There is very little to say about the Super Mario series that hasn’t already been said. The plump, mustachioed plumber known as Mario and his green-clad brother Luigi are probably the most recognizable figures in gaming, and helped to put Nintendo on the map when Super Mario Bros. came out for the NES over two decades ago. In the mid-90s, developers were largely abandoning the 2D format to experiment with 3D, which was growing in popularity, and Super Mario 64 followed suit in 1996. The game was well received, but to me, nothing has been able to hold a candle to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, two of the greatest platformers ever made. When New Super Mario Bros. came out for the DS in 2006, I was thrilled that Nintendo went back to its 2D roots, and I wasn’t the only one; the game remains one of the highest-rated on the handheld after three years. Though New Super Mario Bros. Wii doesn’t feel like a significant move forward for the series, it combines the best aspects of previous 2D Mario games with a brand new multiplayer experience, and the result is ridiculously fun.
There are a lot of familiar elements in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but that’s pretty comforting in a game like this. The game follows the standard story of Mario’s life: Princess Peach has been kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario and his friends try to rescue her while being thwarted by Bowser’s minions across eight worlds. The presentation of the game is basically the same as the DS version, with the same 2.5D look that worked so well. The world maps, while appearing like New Super Mario Bros. DS visually, are very reminiscent of Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. Mario can move back and forth between levels, replaying them to get extra lives or collect bonus coins, and a member of Bowser’s entourage will appear in mid-world and final castles. Items and extra lives can be won in Mushroom Houses that pop up throughout each world and stored and used through the world map. Also, most of the eight worlds will have a distinct theme, like the deserts and pyramids seen throughout World 2, or World 8’s lava, erupting volcanoes, and falling rocks.
As expected, Mario has access to a variety of helpful items in his quest. The mushroom and fire flower from just about every other Super Mario return, as well as the tiny mushroom from New Super Mario Bros. DS, but the plumber also gets some new toys. The ice flower allows Mario to shoot ice instead of fire, freezing enemies and making them into platforms or throwable items. The penguin suit, probably the most adorable new toy, is reminiscent of SMB3’s frog outfit; it allows the wearer to move more easily on ice and through water, as well as being able to shoot ice balls. Then there’s the propeller hat, which grants the user the ability to float for a short time. I did miss the giant mushroom from NSMB, and it would have been nice if Mario was given the ability to fly again like in SMB3 and SMW, but the three new items are more than adequate additions to the series. Also, Yoshi makes a triumphant return, popping out of blocks and hatching out of his egg much like he did in SMW.
I loved New Super Marios Bros. on the DS, but the game wasn’t particularly hard to play straight through. Collecting all of the special coins and accessing every world took more effort, but as far as simply beating the game, I didn’t feel that it was too difficult at any point. I was surprised to find that New Super Mario Bros. Wii increased the challenge level, which becomes more and more apparent a few worlds into the game. Platforming veterans should appreciate this, and progressing through each world is definitely rewarding. To offset the new challenge, NSMBW has also added some features to assist younger or less experienced gamers. Instructional videos can be purchased from Peach’s castle in World 1, showing how to beat certain areas or access secret exits. Also, if you lose enough lives in a row on the same level, you will be prompted to use the Super Guide. The Super Guide, which only appears in single-player, invites Luigi to come along and complete the level for you, showing you a safe path to the exit. You won’t earn any coins that Luigi collects, but you can take control at any time during the level, or just let him finish it. If you’re reading the review, then it’s very likely that the Super Guide is something you will never want or need to use. However, I’ll gladly take the option if it means Nintendo can make the game more difficult while still appealing to a wide, all-ages audience.
There are two control schemes available: remote and nunchuk combination, or the remote by itself, turned sideways. You’ll likely not spend much time with the remote and nunchuk together, opting instead for the sideways remote, which feels familiar, like an NES controller. Given the game’s nostalgic feel, it’s odd that there is no classic controller compatibility, but the remote by itself works very well. There are some motion control commands, which feel odd at first, but quickly become second nature. Using the propeller hat, or moving certain platforms, is done by shaking or tilting the Wii remote. The only time that using motion controls felt unnecessary is when picking up an object, which requires the player to hold the 1 button while shaking the remote. It just never seemed natural, especially during more hectic parts of the game, when you may be attempting to pick something up and throw it at a foe in a hurry.
The biggest new feature in New Super Mario Bros. Wii isn’t the Super Guide or some new power-ups; it’s the multiplayer. Sure, past Mario games have had two player modes, in which Mario and Luigi took turns traversing levels solo, but this is not that kind of multiplayer. Instead, up to four players can play cooperatively through each level, taking the roles of Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad, and Blue Toad. Unlike Super Mario Bros. 2, the characters are all exactly the same, with no distinct abilities or features, so picking really comes down to which one you like most. I use the word “cooperatively” loosely, because the experience you have largely depends on who you play with. Your friends may help you, boosting you up a few extra feet to grab some hard to reach coins, or double-teaming a boss to defeat it quickly. On the other hand, be prepared to be pushed off cliffs, left behind, and to have power-ups stolen from right under your nose. The multiplayer has been described as “coop-etition”, and honestly, it describes it perfectly. Reminiscent of LittleBigPlanet’s multiplayer, playing with four characters can get chaotic and hilarious, and makes every level feel like a completely different experience. With multiple characters onscreen, the camera will zoom out a bit, but one player (usually Mario) will take the role of the leader. The others will need to keep up, or risk being left behind.
When playing alone, if you run out of lives, the game will automatically continue, depleting your inventory and restarting you at the point of your last save. With multiple players, however, it can be easier to survive levels and avoid getting the dreaded Game Over. If one player dies during multiplayer, he will come back in a bubble (assuming he has any lives left), and one of the remaining players will have to pop the bubble to bring that character back into play. If all players happen to die at the same time, and there is no one left to pop the bubbles, they will return to the world map. Each player has individual lives, though coins and items in the world inventory are shared.
In addition through playing the game cooperatively, there are two competitive modes in NSMBW as well. Free For All tasks players with scoring the most points in certain areas, while Coin Battle, as you might expect, is all about being the one to collect the most coins. The competitive gameplay is just as fun as cooperative, and will give you and your friends even more things to do in the game, making it likely to become a hit whenever you happen to have four people in your living room.
With the multiplayer in New Super Mario Bros. Wii being so much fun, it’s extremely disappointing that there is no online multiplayer. This is the one Wii game this year that just about everyone I know with the system bought, and since I don’t always have three friends on hand to play with, online capabilities would have added a great deal to the game. I wouldn’t even have cared about having to use those annoying friends codes if I could actually play with my friends without having to be in the same room as them. Since playing online has been done seamlessly in other Wii titles, it makes no sense that it would be missing from this, one of Nintendo’s biggest first-party games of the year.
Even though New Super Mario Bros. Wii is most easily compared to its DS predecessor, the game’s presentation borrows some classic elements from the entire series, which brings a nice touch of nostalgia to the package. Some of the bad guys have been taken from older games and given a fresh, 2.5D coat of paint, making it feel both brand new and upliftingly familiar. The music and sound effects, too, give off that effect, especially since the game actually makes use of the Wii remote’s microphone. You’ll want to hold the controller closer to your ear to hear the rewarding sound of earning an extra life, or the haunting cries of Mario shouting for help while in his plastic bubble. Some people might complain about the lack of originality, but I really can’t be upset when NSMBW is borrowing from some of the most beloved games ever made.
Other than the lack of online multiplayer, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is exactly what you want it to be. It’s a great mix of new and old, and though it’s not exactly innovative, playing though the game is just sheer fun. Adding some friends to the mix changes the experience for the better, and the collectible coins and hidden exits in some levels give more than enough reason to keep on playing until you’ve explored every nook and cranny of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s challenging enough for those who have been playing Mario games since the 1980s, but gives new gamers the tools to complete it as well. If you own a Wii, there’s no reason not to own this game.