaming cooperatively with family and friends, get this. The only reason why you shouldn’t get this is if you simply hate Mario or platform games. Even then, I think there’s just something about the impeccable level design that could make you reconsider. It’s the perfect combo of old and new. Simply put, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is Nintendo’s newest masterpiece.