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Secondly, multiplayer is complete and utter mayhem - and I mean this in a good way. No matter how hard (or how little) you try, you'll inevitably end up ‘accidentally' bouncing on the other players, knocking them off platforms, chucking turtle shells in their path and stealing the power-up they've just released. At its best, NSMB Wii rides a tight line between pragmatic cooperation and knockabout slapstick, with maybe the odd minute or two of genuine spite. Play it with and as mates, and not as some showcase for your own ‘l33t sk1llz' and you're guaranteed a blast. Take it too seriously, and you'll probably get fed up when somebody knocks you off course or grabs and throws you off a platform ‘by mistake.' A few bits will cause you heartache (keeping one of you on a revolving square platform is a challenge, three or four a nightmare), but generally the levels are generous enough to make four-player action perfectly feasible. And if one player really can't keep up, they can always opt out for a level or two.
Even with multiplayer, this isn't a stone-cold classic. NSMB Wii is not quite new enough or daring enough or imaginative enough to rank with the plumber's very best, and I can't help feeling that, in allowing for single-player and multi-player action, the game misses out on some of the ingenious co-op puzzling we've seen, for instance, in the Lego Star Wars/Indiana Jones/Batman games. You could even argue that recent titles like Trine or Braid or LostWinds have done more to drag the 2D platformer forwards into the 21st century. What's more, some of the really old-school Mario players will find it too familiar, or too meagre a test of their time-worn skills (though I can't imagine why). Some newcomers will find it too much to handle without heavy assistance from the Super Guides.
All true, yet NSMB Wii is still a brilliant Wii game, and one that successfully holds onto what's best about Mario, while giving us a new experience made just for Wii. Its principles are simple, yet the variations can be surprisingly complex. It's easy to understand, yet maddeningly challenging and addictive once you're playing. It looks retro and traditional, yet the inclusion of three more players makes it anything but. And if it's not as incredible a journey as Super Mario Galaxy, it will certainly do until a sequel comes along. Modern Warfare 2 and Left for Dead 2 might be the moment's ultimate multiplayer treats, but if you want a laugh with your nearest and dearest this Christmas, then NSMB Wii is easily the way to go.
Even a second-best Mario can be a barnstormer, and the introduction of four-player action works phenomenally well. The must-have Wii game of the season.