Review by kobalobasileus

Reviewed: 01/05/10

Nintendo Proves They Still Know the Formula.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii
“Nintendo Proves They Still Know the Formula.”

Nintendo’s “Mario” franchise has a long and illustrious history. Starting as the launch title that made their first foray into game consoles, the NES, a stunning success in a clinically dead videogame market, games featuring the chubby Italian plumber set a remarkable precedent by getting better and better with each sequel. By “Super Mario Bros. 3,” it seemed that Nintendo had absolutely perfected the formula, only to have the SNES launch title, “Super Mario World,” come along and set the bar for platfomer games even higher with small gamplay refinements and a more user-friendly save system.

Then the unthinkable happened: The 3D Revolution. Mario was suddenly thrust into a world of polygons and analog sticks with the N64. While hailed as the Best Thing Ever by most reviewers, it was small comfort to fans of the old Mario games who felt completely alienated by the new gameplay of “Mario 64.” To these fans, Mario was no longer Mario.

These fans, among whom I rank myself, were thoroughly disgusted by the 3D Revolution and have been waiting patiently for a true sequel to “Super Mario World.” Nintendo finally made an attempt, two generations later, with “New Super Mario Bros.” on the DS. This first attempt was a disgusting backhand to these ill-served fans of 2D Mario, as it resurrected everything bad about 2D Mario games (i.e., the lame powerups, slippery shoes, and bad controls of the very first Mario title) while keeping very little from the series’ climax (i.e., saving after forts and castles, the ability to carry an extra powerup in reserve, and the ability to revisit levels). It appeared that Nintendo had lost the formula for what made 2D Mario games so incredible.

With these experiences behind me, it was with much shock and trepidation that I received the announcement that Nintendo was releasing a new 2D Mario game on the Wii, with the oh-so-stunningly-original title of “New Super Mario Bros. Wii.” After two generations of ignoring fans of 2D Mario and one terrible attempt at a 2D Mario game on a handheld, “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” was, in my mind, Nintendo’s final chance to prove that they still have the ability to make games like they used to.

“New Super Mario Bros. Wii” (“NSMBW”) has a look and feel that, remarkably, straddles the worlds of 2D and 3D. The backgrounds are sprite layers with polygonal structures for the foreground layer in which Mario moves. Everything in the game is vibrant and colorful, with a lot of detail and character. There are some noticeable jaggies when playing on a HDTV of considerable size, but that is a hardware issue, not a software issue. “NSMBW” is easily the best-looking Mario game, period.

The audio is, for the most part, just as impressive as the graphics. Mario and Luigi are still voiced by the ever-annoying Charles Martinet. However, he has refined the character voices to the point that, while still annoying, they aren’t as grating as they were on the N64 or Gamecube. The sound effects in the game are high-quality reduxes of the traditional Mario sound effects, which is great for both nostalgia and consistency. The music is mostly remixed from “New Super Mario Bros.” (“NSMB”) on DS, which is both good and bad. The tracks are catchy and extremely well-written, but they feature intermittent synthesized voices that are so annoying that they even make in-game enemies and powerups have seizures. I was really hoping that these “oohs” and “aahs” would not return after the DS game, as the random seizures of enemies and powerups frequently cause mistimed jumps resulting in death or the loss of a powerup (and cause me to experience Tourrete’s Syndrome-like symptoms).

“NSMBW” is a bit weak on the story, even for a Mario game. Whereas “Super Mario World” had a few text boxes that would pop-up, for example, after clearing a castle, with a little narration and “Super Mario Bros. 3” presented Mario with a letter from the Princess at the end of each world, “NSMBW” tells its entire tale via pantomime and soundbites. There are a couple of letters, one near the beginning and one at the very end, that give a smidgen of narration, but it’s not nearly enough and is much less than the mark set by previous games in the series. Nintendo needs to strive towards setting new high-water marks for quality in all aspects of their games.

The story boils down to this: Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings (yes, ALL of them) are hiding in Peach’s birthday cake. They pop-out and kidnap her from her party, holding her hostage on Bowser Jr.’s airship. Mario, Luigi, and two different-colored Toads pursue. And that’s it. No explanation of why the Koopalings are back after a long absence, no overall evil scheme from Bowser to justify yet another kidnapping, nothing. Even the ending sequence is disappointing compared to “Super Mario World.”

But this is a Mario platformer. Nobody plays Mario platformers for their engaging stories... that’s what the Mario RPGs are for!

“NSMBW” is a triumphant return of classic 2D Mario gameplay with a few new twists. While it is lacking a few of the tiny refinements of “Super Mario World” (e.g., the ability to throw objects upward, Koopas that squirt out of their shells when stomped, the ability to take Yoshi from level to level, the ability to bounce off non-stompable enemies while spin-jumping, and the ability to carry an extra item for use in-level), “NSMBW” features excellent controls, useful new powerups, and everything else that made Mario the champion of the NES and SNES. The main reason “NSMB” on DS was such a disappointment was the terrible controls. Mario took forever to start and stop running, much like the very first “Super Mario Bros.” game. “NSMBW” finally brings back the tight controls that first appeared in “Super Mario Bros. 3” and were perfected in “Super Mario World.” Mario can start and stop on a dime.

“NSMBW,” like most of the best Wii games, uses very little in the way of motion controls. The only controller option is to hold the Wiimote sideways, as if it was a NES controller. The d-pad controls movement, pressing the 1 button makes Mario shoot fire/ice balls, holding the 1 button makes him run, the 2 button makes Mario jump, and a quick shake of the Wiimote makes him spin. Spinning while on the ground causes Mario to do a spin-jump, similar to the one he could do in “Super Mario World,” without the benefit of being able to bounce off of spikes. Spinning while in the air causes Mario to do a little twirl that, while it doesn’t appear to do much of anything, features prominently in the Super Skills videos (more on that later). Spinning also allows Mario to fly with the Propeller Hat powerup and turn screws in a few specific levels. The only other bits of motion control within “NSMBW” are a few places where the player can tilt platforms while Mario stands on them. There are only a handful of levels that have tiltable platforms.

Overall, the controls in “NSMBW” are extremely solid. I never found the motion controls unresponsive. However, I still would have preferred it if Nintendo would have allowed a Classic Controller option, with Y replacing 1, B replacing 2, A replacing the shake, and L & R replacing the tilt. More options are always better.

The powerups featured in “NSMBW” are a marked improvement over those featured in the DS game. The new powerups are the Ice Flower (which first appeared in “Super Mario Galaxy”), the Propeller Hat, and the Penguin Suit. All three of these powerups are incredibly useful and fun to use, unlike the terrible Mini Mushroom (which makes an unfortunate return in “NSMBW”) and Blue Koopa Shell from the DS game. The Propeller Hat is probably the most useful flying-type powerup in the history of the Mario series, as it doesn’t require a running start to use. The Penguin Suit combines the Frog Suit (from “Super Mario Bros. 3”) with the Ice Flower and throws-in traction on ice as a bonus. It really makes the Ice Flower seem redundant. It would have been better if the Ice Flower allowed Mario to freeze and walk on the surface of water... maybe next time! Other returning powerups are the ubiquitous Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman.

The game progresses much like the other great titles in the series, with Mario appearing on a world map and moving from point-to-point, unlocking additional side-scrolling levels (sometimes requiring the player to find a hidden exit in a level). In these levels, Mario runs, jumps, stomps enemies, etc. while trying to get from the start to the flagpole at the end, while at the same time hunting for 3 hidden Star Coins in each level. Mario can revisit any completed level at any time. While playing a completed level, the player can pause the game and exit the level at any time, though any coins, powerups, and 1-ups gathered will not be retained unless the player actually completes the level (likewise, if the player loses a powerup they had when they entered the level, exiting will return the powerup). This setup allows players to revisit easy levels to gather powerups and lives without making it painfully easy and cheap to pop-in and pop-out of a level. The Toad Houses also make a return allowing the player to compete in a two different mini-games for powerups or 1-ups. Powerups won from Toad Houses are stored in inventory and can be used anytime on the map screen by pressing 1.

The most controversial new gameplay addition to “NSMBW” would have to be the Super Guide and Hint Movies. Super Guide is a green block that appears in single-player mode after the player dies 8 times in a level without completing it. Hitting the Super Guide block allows the player to have a CPU-controlled Luigi muddle through the level. I never got the Super Guide to appear because, despite what several previewers wrote about the game, “NSMBW” is not that difficult. There are some challenging levels, but most of them feature readily-accessible powerups and fall firmly into the “just right” difficulty range that was found in “Super Mario World.” The hint movies can be accessed in Peach’s castle in World 1 by hitting a Blue Star Block and paying a specified number of Star Coins. The Hint Movies range from demonstrations of where to find secret exits and Star Coins to tips on infinite 1-ups to speed runs demonstrating the insane Super Skills of some of the people on the development team. I don’t think Super Guide detracts at all from the game experience, and actually provides an extra challenge to those who don’t want to use it, as not having Super Guide appear in any level results in a small graphical reward on the save file selection screen. To those who do need some help, Super Guide is a built-in version of “asking your friends who don’t suck at games for help,” which I used all the time when I first got my NES back in 1989. The Hint Movies are a wonderful addition, as they are both helpful and awe-inspiring. I enjoyed watching the Super Skills videos and actually needed the hints for two secret exits.

Finally, “NSMBW” is the first Mario game to feature 4-player simultaneous multi-player. This feature was obviously inspired by and adapted from Media Molecule’s “LittleBigPlanet,” though with some minor differences. While characters cannot walk through each other (frequently resulting in botched jumps and accidental deaths) they can jump off of each others’ heads, resulting in greater height. When a character dies in multi-player, as long as at least one other character is alive and the dead character has a 1-up in reserve, the dead character will reappear after a short time, floating in a bubble. If another character pops the bubble, the dead character will immediately rejoin the fray. Multi-player makes “NSMBW” significantly more difficult simply because of all the on-screen chaos. At the same time, multi-player makes getting Star Coins slightly easier, as characters can kamikaze into coins that are above lava or bottomless pits, then return to the action without exiting the level.

As a single-player experience, “NSMBW” is nearly as good as “Super Mario World,” a nearly-impossible to reach standard of quality. As a multi-player experience, “NSMBW” provides a way to share with non-gamers the same type of hardcore gaming experience that allowed Nintendo to single-handedly revive the videogame industry in the ’80s. I recommend “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” to everyone who owns a Wii. To the old-school who haven’t purchased a console since the SNES, this game might be the Wii’s system-seller, even moreso than its previous Mario titles. With just a few more fine adjustments to the Mario formula, Nintendo could make the next game in the “New Super Mario Bros.” series the BEST. MARIO. EVER.

Presentation: 9/10
Story: 3/10
Gameplay: 9/10
Overall (not an average): 9/10

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

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

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