Every year since the Wii was released, Nintendo has provided at least one title targeted squarely at their long time fans. In 2006, it was Twilight Princess. In 2007, we were treated to the highest rated game at VGChartz, Super Mario Galaxy. And 2008 saw the release of the much anticipated Super Smash Brothers Brawl. This year the game made for us is New Super Mario Brothers Wii; and not only does this game belong with its Wii brethren above, but also is an instant classic among the pantheon of Nintendo games.
Mario games are notorious for their apparent disregard of anything even closely resembling a story. New Super Mario Brothers Wii embraces this spirit with what may be the most succinct story imaginable. All the usual suspects, and two nameless Toads (a new low in minimal story telling), are gathered at Princess Peach’s castle to celebrate her birthday. Big surprise, she gets kidnapped (in a rather hilarious way) by Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings. Mario, Luigi, and the nameless Toads immediately spring into action and chase down the eight kidnappers; embarking on one of the most entertaining adventures the plumbers have been on.
As soon as the first stage starts, you will notice that this game has all the polish of previous side scrolling Mario titles. The controls are perfect, and I don’t say this lightly, they really are perfect. The ‘1’ button dashes while the ‘2’ button jumps. There is an option to play with the Nunchuck and use the analog stick. When playing like this the ‘A’ button jumps while the ‘B’ trigger dashes. I prefer the sideways remote style better.
Shaking the remote will execute various actions. When using the propeller power-up shaking will propel you into the air. Holding the ‘1’ button and shaking will pickup a heavy item - including your teammates. Certain platforms will also react specifically to a remote shake. When in a regular jump a simple flick of the remote also gives you a little spin that extends your air time. Shaking the remote on the ground gives you a spin attack that will shoot fire or ice balls in both directions when you have a power-up. The best part about the added motion controls is how disciplined the use of shaking is in this game. It could have easily degraded into a gimmicky control scheme, but instead it just accentuates the great controls that this game already has.
With great controls come some great physics. The Mushroom Kingdom is not bound by real life physics, but the physics that do govern it instantly make sense and can be skillfully wielded. Jumping is accurate and never feels ‘floaty.’ Inertia also plays a role as every character does slide on horizontal jumps and while building up speed. By the time you complete the first world your mastery of the physics will have you making stunning maneuvers and jumps that will be paramount in surviving the harder stages. Ice does screw around with walking and running, but the Penguin Suit power-up negates the effect.
Speaking of power-ups, this game has plenty. The new ones are the Propeller Suit and the Penguin Suit. They feel like something that belongs in all Mario games. The Propeller Suit lifts you high into the air with a shake of the remote and you glide slowly to the ground. The Penguin Suit allows you to walk on ice, glide on the surface of the water, swim like penguin, and shoot ice balls – it is uber. There are both Ice Flowers and Fire Flowers, each with a unique firing arch. The Ice Flowers will freeze enemies which could be picked up and thrown as a weapon. Mini-Mushrooms make you tiny and vulnerable, but give you incredible jumping height and length, allowing you to reach new places. Normal power-ups are also present, such as Mushrooms, Yoshi and Stars.
All these little elements are combined when you start each level. However, the thread that binds all of them into a memorable game is the level design and platforms. New Super Mario Brothers Wii has the best level design in a side scrolling platformer in the last decade; the free scrolling levels are immense and riddled with secrets and auto scrolling levels are challenging and fast-paced. You will not be disappointed. Nintendo also designed many new platform types and brought back some classics. One addition to the platforms is the inclusion of the remote tilt sensor, which is used in several ways that I will not spoil. Light sources and darkness is used cleverly to add challenge to later stages. The best way to describe this game is as a mixture of the best elements of Super Mario Brothers 3 and Super Mario World; some stages are reminiscent of the past while most are completely new. Since spoiling all the new gameplay ideas and levels is like spoiling the plot of a story-driven game; I will remain vague on the details.
The fan-service for old-school Super Mario Brothers 3 and Super Mario World cannot be discussed enough, however. Shigeru Miyamoto has expressed regret about certain mechanics and designs in Super Mario World and in this game everything that was wrong with Super Mario World has been tweaked and perfected. Like Super Mario Galaxy, most of this game feels like a spiritual sequel to Super Mario Brothers 3. The levels just have that challenging obstacle course feel. Most importantly, after years in purgatory, we get to see the Koopalings again. Needless to say, fans of old-school platforming will have a lot to love here.
In addition, this game has 4 player co-op. This is in addition to an already great foundation. The developers have made sure that every intricate detail works for both single player and multiplayer. Whole levels seem to be designed for two players to work and conquer, but can as easily be played with a single-player. Playing through a challenging ordeal with other players and winning is an incredibly satisfying occurrence. Multiplayer is not a cheap addition or gimmick, it is innovatively designed to work well no matter what your partner’s skill level or the stage design.
Playing with a partner also requires plenty of strategy. You and your friends will have to devise ways to move forward. However, managing all the ways you can accidentally, or purposefully, kill your partners can become a game in itself. Jumping on a partner gives you a boost but pushes them straight down and can result in death, albeit rather funny. You can grab your partner, but you have to throw them which can kill them. When a partner dies they will return in a bubble that you have to burst open. When things get a little hairy for your friends they can always go into a bubble by pressing ‘A.’ This will make them invulnerable, but if you die they are also penalized a life. You have to be very discerning when playing with others; there are plenty of bonuses to gain from multiplayer, but it is a double-edged sword.
This game is difficult. Hard as nails, pull your hair out, throw your Wii remote in a rare Wii game that doesn’t require you to make a throwing gesture difficult. The sadistic nature of some of the levels is wonderful, and you will enjoy every last excruciating second. It is refreshing to see Nintendo return to making these challenging levels. For less skilled players there is the controversial Super Guide which will automatically play the stage for you, and you can resume playing whenever you want. This does have drawbacks; in order to officially clear the stage and collect star coins you have to go back and beat it on your own. The Super Guide is actually a good addition to the game for new players.
To complement perfect gameplay, Nintendo added many reasons to go back and play it. Completing all eight worlds takes about eight hours, which is not too short and not too long to discourage multiple playthroughs. Each stage has three star coins to collect. Collecting a star coin will require advanced skills or tons of exploration. All the stages also have secrets and hidden passages to explore which usually lead to finding more secrets. Some stages have alternative exits, often leading to warps. Your save file has achievement stars which can only be unlocked by obtaining certain goals. Also, some stages are so novel and fun that you would play them again just to play it again. Star coins can also be used to purchase movies in Peach’s castle, which show you secrets and skills you may want to emulate. The biggest value addition will not be spoken of since I hate to give gameplay spoilers.
Multiplayer also extends gameplay. With the way the multiplayer works out you can expect to never have the same experience twice. The more players added, the more the gameplay and strategies change. There is a Coin Mode and Free-For-All Mode that change the rules from a cooperative game to a competitive game. Finally, some of the movies in Peach’s castle show off skills and secrets you will want to try with friends.
The only disappointing things about the value of this game are what are missing. Despite the fact that New Super Mario Brothers Wii is built specifically for local multiplayer, it is ridiculous that no online modes are included. Also, Shigeru Miyamoto is both pro user-generated content and has stated regret in not making LittleBigPlanet, however, no level creator/editor is present. But at $50 USD, this title is still one of the most valuable buys on Wii because of collectibles and the multiplayer which is refreshingly inventive.
The graphics are good. It retains the same visual flare that the original Nintendo DS title had which is quite enjoyable. The game is two dimensional, but everything from items to the backdrops are rendered in three dimensions. Other than that the visuals are very standard fare - they have the spirit of Mario games but are not pushing any boundaries. Also, they don't have issues that are associated with cutting edge technology. There is never any slow down or screen-tearing and the jaggies are well managed.
The music, on the other hand, is outstanding. Some tracks get your heart racing, especially during epic boss battles. Plenty of tracks are remixes of older Mario game music while some are new. The sound effects are fun and whimsical. Like in older Mario games, the music is designed to move with the beat of the gameplay, and in this game even the enemies dance a little to the music. It’s just one of many little touches that sets this game above any other Wii game released this year.
New Super Mario Brothers Wii represents the culmination of more than 20 years of experience with platformers. I am a huge fan of 2-D platformers; I do love them to death but can also be very stern in my criticism. I honestly tried to find a problem or flaw with the gameplay, but Nintendo is far too competent to make missteps in this genre. The final boss battle is designed to excite longtime Nintendo players - it's like Nintendo wanted to create an ending so epic it was made from fanboy dreams sprinkled with pure win. It’s a shame that we only get a game like this once a year for the Wii, but it has solid production, great value, and perfect gameplay. This is a game that can be enjoyed by everyone in the family, but it doesn’t stoop to the overly casual feel of Wii Sports Resort. Instead it maintains a high difficulty curve and is a rewarding experience. New Super Mario Brothers Wii is the best core offering on Wii this year