Review by Gabranth86

"Mario returns to his roots. Dressed as a penguin"

When Nintendo first unveiled New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, all Christmases came at once for fans of the NES/SNES era of gaming. After the success of Mario 64 the series naturally went on to bigger things, but certain sections of the fanbase felt as though the portly plumber had unfinished business within the 2D realm. Nintendo seemingly agreed, and over a decade since the last true, side-scrolling console outing, the Mario of old was back. And while the game wasn't such a hit with some people (the low difficulty in particular coming under fire), the revival was a commercial success, which naturally led to speculation regarding a sequel. A sequel that would never come…at least not to the DS.

So here we are, three years later, faced with the first ever four-player co-op Mario game. Once again charged with rescuing professional kidnap-ee Peach from the clutches of that dastardly king Bowser, those of you well-versed in the ways of Super Mario will know exactly what to expect from the rest of the game. Goomba-stomping, block-bashing, mushroom-munching madness in a bizarre yet endearing world of bashful ghosts and caterpillars with shoes.

This time around the game clearly draws influence from Super Mario Bros. 3. You'll recognise many enemies who debuted in that game (some of which haven't been seen since), including Bowser's very own not-so-magnificent seven: the Koopalings - who star as both the mid and final bosses of each world. The map screens have also been overhauled to bring them more in-line with those seen in SMB3 and SMW. A welcome improvement over the first New Super Mario Bros., which had very plain, uninspired overworlds.

Gameplay is a mixture of old and new. In addition to running and jumping, Mario (and his allies) can perform ground pounds, spin attacks (by shaking the remote) and wall-jumps. There's also some clever use of motion controls in the form of special platforms and objects that react to tilts of the remote. These don't feel at all out of place, and actually encourage a little teamwork in multiplayer.

There are a surprising number of new ideas on display - and not just in terms of power ups. One stage contains large, floating bubbles that act as pools when entered, effectively allowing Mario to swim in mid-air. Another features a long, moving barge with a visible load limit of 5 (at which it stops moving). As you cross the poisonous waters countless enemies will fall from suspended platforms, forcing you to go on a killing spree to clear your ride and get it moving again. The game has everything from Bullet Bill war zones to caverns overrun with giant Wigglers. If nothing else it's certainly the most imaginative side-scrolling Mario yet.

Naturally there are a new array of power-ups to play around with. The ice flower from Super Mario Galaxy returns, although its use is now closer to that of its fiery counterpart. Mario can freeze enemies with ice balls and either follow-up by shattering them with a ground pound, hurling them into other enemies (dependant on size) or--perhaps most interestingly--using them as stepping stones to reach higher platforms or stray star coins. The penguin suit has the same function as the ice flower, albeit with added bonuses such as not suffering from poor traction on ice, the ability to slide across slippery terrain, and improved swimming abilities (think SMB3's frog suit without the dodgy land movement).

Then there's the propeller suit, which is perhaps the most documented power up of the new bunch. This works as a slightly less game-breaking version of the flying items seen in previous instalments. A shake of the remote will cause Mario to ascend sharply before slowly falling back to the ground. So while it can be used to reach lofty heights or cheat the odd death here and there, you won't be skipping huge sections of stage like you could with the raccoon leaf or super feather.

No doubt to the delight of many, Mario's dinosaur pal, Yoshi, also makes a triumphant return. His trademark flutter jump is back in all its glory, and his primary use is still to chow on almost any enemy in the game. Unfortunately his appearances are rather sporadic, and he often doesn't serve as much of a purpose as you'd like. He also leaves Mario at the end of the level, meaning he can only be used in the few stages where his egg appears.

One element of the game Nintendo are keen to emphasise is the multiplayer mode. Up to four people can play co-operatively at the same time, which is genuinely enjoyable - especially if you're just larking about with friends or family. Will you pick your ally up and ferry him over a tricky gap? Or are you in a nasty enough mood to hurl them into the nearest piranha plant or chasm?

There are a few bones of contention here, though. First of all, players 3 and 4 are simply different coloured Toads, which is a strange move for a series with such a rich selection of characters at its disposal. This would have been a fine moment to reunite the playable quartet from Super Mario Bros. 2 - Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad. With storyline clearly not mattering a whole lot this time around, not even Peach's role in the plot is an excuse for this not being the case. It's a minor quibble, but for a game that prides itself on multiplayer you'd think they'd make the effort to provide four different characters for us to use.

Secondly, no online support is pretty poor in this day and age. You can appreciate what they wanted to achieve by encouraging you to have your in-game allies close by, but let's face it: we don't all have three Mario-loving friends willing to participate, and we don't all have four Wii remotes to make the whole thing possible. Co-op play with faceless nobodies may not have been Nintendo's vision, but it's not like the addition of online support would take anything away from the standard multiplayer. So why leave it out?

The multiplayer side of things could potentially have had a negative impact on the level design, too. You'll be glad to hear that isn't the case. Flying solo, it never feels as though stages were designed with four players in mind (quite the opposite in some cases), and although the slightly zoomed camera could be seen as something of a hangover, it doesn't detract from the experience, and the ability to see further ahead and above is actually just as beneficial in single player.

One of the main complaints the original New Super Mario Bros. had to endure was that it was simply too easy. Given its newfound “casual” audience, it's understandable that Nintendo would want to tone-down the difficulty of even its core titles. But the levels New Super Mario Bros. plummeted to were met with a few stern looks from hardened Mario fans. New Super Mario Bros. Wii rectifies this issue, but chances are it's still not going to push your platforming skills to their limits. Challenging but fair would be a fitting analysis.

Visually the game is middle-of-the-road stuff. The graphics are bright and vibrant enough to serve their purpose, there are some pretty nice effects on things like rotating ice blocks, and the animation is a marked improvement on the DS original. That said, it's not exactly pushing the hardware, and backgrounds in particular can often look a little barren.

The audio is something of a mixed bag. The playful theme of the first New Super Mario Bros. returns, and is remixed into almost every track in the game - something which should immediately determine whether the soundtrack is likely to be your cup of tea or not. There are a few reworks of classic Mario tunes, and while a couple of tracks break from the chirpy nature of the collection as a whole, it will generally come as a disappointment to those of us who felt that, musically, the series had made a significant leap forward with Super Mario Galaxy.

As enjoyable as it is, the game is also strangely forgettable. This isn't so much to do with bad design and lack of creativity as it is the fact that the series has moved on from the side-scrolling formula. We've scaled tall mountains, swam in vast oceans and even explored space in the 3D Mario games. The boundaries set by the genre prevent New Super Mario Bros. Wii from capturing the imagination in the same sort of way. That's not to say it's a step back; it's just difficult to imagine where else you can take this kind of game.

But perhaps expecting that much would be missing the point. This is, after all, a throwback to the earlier Super Mario Bros. titles. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but then it never set out to. Nintendo have taken everything we loved about the Mario games of old, added a little extra spice and served it up to a new generation. New Super Mario Bros. Wii won't amaze and astound you the way Galaxy did, but for those who've been awaiting the console continuation of the classic Mario formula, it delivers on almost every level.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.0 - Great

Originally Posted: 11/24/09, Updated 11/30/09

Game Release: New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Limited Edition) (EU, 11/20/09)

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