- Review Price: £32.99
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.
NSMB Wii introduces three new power-ups. First comes the Ice Flower, which replaces the fire flower’s fireballs with snowballs that turn enemies into ice-cubes. Then we get the penguin suit, which has the same power, but also gives Mario the sliding capabilities and finer control on icy surfaces you might expect from the Antarctic’s cutest inhabitant. Finally, there’s a new propeller suit. Once Mario has it on, a quick shake of the Wii remote is enough to send him spinning into the air, from whence he’ll gently drift back down to earth. Fans of Super Mario World, meanwhile, will be delighted to hear that our favourite dinosaur steed, Yoshi, also makes a comeback.
There’s more familiar territory to come. By now we’ve come to expect stalwarts like the desert world, the ice world, the tropical island paradise and ghost house, and NSMB Wii doesn’t let us down. Some levels give us pretty straight variations on the main geographical themes, while others take the more abstract floating, spinning blocks approach you may remember from Super Mario World and (in 3D form) Super Mario Sunshine. In short, bar a few extra power-ups and a few novel mechanisms, there isn’t an awful lot here that you can, hand-on-heart, say that you’ve never seen before.
Graphically and sonically, meanwhile, NSMB Wii is best thought of as a polish on the style established by NSMB DS and Super Mario World. It’s bright, exuberant and lovable, alright, with some nice use of the Wii’s 3D horsepower to manipulate and scale objects, enemies and chunks of landscape, but it hasn’t got the wow factor of Super Mario Galaxy’s inventive 3D worlds.
The surprising thing is that Nintendo can go so old-school, so traditional, yet still hit you with new twists and variations. Some of these come down to a super-charging of the rotating, deforming scenery it bought in with Yoshi’s Island. Others come down to elegant uses of the Wii remote, like platforms you can manipulate by tilting, or helicopter blocks you can latch on to before shaking yourself skywards. New features, like the penguin suit or the ice-blocks, become – as the mega-Mario and mini-Mario suits did in NSMB DS – the crux of some entertaining high-speed, high-risk sections, or the solution to capturing an elusive coin cluster or giant coin. This isn’t the most innovative or inspired Mario in terms of level design – Super Mario Bros. 3 came up with more original ideas, while Yoshi’s Island went further with ingenious mechanisms – but I suspect that most players, old and new, will find enough good stuff here to keep them entertained, thrilled and occasionally delighted.
Be warned, however, that NSMB Wii can be tough. In the days of Super Mario Bros. 3 things like limited lives, instant death, zero-error precision platforming and punishingly difficult sections you had to complete before you even reached the boss battle were par for the course. These days they come as a shock to the system, and NSMB Wii is definitely a more fearsome challenge than its DS equivalent. Ironically, a U-rated game has caused more 18-rated language in the Andrews household than anything else this year. I’ve called Mario names that would give Gordon Ramsay pause, using anatomical phrases that I’ve rarely used in a sentence that didn’t include the words ‘Piers Morgan’. It really hasn’t been nice.
Those who come to the game expecting an easy, forgiving spin on the old-school platformer are in for a nasty shock, and this difficulty level might easily intimidate some of the console’s casual audience. Recompense comes in the form of the new Super Guides. Fluff a level eight times in a row and a green block appears. Hit it, and you get the option to watch Luigi clear the level for you, revealing a selection of its secrets along the way. This effectively clears the level for you, though you can opt to have another go and do it for yourself, should you wish.
This is going to be controversial. My take is that anything that stops new players from giving up on a game due to one tricky section is a good thing. All the same, others will consider it cheating, or hate the way that it reveals secrets that you’d only find otherwise through persistent replay. The ability to buy additional hint videos with collected big coins will go along similar lines. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it, but I can see some hardcore fans moaning that such a thing even exists.
What impacts me and the more casual gamers more is the rather stingy decision to only allow progress to be saved twice in a world – at the very beginning, and after the halfway, mini-boss stage. Having sweated to get through a difficult stage or two, there’s nothing worse than getting to the boss or mini-boss battle on your last life then getting wiped out, only to find that you now need to re-conquer those stages again to proceed. I doubt I’ll be the only person to make calculated use of the Super Guide feature just to get to a save point. Doesn’t that go right against the Mario grain?
Luckily, these gripes start melting away once you try the game’s trump card: full-fat, four-player support. This, obviously, is how NSMB Wii was made to be played. Up to four of you can play simultaneously as Mario, Luigi and their mushroom-headed allies, and while the game will cheerfully kill of stragglers, the view zooms in and out to a wide degree to accommodate all four players. Four-player Mario turns out to be a master stroke. First, as long as one player remains alive, death no longer stings. Wait a second, and your squished, bashed or fallen buddy returns to the screen in a floating bubble, ready for release. When you go, you just hope that they’ll do the same for you. This makes some of the trickier sections of the game that little bit more palatable.
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.
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