Review by DAnderson

Reviewed: 11/16/09 | Updated: 11/20/09

Mario's Latest is a Fun Dose of Nostalgia, but it Lacks the Innovation of its Predecessors

Fans have waited eighteen long years for a new console Mario adventure done in the classic-style of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Indeed, while Mario and his friends have starred in a number of excellent 3-D adventures (Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy) and endearing side-scrollers (Wario Land, Yoshi’s Island), none of these games have captured the very essence of fun and adventure that were the life blood of Mario’s earliest games. Brick bashing. Chucking fireballs. Kicking turtle shells into rows of oblivious enemies. Soaring into the clouds in search of secrets or plunging into the depths of some forgotten sea. Sliding down a flag pole and stomping across a series of evil mushrooms. Amazingly, many of these simple delights have not been experienced on a home console for nearly a generation. But with the release of Nintendo’s New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the wait is finally over and a new audience can experience Mario and his friends in all their glory. The question, of course, is whether the long wait was worth it.

The game begins with the almost obligatory scene of poor Princess Peach being kidnapped again, this time by Bowser’s koopalings. Naturally, Mario and Luigi are on hand to race through the game’s eight "worlds" of danger to rescue her. Also along for the ride are two nameless Toads who possess the same abilities as the brothers, but who are otherwise little more than throwaway characters who exist mainly for the game’s co-op multiplayer mode, but more on that later.

As in the early Mario titles, each of the worlds have a theme. For instance, one world is set in a sandy desert filled with cacti and quicksand, while another takes to the clouds and challenges players with tricky jumps and long falls to oblivion. A variety of fun power-ups spice up the proceedings, from the classic fire flower to a propeller suit that offers limited flight ability to a penguin guise that allows the player to effortlessly glide through the water.

Perhaps most notable to the game’s design, however, is the large amount of nostalgia Nintendo has implemented into the gameplay. Bowser’s seven koopalings make their grand return and each one once again serves as the boss for their respective world. The air ships from Super Mario Bros. 3 return (albeit in a more limited fashion), and in a nice homage to the original Super Mario Bros, players must once again leap for the top of the flag pole for points and bragging rights. Half the fun, actually, is recognizing these references from the earlier titles and remembering the bygone area from which they came.

Fortunately, the game still offers enough new concepts to help keep the experience feeling fresh. Foremost is the implementation of the Wii Remote’s motion technology that allows players, by tilting the controller left and right, to do such actions as adjusting the placement of platforms for easier accessibility or moving a beam of light for better visibility in the dark. This new dynamic creates some interesting challenges and is a welcome addition. And thanks to the Wii’s (somewhat) modern hardware, many more enemies can be onscreen than what could have ever been possible in the old NES and SNES days. Imagine encountering schools of fish darting at poor Mario as he bobs awkwardly though the water, or dodging a dozen cannonballs hurtling out from all corners of the screen. Certain levels even offer the occasional secondary challenge, such as having to rescue a helpless Toad and carry him through the entire course. In fact, the game’s considerable amount of challenge apparently concerned Nintendo enough to include a “Super Guide” mode, which allows the computer to take over and complete the level for the player. Many might consider the use of this feature cheating, but there are probably many a child or inexperienced parent who will be thankful for the option.

The game’s greatest new addition, however, is easily the aforementioned multiplayer mode, which allows up to four players to bound through the levels simultaneously. The idea, of course, is for each player to help the others reach the end of the stage, but more often than not (and inadvertently or not), players will often sabotage each other as everyone bounces around the screen attempting to stay alive and grab powerups. This can mean great fun or great frustration depending on the mindset of the players involved, but, in truth, the game is still best suited for solo play.

In fact, as fun as the multiplayer can be, its implementation does raise a few issues against the game--most notably, that its levels are noticeably more simplistic and linear than some of the more elaborate levels seen in Super Mario World or Yoshi’s Island. Furthermore, because the game supports four players, why did Nintendo exclude Toad (from Super Mario Bros. 2 and Wario’s Woods fame) and Princess Peach from the lineup and instead use two generic Toads in their place? Even a Toad and Toadette (Mario Kart, Paper Mario 2) duo would have sufficed. And lastly, the lack of any sort of on-line support for co-op and/or leaderboards is perplexing. It is 2009, after all.

Similarly, the game as a whole has its share of odd design choices and missed opportunities. The graphic style, while pleasant enough, seems somewhat generic when compared to other Mario titles, be they Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, and even Super Paper Mario. The music, while still catchy, rehashes too much of the tunes from earlier titles and does not provide enough original content to truly impress. The world maps don’t grow and evolve as they did in Super Mario World. Most of the bosses are not nearly as climatic as those in Yoshi’s Island or even New Super Mario Bros. DS. Some of the gameplay feels a little dumbed down, such as not being able to transfer Yoshi from level to level, have him throw eggs or gain powers from different colored Koopa (turtle) shells. Mario, for his part, can no longer fling shells upward, hold an emergency item in reserve during a level, or fly indefinitely. There’s no level maker or community features. None of these quirks are enough to truly tarnish the game as a whole, but when the eighteen year old Super Mario World still proves superior in some regards, and when there are recent games such as Little Big Planet that offer incredible production values and an almost limitless set of options, one cannot help but see New Super Mario Bros. Wii as perhaps being a little too stuck in the past for its own good.

Nevertheless, this is still the Wii game to own this year. While some of its enjoyment may be more derived from its “trip down memory lane” qualities than anything approaching true genius, there is no denying that the game provides a heartfelt sense of fun and whimsy too often missing in many other contemporary titles. New Super Mario Bros. Wii may not quite live up to the impossibly high expectations inevitable after an eighteen year wait, but that should not stop fans from seeking a copy all the same.

Rating:   4.0 - Great

Product Release: New Super Mario Bros. Wii (US, 11/15/09)

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