Sometimes a game comes along just when it's most needed. For those of us who count ourselves long-term Nintendo fans, the lack of big, blockbuster, traditional gaming series on the Wii since the launch of Super Mario Galaxy two years ago has been a sore one. We might like a spot of Wii Fit, Sports Resort or a tussel with the Raving Rabbids, but when it comes down to it, we need a new Mario, Metroid or Zelda to keep us on the track marked Nintendo. More to the point, the Wii needs a new Mario. At the moment, sales are stalling, and there's a feeling that if the console doesn't start proving that it can do more than Sunday afternoon party games, it's going to lose its lead against an aggressive Microsoft and a resurgent Sony. The buying public knows that the Wii is good for a quick burst of fun, but it also needs to know that it can offer a little bit more than that.
The good news is that New Super Mario Bros Wii does both. It's not - as some people seem to think - perfect, but it's the best effort Nintendo has made yet to unite both its old ‘hardcore' and new ‘casual' gaming audiences. It's a game steeped in nearly twenty-five years of gaming history, yet one that does its best to reach out to the masses who picked up the Wii for virtual tennis and bowling. Along the way, it makes a few odd moves that might alienate some members of both groups, but overall it's one of the best things Nintendo has put out yet on the console.
Like New Super Mario Bros on the DS, it's effectively a modern spin on the original Super Mario Bros. Once again Bowser (or in this case Bowser Jnr) has kidnapped Princess Peach and is holding her hostage in a castle. Once again, Mario makes his way through a set of classic 2D platform levels, or ‘courses', pausing to conquer a fortress level and mini-boss halfway through, before tackling the castle and its big boss at the end. Crack the boss and Bowser Jnr and his captive make an escape to a new world, where you repeat the same steps once again.
As with Super Mario World on the SNES, a world map gives you some choice over which levels to tackle in which order, giving you the opportunity to skip some courses. However, completing them will open the way to Toad Houses where you'll receive a power-up or play simple puzzle games to earn multiple bonuses or extra lives. It's the tried, tested and traditional Mario structure, and Nintendo hasn't seen any reason to mess with it here.
That goes double for the actual gameplay, which - like New Super Mario Bros on the DS - is a deliberate step backwards to the days of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Holding the Wii remote horizontally like an old-school NES joypad, you run, you jump, you climb. You can press forward to grab onto wire-mesh structures or ladders, and sometimes you'll take a quick dip in the water. For added spice, we also get the classic Mushroom and Fire Flower power ups, making Mario bigger and empowering him to blast out little fireballs, plus the Star which renders him temporarily invincible.