Friday, November 20, 2009

New Super Mario Bros. Wii Review

As a child of the 80's, I grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System. I can remember when we didn't say we were going to play a game, we said we were going to play Nintendo. I remember when we didn't call our games discs or cartridges, we called them tapes... even though they actually were cartridges. I remember terrible cover art, I remember the Zapper, the Power Pad, and the Power Glove. I remember a time when a game took you months to beat, if you ever did, not because it took a long time to get through but because whenever you died or shut the system off, you were starting at the beginning.

Some statistics to help frame this review (release years are based on the US release).
Super Mario Bros. came out 23 years ago in 1986.
Super Mario Bros. 3 came out 19 years ago in 1990.
Super Mario World came out 18 years ago in 1991. To put it another way, children have been born and graduated high school since the last time a "proper" 2D Mario game was released on a home console (although we did get the original New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS in 2006).

As a huge fan of 2D Mario games, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is all kinds of old-school good. Just like Super Mario Bros, Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros, NSMBW will have you hopping, collecting coins, eating mushrooms, and fighting turtles through a variety of environments spread out in ever-increasing difficulty over a number of themed worlds. There's not a lot I can really say about the gameplay; either you've played a "real" Mario game or you haven't (feel free to argue with me, but Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy are fun, but they're not real Mario games).

It's hard to put into words what exactly makes Mario games so fun, to the point that even the old NES games hold up much better than most games from that era (the only NES games I like better are the first three Mega Man games). It's colorful, it's got memorable enemies, and the level-design is top-notch. None of that's changed in the past 24 years. And if New Super Mario Bros. drew its inspiration from the original Super Mario Bros, NSMBW is taking cues from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. The Koopalings are back. There are airship levels. You can't keep him after a level, but some levels have Yoshi. Bowser Jr. fights in a clown car like the one from Super Mario World.

For all the nostalgia borrowed from the NES and SNES Super Mario games, what holds NSMBW back from being as huge in my mind as New Super Mario Bros. on the DS (which I named Game of the Year 2006) is how much it borrows from the DS game. The Wii game looks like a more polished version of the DS game. The world maps are laid out the same, you still have one mini-castle in each map, you still have flags at the half-way marker of a stage, and you still have a big flag pole to jump on at the end of each level. There are still red-coin hoops and three large star-coins in each level. As much as things stayed the same between the various Super Mario Bros. games, each one felt new and fresh when compared to the previous one... until now.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is not, however, a Wii-ified port of the DS game. Some changes are welcome. All of the levels are new, even if they're in worlds that look that they were pulled from the DS version. Some power ups are gone (the Mega Mushroom, the Turtle Suit) and new ones take their places (Penguin Suit, Propeller Suit, and an Ice Flower). Instead of random bosses like a giant Cheep Cheep or Petey Piranha, the Koopalings from Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3 are back. Amazingly enough, the designers did an amazing job of making sure that each battle with each Koopaling is unique. The Wii version uses an item storage system similar to Super Mario Bros. 3. Instead of carrying an extra item that could be activated mid-level, you store them so that you can use them to power up before entering a level. And, perhaps most welcome of all, you can quick-save anywhere instead of just after castles.

Some changes are less welcome. The star-coins you collect, instead of opening up alternate levels, are used to buy gameplay hint movies. And of course, they had to stick waggle in the game somewhere. There are in fact a few times you'll use it. For starters, shaking the Wiimote will cause Mario to do a spin jump. Unlike the spin jump from Super Mario World, there's no real advantage to it in NSMBW. In fact, a few times I accidentally spin-jumped to my death because I was moving in my seat, and the Wiimote took that as shaking. The Propeller Suit is powered by spin-jumping, and it functions like the propeller pads in the DS game. And in some levels, there are screws that move parts of the level around. To use them, you have to shake the Wiimote while standing on them. The final use for shaking is, while holding the 1 button, you shake the controller to pick up objects. Why they added this extra motion to something we've been doing since SMB3 is beyond me. The other way the Wiimote is used is that there are some platforms that tilt when you tilt the Wiimote. This is less irritating than shaking the Wiimote, but given the series awesome pedigree, I'd rather leave Wii-specific controls out of the game entirely and include an option to use the much more comfortable Classic Controller.

The two biggest additions to the game are Super Guide Mode and the ability to play with four other people. Frankly, I don't know about the multiplayer. When playing with someone of similar skill on one of the earlier levels, I can see where competing and cooperating might be fun. But the second half of the game is hard, and having other players seems like it'd be a distraction. This is especially true if you're playing with someone who's skill at the game is lower than your own.

Speaking of the difficulty, the Super Guide is used whenever you die eight times consecutively in the same level. A green block will appear, and hitting it will cause the game to ask you if you'd like Luigi to show you how to do the level. After he does, you'll be given a choice to try it again on your own or to skip the level. I've heard some people complaining that it's a dumb idea, but I'd like to say I think it's great for a couple of reasons. For one, whether or not you use it is up to you. Two, it's not even available until you've died so many times on the same level that you might actually want to skip it, and three, the game is really hard. Of the five Mario games I've mentioned, NSMBW is far and away the hardest. I've cursed, I've thrown my Wiimote, and I used the Super Guide to beat not one, but four levels for me. And this is coming from someone who thinks Mega Man 2 is easy.

All-in-all, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is too much like it's DS sibling and too lacking in originality to be better than SMB3, Super Mario World, or New Super Mario Bros. That also means that, especially with a kick-ass game like Dragon Age Origins still fresh in my mind, it won't be winning any Game of the Year awards from me. But it's still a 2D Mario game, which makes it one of the best 2D platformers available and one of the best reasons to own a Wii.

Final Score: A-

1 comment:

mitchellangelo said...

Nice review Mike, I'm excited to get this game this Christmas, along with the other BAJILLION games on my agenda.