ESRB Rating: E
Release Date: 11/15/09
There’s been a gradual upsurge in oldschool 2D gaming recently, albeit on the sly. The burgeoning casual and portable markets have converged with increasing visibility for indie developers and digital distribution. Set it all against the recession as a backdrop, and suddenly the cheap simple games of yesteryear start looking pretty good. Nintendo can smell these things coming like sharks smell blood in water, and so we have New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the first AAA 2D boxed platformer in ages.
L’enfer, c’est les autres
On the whole, New SMB Wii is a revisitation of its series roots, like New SMB (DS) before it. As such, you’ll find yourself platforming your way through a whimsical world using crisp controls and excellent physics. It’s all very much what you’d expect from a traditional Mario game, right down to the punishing difficulty as the game progresses.
However, despite this allegiance to a bygone era of game design, New SMB Wii is definitely the brainchild of modern gaming. Chief among Nintendo’s additions to the core Mario formula for this outing is the addition of simultaneous four-player multiplayer. Players can take control of Mario, Luigi, and two Toads on the hunt for the kidnapped Princess Peach.
A platformer where four players share the same screen probably sounds hectic, and it is. The power-ups that pop out of blocks are multiplied by the number of people playing, each player can fire several projectiles with the right power-ups, and enemies storm the screen en masse in the later stages of the game. It’s to Nintendo’s credit that the action is as clear as it is, but the chaos erupting onscreen makes it easy to track the wrong character and accidentally walk yourself off a cliff.
However, the real killer is that Nintendo has opted to make your allies solid. This means that if you collide in midair going opposite directions over a bottomless pit, the only direction you have to go is down. Now consider all the narrow moving surfaces and bottomless pits that populate the average platformer, and you’ll realize that the single greatest threat to your survival is your allies.
Between the onscreen chaos and the platforming equivalent of friendly fire, it seems like multiplayer can only add pointless frustration to an already demanding gameplay formula. That’s why it’s so impressive that multiplayer is actually a blast.
Alongside relentlessly excellent level design, two new mechanics underlie the unexpected multiplayer fun: player lifting and bubbling. Player lifting solves the problem of narrow platforms by allowing you to hoist an ally onto your shoulders. In this configuration, the bottom player does all the platforming while the top player can use projectile powerups or leap off the lifter’s shoulders for some added height. So lifting doesn’t just mitigate a multiplayer problem, it diversifies the gameplay.
Bubbling serves a different purpose. Any time you press the A button during a multiplayer game, you’ll lock your character into a bubble a la Yoshi’s Island (but without the newborn wailing). Once bubbled, you’ll float invincibly around the screen and can approach the nearest player by waggling the Wii remote. Once another player touches or attacks your bubble, it pops harmlessly. So any time your allies
intentionally accidentally bump you into harm’s way, you’re only a button press from safety. It levels the playing field so that beginners can keep up with advanced players while allowing experienced players to use each other as anchors for risky tricks.
Multiplayer certainly makes the platforming in New SMB Wii more complex and diverse, but bubbling and lifting keep it from feeling like an unfair handicap. Platforming fundamentalists may feel that bubbling undermines the gameplay challenge, but it really just saves you the trip from the nearest checkpoint whenever you fail.
Lone players aren’t completely out in the cold for these mechanics, because Nintendo has hidden Toads in various locations throughout the single player game. Players have the option of carrying these kidnapped Toads to the finish line for each level, which lets you try out the lifting and throwing mechanics with a brain-dead partner. It’s a nice gesture and Toad rescues will give you a taste of what New SMB Wii‘s multiplayer has to offer, but it doesn’t capture even a fraction of multiplayer’s depth.
If there is a significant flaw in New SMB Wii‘s multiplayer, it’s the conspicuous absence of any online support. Nintendo has been historically reluctant to support online play, but omitting it entirely means that gamers with jobs will have trouble wrangling three collaborators into their living rooms. For those lucky few, however, at least you won’t have to tolerate any anonymous trash talking kids.
All the multiplayer features in the world wouldn’t carry a lousy game, but New SMB Wii delivers quality platforming. The Mushroom Kingdom is a pretty familiar place by now, and New SMB Wii doesn’t deliver any surprises on that front. However, it does open up the big bag of gameplay and level design tricks and sprinkles them liberally across the game’s 77 levels. From windy terrain to melting ice, the game plays like a survey of the history of platforming. There are even some new tricks, like globs of water suspended in thin air that let you traverse bottomless pits by leaping from pool to pool. It’s been long enough since these level features were last seen that they don’t feel rehashed, and the frequency with which they’re swapped out keeps the gameplay from stagnating.
The controls and physics are as tight as you would expect from a Mario game, so playing the diversely challenging levels feels fair. Oldschool gamers can tilt the Wii remote sideways for that classic NES feel, and newer players can use the modal nunchuck configuration to play. The designers do commit the cardinal sin of treating Wiimote waggle as a button (you use it to spin jump), but the controls are otherwise as simple as you’d expect from an oldschool platformer.
The better accelerometer use in New SMB Wii is to control tilting platforms. When you arrive first on certain special platforms, they’ll change to your character’s color and then the platform will mirror your Wii Remote’s tilt on its roll axis. So in addition to controlling your character’s position with the D-pad, you can control his frame of reference with the accelerometer. The two kinds of input are different enough that you can do them both at the same time with some practice, and developing those skills is engaging and fun.
The downside to this mechanic is that the Wii classic controller can’t use it. Instead of just mapping the tilt functionality to the shoulder buttons and the spin jump to the X button, Nintendo completely omitted classic controller support for New SMB Wii. This isn’t a dealbreaker, but the D-pad on the Wii remote is a little stiff and uncomfortable to use. An option to voluntarily forego the gestural controls for a more ergonomic alternative would have been a nice concession.
He’s-a Not Heavy, He’s-a My Brother
The oldschool difficulty curve and multiplayer chaos in New SMB Wii make it look like Nintendo is reaching out to the hardcore gamer with abandonment issues demographic. At the same time, supportive mechanics like lifting and bubbling are more in line with Nintendo’s culture of accessibility, but only for multiplayer. However, Nintendo is reaching out to casual gamers in single player as well using a new feature called the Super Guide.
If you die enough times on a single level, a green block will appear. Hitting it will summon Luigi, who will play through as much of the level for you as you like. Luigi takes it nice and slow whenever possible so you can have a chance to figure out what he’s doing right that you’re doing wrong. You can take control of Luigi any time you like, but any progress Luigi makes, coins he collects, or lives he looses don’t count.
The Super Guide essentially tries to tackle gameplay accessibility by treating it like learning to play the piano. On the one hand it’s a smart attempt, because both skills are nonverbal, and the only way to teach them is via demonstration. On the other the problem is that the Super Guide assumes that the casual player wants to develop hardcore skills. It seems unlikely that disinterested casual gamers would be tempted into the hardcore fold by a helping hand, and interested casuals might regard the Super Guide as patronizing. Moreover, having Luigi complete a level on your behalf allows you to bypass it, but the subsequent levels are universally harder, so you’re out of the frying pan and into the bottomless pit. It s just not clear who the Super Guide is for.
There are also some purchasable hint videos using ingame currency, though these are more entertaining than actually helpful. There are several that reveal the locations of hidden fobs, but the interesting videos are titled “Super Skills.” These videos depict expert runs of a selection of the game’s levels for speed and style. It’s like Nintendo decided to send some ringers into the speedrunning community.
Your Princess is Totally in This Castle
New Super Mario Bros. Wii delivers the polish and challenge established by its DS predecessor, but with more gameplay diversity and graphical horsepower. It manages to play to the casual and hardcore markets at the same time, but it serves the hardcore best. Multiplayer is tricky to master, but the mechanics are there to do so and multiplayer improves the gameplay depth considerably. All in all, it’s a must have.
What It Costs: $50
What It’s Worth:
•To The Hardcore: $70 (buy)
•To The Genre Fan: $70 (buy)
•To The Casual: $30 (play a friend’s copy or rent)
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