New Super Mario Bros. Wii
ESRB: E/Players: 1 – 4
(Since the game’s so new, I’ll try to keep my spoilers to a minimum. But I’m so giddy about certain things that I’m going to talk about them, so if you’re the kind of person who needs to know nothing about a Mario title before you play it, refrain from continuing on! Just know that the game is FANTASTIC!)
Nintendo’s been a little iffy towards hardcore fans so far this generation, catering mainly to casual and non-gamers with their Wii “insert genre here” titles. Sure, we’ve had a dash of Mario, Zelda, Smash Bros. and Metroid to whet our hunger (and I’m not saying any of them are bad! Most of them have been excellent!), but the overwhelming deluge of casual focus has left me a little uncertain of Nintendo’s future…and of what I should feel about them these days as a company. I consider them the best of the best, my personal favorite and a huge inspiration for who I am, but watching their transition from then to now has been…well, a rather bizarre and unsettling trip, to put it mildly.
So, back when this game was first revealed at E3, as if they wanted to alienate their old-time gamers who’ve been following them through thick and thin, they announce that a new demo mode would be packed in. Stunned silence was quickly beset by panic, then by frustration. A guide, we said? Who needs a guide in a Mario title? Nintendo’s gone too far! They’ve lost touch with their fans! (profanity)!…etc. I remember those chaotic days, and was more than a little pissed myself about the inclusion of a hand-holding device in NSMBWii…even before we knew how it worked! Irate feelings grew among my NinDB comrades, and only a mere few had the rationality to take the “wait-and-see” approach (I’m looking at you, Nester ;) ) in regards to how the mode would turn out. Months later, as the game got closer to completion and we got to hear more about it, the anger subsided. And now, I don’t even know what I was mad about in the first place. As the details of the “Super Guide” became clear, I felt I had possibly overreacted. It’s easy to do when something important to you changes in ways you aren’t pleased about, I guess.
Watching clips of NSMBWii the last few weeks erased the fears I held for the game. It looked FUN. So, I took a chance and bought it. I haven’t purchased a new game all year. Something about the way the gameplay looked…it compelled me to break down and buy it at full price. I eagerly hoped that it would live up to the old Marios, and would push well beyond the scope New Super Mario Bros. on the DS did. While that was a fine game, and I think of it highly, I think that Ninty played it a little safe. Overusing Bowser Jr., mostly uninteresting boss fights, uninspiring power-ups, and a stupid save system (to be frank) hurt it. The level designs were great, but it wasn’t the same experience as playing SMB3 or SMW.
So, after I started up NSMBWii, tinkered around, made my way through the game and vanquished Bowser, I thought, man. Did Nintendo push.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is some of the most fun I’ve had with a game in a long time. This is nostalgia done right. Anyone who’s been attached with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World will smile and laugh as they plow through this game’s many levels. The sheer amount of retro enemy returns, gameplay mechanics, and musical throwbacks is astounding. World 1 is pretty standard fare, but World 2 throws SMB3’s Spike, Fire Chomps, Boomerang and Fire Brothers, and Firesnakes at you, for example. Further down the road, Big Boss Bass (AH!!!), Sledge Brothers, Mini Goombas, Mecha Koopas, Ptooies, Rocky Wrenches, Fuzzys, and a plethora of other baddies from the past await you, and I must have just looked like the happiest man of earth. Seeing so many old foes return in such a glorious manner…I giggled in sheer delight each time I saw somebody reappear after so long. And more just keep popping up as you go through the game. It’s clear that Nintendo hasn’t forgotten all of these great designs from the past. And the Koopalings! BEST MARIO BOSS FIGHTS EVER. Seriously. Larry is pretty straightforward, but the tricks they throw at you as you go further along are just incredible. I won’t spoil them here (honestly, you need to experience them!), but Iggy and Ludwig’s second rounds were by far some of the greatest 2D boss showdowns I’ve ever done. And then…there’s the final fight with Bowser. My god. I thought the final fight in Galaxy was Bowser’s shining moment. Nope, Nintendo topped themselves with an epic showcase that MUST be played to believe. It’s as fun as it looked online and then some. I tell you, the Wii and Bowser battles are ALL RIGHT.
The levels themselves are varied, with unique gameplay elements, enemies and secrets to discover. Many of the stages also made me smile. There’s some innovation going on here! The use of light in some levels was ingenious, and one level has you leaping into bubbles of water in a Galaxy-esque manner. Just some awesome stuff that’s ideal to run through. The much-touted difficulty is perfectly ramped from beginning to end, and Mario veterans should feel right at home here. It’s nowhere near as hard as some press sources were saying (I beat it in four days! I never summoned the Super Guide in that time! I had plenty of lives, and probably died a max of 5 times in a couple levels!). I think either they’re getting soft in their offices or haven’t played a 2D Mario in a while. :p And the power-ups are a vast improvement over NSMB’s. The Propeller Suit, a nice resurrection of flying (how many different ways can one fly now in the Mushroom Kingdom, BTW? There’s no need for planes with Super Leaves, Cape Feathers, Lakitu clouds, Wing Caps, FLUDD’s and Propeller Mushrooms roaming about :p ), uses shakes from the WiiMote to gain lift, which works 90% of the time the way it should (I’ll get to that in a minute). The Penguin Suit is cute, combining elements of the Frog Suit, Mario 64’s sliding and Galaxy’s Ice Flower (which also joins the power-up parade) in a successful way. The Mini Mushroom’s back, which was the most practical power-up from NSMB, and it works about the same. Yoshi also returns, although he’s very limited in his use here, popping up in about 3 – 5 stages and being unable to leave said stages. Still, he’s fun to use, and eating various foes remains a hoot like it was in SMW.
The controls are very NES-like: the control pad and two buttons do the majority of the gameplay’s work (and they do it up to the Mario standard, which is nigh-perfect), with additional help from shaking or moving the WiiMote. The WiiMote integration is mostly well thought out, with several clever level designs coming from its use. The problem is that the WiiMote is required to do tasks you might not expect it to. Case in point – picking up any object that is not a shell. You’ll have to hold 1 and then shake the WiiMote to lift Toad, ice blocks, barrels, POW blocks (nice to see such a classic Mario item in proper use again), Propeller blocks, and other similar objects. It takes a bit of an adjustment to wrap your head around TWO ways of picking up things, which to me is a little convoluted and unnecessary. To leap off Yoshi, you’ll also have to shake the WiiMote, which also takes time to compensate for. The Propeller Suit requiring a shake makes sense, but at times it reacts when you don’t want it to (like trying to use the WiiMote to control stage scenery) or quick enough (usually in last-second reflexive situations). Lastly, Spin Jumps almost seem tacked on. It lets you sling Ice or Fireballs in both directions, but it can also screw up your timing if done at an inconvenient time. I almost wonder if holding the B Trigger would have improved things. All and all, it works most of the time, but occasional mishaps will occur.
The game looks and sounds like Mario. That’s the best compliment I can give it. The graphics are solid, with some neat special effects (The Koopaling and Kamek’s magic, the lava sparks, and the aforementioned lighting in particular), excellent animation, and the models looks crisp and sharp. It’s not the finest looking Wii game, but it’s up there, and it certainly works for Mario. The music brings back several classic tunes (the Hammer Bros. remix is really cool, especially the little fanfare at the end), and all of it is well composed and catchy. Easily some of the best Mario music (another good cross of Wii and Mario – music that soars!) in the franchise’s history.
The multiplayer mode I can comment a little on – Grace and I have played through a bit of World 1 together, and it’s a lot of fun as well. I’ve always wanted to be able to tackle a Mario game with a friend, and so far, I haven’t been disappointed. I don’t know if 4 players is as entertaining or sensible as 1 or 2, but I’ll update this if I get the chance to try it out.
The somewhat long-winded intro to this Opinion had a purpose – to show that I had doubts about Nintendo’s current direction. They’ve made some strange decisions that really seem to be a deliberate insult to their fanbase, and their game focus has curved onto a new path that tends to leave hardcore gamers adrift in unclear waters (there’s plenty of exceptions…Sin & Punishment 2, anyone? But I’m speaking in general terms). New Super Mario Bros. Wii may have been saddled with a casual-friendly Super Guide, but you know what? Mario masters will never see it. I can’t even tell you what it does. I never had to deal with it in my playtime. But if such a mode helps teach casual and non-gamers about the core mechanics of Mario, gets them addicted to the intensely gratifying gameplay and level design of this game, and they then download the classic games that inspired this beauty on the VC, then I’m all for it. I hope some may find the beauty without any help, much like I did when I was young (which was the reason for my ire). For those who grew up with Mario in the 80’s and 90’s, you’ll find plenty to like here. Nintendo may be after a different market these days, but this game highlights that they still can put together one hell of a game, one that rekindles exactly why I adore them as a developer.