It's been two years since we've had an all-new Mario Bros. game. Two years of fans waiting for a title that will not only reintroduce them to a beloved character, but could reshape the way we play video games.
That's a lot for a single title, one with more than 20 years worth of games, to live up to. But New Super Mario Bros. Wii promises to reinvigorate the still popular franchise, adding cooperative and competitive multiplayer and delivering what could be a paradigm shift to the medium in the form of a new way of helping people play through a game.
Will New Super Mario Bros. Wii's four-player support and Super Guide deliver a memorable experience, or torpedo a beloved tradition? Let's find out.
Loved Pacing: New Super Mario Bros. Wii can be a tremendously difficult game at times. But the developers seemed to have gone to great lengths to ensure that you don't spend your entire experience with the game gripping a remote in white-knuckled terror of a fatal misstep. The courses within a given map seem to have a subtle flow between frantic, frenetic and, by comparison, almost relaxing. While the clever pacing of the game makes those monumentally hard levels all the more memorable, it doesn't mean that everything else is forgettable. Instead the title's flowing difficulty helps to maintain a stranglehold on a gamer's attention.
The Koopa Two-Step : New Super Mario Bros. Wii's music is catchy and ever-changing, shifting from world to world to match the themes found in a specific area. Most of the tunes seem derived from earlier versions of the fabled franchise, but that's all the more reason to love them. The ever-present music is so infectious that even your enemies will stop during their endless pacing to dance for a second.
Creative Courses: The main gameplay of New Super Mario Bros. Wii is spread out over eight worlds, each with a number of levels to choose from along branching paths. One could very easily play through the entire game without hitting every course, but there's so much creativity and craft put into each level it would be crazy not to play them all. Each course moves around quite a bit within a world's given theme, having you play through frozen, underwater, air-bound and even perpetually burning levels. The level design is some of my favourite for this long-lived franchise, making use of not just creative environments and elements to add to the challenge of the marching stream of enemies, but also working the use of light and darkness into the game in imaginative ways. And as always, there are plenty of secrets and hidden paths to find in a level.
Enemy Palette:The maps and themes of New Super Mario Bros. Wii are an intrinsic part of the experience, but they still serve as a backdrop to the ever-evolving, always intriguing cast of enemies and living dangers Mario faces on his quest to save Princess Peach. Of course the game has an army of Koopas and Goombas, and you'll find most of your favourite enemies from previous games returning in this latest title. But the minions created to plague Mario's quest are a challenging bunch. Including are reworks of classic enemies, like the walking Piranha Plant, as well as entirely new creations like automaton birds, glowing angler fish and swarms of bats and birds.
Devilishly Difficult: While I've played nearly every Mario Bros. game released, I'd hardly say I'm fit to quantify how relatively difficult this latest adventure is compared to the past two decades worth. But it's no cake walk. There are times, while playing through chunks of the game, when Mario has to navigate a screen packed with moving threats. Other times he has to hop, run and swing through moving courses. I'm sure there are those among you who will argue this isn't the most difficult — Super Mario Bros. 2 Japan, for example — but I doubt anyone will argue that it is too easy. That difficulty, coupled with a unique save-and-help system, make both the playing and completion of New Super Mario Bros. Wii a deeply satisfying experience.
A Sharp Dressed Mario: Who doesn't love a Mario wearing anything but his plumber outfit? The ability-granting costumes of Mario and discovering which new ones are in a game have always made the franchise a more thrilling ride. This time around Mario is given access to three new suits. The propeller suit allows Mario to spin up into the air and then slowly hover down across a map. The Ice Flower, a bit like the Fire Flower (which is also in the game) grants Mario the ability to throw enemy-freezing snowballs. The Penguin Suit, besides being adorable, allows Mario to throw snowballs, slide across areas on his belly and swim faster underwater. You'll also found an assortment of garment mainstays like the growth enhancing mushroom, the Fire Flower and the Mini Mario mushroom. Finally, the game includes levels featuring a rideable Yoshi. Sadly, there's no Tanooki or Bee suits, but I'm still pretty happy with the selection.
New Moves: New Super Mario Bros. Wii does a fantastic job of integrating motion into the solid, old-school controls of a decades-old franchise without making the result feel awkward or tacked on. Most of the game is played with the D-Pad (you do have the option to use the Nunchuk as an alternative control system) and the 1 and 2 buttons. But there are several moves that now require a bit of waggling. To lift an object you have to stand next to it, hold in the 1 button and shake the controller. To do a spin jump you just shake the controller. Both work quite well and never feel like they impact a person's ability to make it through a course. But much more interesting are some of the new ways that the motion controls are used. There are times when you have to stand on bolts and shake the controller to spin them, but that's almost to be expected. What I found surprising was the use of the motion control to do things like aim lights in darkened levels by tilting the controller as you play. Or moving a platform back and forth with the tilt of the controller while you manoeuvre Mario around with the directional pad. Both may sound annoying, but they work flawlessly and are integral parts of some of the game's best levels.
Luigi Time: The biggest addition that New Super Mario Bros. Wii brings to the franchise, to video gaming as a whole, is the introduction of the single-player Super Guide. The Super Guide is an automated play-through of a level that can take players past difficult portions of a game, perhaps preventing them from giving up on a title. It sounds an awful lot like cheating, but the implementation does a great job of minimising that.
Here's how it works. After a player has died eight times on a given map, a green box with an exclamation point appears at the start of the level. The box makes a doorbell sound until you jump up to it. The game than asks if you want to have Luigi play through the course for you. If you decide to do that, you watch as Luigi plays the map, not perfect and not picking up any power-ups or earning any coins for you, but getting the job done. At any time you can tap the plus button on the controller to take over for Luigi. But once you do, you can't activate him again. Once he's beaten the level, you're asked if you want to try it for yourself. If you choose no, the game asks if you're sure that you want to skip the level.
The Super Guide serves a lot of functions. Perhaps most importantly, it helps along players who otherwise might have given up and not enjoyed the entire game. But it also really does instruct. Watching Luigi play through a level gives you plenty of tips on how to get past tricky parts of the game. So it feels much less like cheating and much more like watching someone show you where you may have gone wrong. Finally, and most subtly, the Super Guide is great for those times when you use up your five lives deep in a world and have to start all over again. I could see someone deliberately dying so they could use the Super Guide to replay through levels that they had already mastered and didn't feel like playing over and over again.
TwoFer: The ability to play the same game, same worlds, same courses either on your own or with one to three others makes New Super Mario Bros. Wii feel more like two games instead of one. That mostly because while playing through the game with friends there are a whole new set of rules that come into play. Players can jump in and out of bubbles, they can pick one another up either to work as a two-person team or toss each other to their deaths, they even have a special new attack, a simultaneous ground pound that defeats all of the enemies on-screen on the ground. The addition of these new moves and the dynamic of being able to be friendly or hostile at any given time gives the game a completely different feel when played as a group.
Hated Hiccup: There were two little things that I found annoying on occasion while I played through the game. In single player, I discovered that the spin jump could be easily activated by tapping the remote or moving it suddenly, like when you shift in your seat or go to scratch your head. It wasn't a huge deal, but I needed to learn to remember that.
While playing as a group the only annoyance I found was that when another player died, it momentarily paused everyone on the screen to play that brief, catchy death melody. That stutter in time cost me more than a few lives when it hit.
There's really no reason not to buy this game. Despite my time constraints, despite the urgency I felt in needing to complete the game, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was a pleasure to experience from opening screen to post-credits punchline. The fact that it also happens to be the showcase for a new way of helping gamers experience and enjoy a title can almost get lost in the mix. But it shouldn't. The Super Guide, and the ability to unlock video hints inside the title will most definitely change the way we all play games eventually, no matter the system we play them on.
I haven't had this much goodhearted, simple fun on a video game console since my days playing the original Super Mario Bros. snowed in at my house in Maryland. Sure, a lot of what makes a game like New Super Mario Bros. Wii so much fun for someone like me to play is the nostalgia factor. But there's more to it than that. This is a delightful game, one that delivers a lasting and challenging experience without making you feel like you need to learn how to walk again. If Nintendo still needed a reason for people to buy a Wii, this is the ultimate argument winner.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii was developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo for the Wii on November 12. Retails for $US49.99/$AU99.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through the entire game, sometimes on my own and sometimes with others. Tested the Super Guide. Unlocked video tutorials and tried both free-for-all and coin battle modes.
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