By now, you pretty much know if you like 2-D Mario games or not. They’ve been around for over 25 years, and most every game has you stepping on enemies and/or killing them with fire in order to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser. It’s a simple formula that’s paid dividends for years.
Mario made a successful detour into 3-D while other iconic characters failed (hello, Sonic), but the success of 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. for the DS convinced Nintendo to return to his 2-D roots once again for New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It’s Mario’s first 2-D console outing since 1990’s Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo, so he’s long overdue. Was the return trip to the Mushroom Kingdom worth the wait, or is it a trip that should have been skipped?
I had a few complaints about the DS version of New Super Mario Bros. First, I finished the game on the same day that I purchased it. Second, going through the levels and getting every Star Coin didn’t seem to add anything to gameplay. It was just so much busywork. Three, some of the later levels were just hard for the sake of being hard. They would throw in random enemy attacks, and it was just unfair. Fourth, the boss battles were nothing to write home about. You just fought different versions of Bowser Jr. until he finally stopped attacking you. Fifth and finally, in order to get to some of the worlds you had to take really roundabout ways to get there. You had to beat some of the world bosses with a mini-mushroom in order to unlock worlds 4 and 6, and mini-mushrooms were hard to come by.
In other words, I still liked the DS version, but we had a strained relationship. That’s why it pleases me to say that New Super Mario Bros. Wii has cleaned up almost all of the defects of its predecessor.
First, the levels are more involved than the original and display much more imagination than the DS game. While it appeared that Nintendo’s B-Team was working on the DS game, the success of the DS game convinced Nintendo to use their A-Team to make the Wii version, and it shows.
Two, getting the Star Coins unlocks levels that are reminiscent of Super Mario World’s Star World in a good way. You actually feel like digging around for the Star Coins because there’s a tangible reward.
Third, when the game gets difficult, it’s still fair. You always know why you died and what it takes to get past that point. There will be times where you scrape through a level and legitimately feel a sense of accomplishment, not frustration over stupid decisions made by the level designer.
Fourth, the Koopalings are back. While their battle’s aren’t amazing, they’re definitely better than the drab Bowser Jr. fights of the DS game. On top of that, the final battle with Bowser even made this jaded gamer’s jaw drop a little bit.
Fifth, you should see every world on your first playthrough without having to resort to weird tactics, although there are several levels within them that can be rather difficult to find. That’s as it should be, since Mario games are great when they have secrets tucked away. Plus, those secrets are never too esoteric. Once you find the secret levels, you’ll wonder how you missed them.
In fact, just about everything in New Super Mario Bros. Wii is aces. Some have referred to it as Super Mario Bros. 5, and that’s an apt description. Everything about it screams quality, from the tight, intuitive level design to the bopping, bouncing music that accompanies your journey. The controls handle like a dream, as you would expect from a Mario game. Yoshi is back, and he handles just like you would expect. The graphics are crisp and clean, looking exactly like a traditional Mario game updated for the 21st century. Everything is exactly what you would want in a new sidescrolling Mario game.
But is that a good thing? Some may complain, “The fact that everything is exactly the way you would expect means that they didn’t really try.” While there is a bit of deja vu throughout, there aren’t a whole lot of places where you roll your eyes and say, “I’ve seen that before.” There are intelligent nods to your skills, but most everything is something new yet familiar. If you played a Mario game back in the day and enjoyed it, playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii will put a smile on your face.
Some have also complained about Super Guide, the revolutionary new way that Nintendo plans on opening up games for inexperienced players. Basically, Super Guide can play through a level for you, allowing you to complete levels that are giving you problems and help inexperienced players to reach the end of the game. Some feel that it makes things too easy. I mean, if a game can play itself, that what’s the point?
Super Guide doesn’t really work like that. If you die more than eight times in a level, a green block will appear above your head at your starting point. If you hit it, it’ll ask if you want to use Super Guide. If you don’t, don’t hit the block. Simple as that. In fact, the game will give you a medal if you never die enough for Super Guide to come up. It’s a clever way of rewarding experienced players and giving them a badge of honor of sorts. It’s unobtrusive, and can be safely ignored if you don’t want it. If you do want it, it’s there. It’s a great way for Nintendo to crank up the difficulty while still allowing everyone a seat at the table.
That’s not to say there aren’t problems. For one, while the music is nice, I would much rather have heard more traditional Mario themes than the newer New Super Mario Bros. theme. That’s a little nitpicky, but one thing that separated a game like Super Mario Galaxy from previous entries in the 3-D series was the use of music from the original Mario games. If you’re aiming for updated nostalgia, as Nintendo was clearly trying to do here, that music alone calls back better memories, and it would have been nice to hear more of it.
Another addition was the much-ballyhooed multiplayer, which allows four players to be onscreen at the same time. With the wrong group of people, this can be frustrating and limiting. It sucks when you’re the only person who knows how to play and you end up carrying each and every level. A player that’s more talented than others may find themselves having to wait for other players to catch up before proceeding, or having to bail out other players repeatedly. However, with the right group of people, this can be an extremely entertaining mode. Having someone hold off enemies while you go for a Star Coin can be really fun, and having someone to help you try out a new tactic is great. More often than not, though, the multiplayer is more frustration than anything else.