Startling fact: this is the first traditional Mario game to appear on a console since 1991’s Super Mario World. That’s a huge burden to bear, as this is the exact type of game that transformed Nintendo into the worldwide juggernaut it is today. With such a grand legacy to live up to, we expected New Super Mario Bros Wii to exemplify Nintendo’s creativity and unrivaled skill, but despite “New” being right there in the title, we honestly feel this is the least inspired entry to date.
Above: 47% new content!
The core game is precisely what you expect - guide Mario through eight themed worlds filled with spinning platforms, tricky jumps and power-ups aplenty. On paper, it sounds wonderful, as we’ve been dying for a 2D Mario entry for years. Unfortunately, the levels are extremely basic and lack the imagination of the NES/SNES classics. We thought the first two worlds were warming us up for some really crazy stuff later on, but even worlds five, six and seven feel more like lighthearted obstacle courses than true Mario levels. Yes, there a handful of powerfully tough areas we had to try over and over (and we’re quite happy with them), but the vast majority are too simple and too short on thrills.
Above: Some levels, like 8-5, are amazing. Most are not
Nintendo might have been aware of this, as New SMB Wii is loaded with shout-outs to both Mario 3 and Mario World, two games often held up as the pinnacle of platforming. Instead of designing memorable levels, it feels like Nintendo referenced memorable levels in an attempt to win us over with nostalgia.
Above: Hey look it’s those airships from Mario 3 (now pitifully easy)
Above: Remember that time Bowser was in that thing? Here’s another!
Above: Gates that flip Mario between layers? Where have we seen that before?
Above: The Koopalings are back... and all go down with minimal effort
We’re all for homages to our favorite games. Hell, that’s half the fun of Smash Bros and the primary reason we buy Nintendo products. But when a game expends more energy calling out great moments of the past instead of making its own, something’s wrong. It spends so much time looking back, you eventually realize just about everything found in the single player game has been done before (and better) by earlier Mario games, from level layout to boss battles to power-ups. New SMB Wii may still be competent and more fun than a large portion of Wii titles, but it pales next to its predecessors and does little to step out of their long shadow. And they’re all on Virtual Console for substantially less money.
It’s not just the so-so level design, either. Control, usually a 10/10 in any Mario adventure, is somewhat compromised by a motion-controlled spin jump. This is a game built around tight, precise jumps, and we ended up dying more than once because we jolted the controller a tad too hard, causing Mario to leap up into fire or spikes or fire spikes or whatever the hell else he’s surrounded by at the time. You also have to shake the controller to grab and throw enemies or trigger the new propeller suit’s flying ability, actions that would have been easily mapped to the Classic Controller or an old GameCube pad, saving us all a few unnecessary deaths.
Above: Wii-Waggle also controls these seesaw-like platforms
Then there are downright baffling quirks we can’t wrap our heads around. You can’t throw items (like turtle shells) straight up as you could in Mario World. You can’t store items and call them down mid-level as in both Mario World and New SMB DS (instead, you hoard items on the world map and use them pre-level as in Mario 3, a step back in our eyes). Mario himself seems to have increased inertia, slipping and sliding more often than usual. Yoshi, who was brought up as a “guess who’s back!” selling point, is barely in the game at all. If memory serves, we rode the green dino no more than two or three times through the entire game.
These are admittedly minor issues, but strangely out of place for a Nintendo-crafted holiday release. Odds are most of the nine million people who buy this won’t notice or care - we’re sure the longtime Mario fanatics will prove us right.
What about that four-player mode?
When New SMB Wii was first revealed (just five months ago, btw), the key bullet point was its up-to-four-players party atmosphere. You and three pals would take control of Mario, Luigi and two Toads, and run through the entire game together in a cooperative goofabout. Sounds like a great concept, but playing it was another story.
Above: Four players gets crowded pretty damn quick
This explains why the levels are so sparse – they’re making room for three other characters and need to have them in play for the full effect. Fair enough, we can review it with that in mind. We grabbed four remotes and four adept Mario players, and at best we thought it was “OK,” not uproarious or hilarious or any kind of rowdy descriptor. Each character occupies physical space, so you’re constantly bumping into each other, ruining jumps, falling into pits, losing your power-ups and so on. The disharmony created by all this unintentional shoving is immensely frustrating for people who grew up honing their skills on this exact style of game, not fun. Not even in a “whoa this is so chaotic and crazy!” way.
Above: Notice the pauses when you get hit or power up – annoying!
On the other hand, this is perfect for people who don’t have much invested in the series or games in general. Bumpy as it is, it’s still mildly fun to jump around and playfully toss friends into pits or knock them away from items, or conversely to team up and tackle some of the bosses. Multiplayer is local-only, and roughly the same regardless of which mode you play (story, free for all or coin battle). Your enjoyment will be inversely proportional to your hardcore love of Mario.
Interestingly enough, playing with two people may be the perfect balance. You still get the team dynamic of helping each other out, and get to avoid the incessant jostling of the two extra Toads. Played solely with Mario and Luigi, this is still the weakest of the 2D Mario games, but it’s notably better than going solo. If you’re dead set on playing New Mario Wii, definitely grab a friend – ONE friend.
It’s clear by now we’re not exactly smitten with New SMB Wii. But that doesn’t mean some of its finer points were lost on us. Take for example the music, which are mostly remixes of existing Mario tunes. Nothing special there, but if you watch enemies and parts of the background, they’ll actually dance in synch with the beat. Small touch, but it’s cute, and that helps ease the pain of trudging through yet another narrow, one-note level.
Above: Are we reaching?
Then there are the 120 Star Coins, which can be spent on various hint movies. Most are meant to help you, either by revealing secret exits or how to rack up extra lives, but some are there just to floor you with expert playing. Here’s a great one:
Above: Nintendo beating YouTube to the punch
Most of us fly through Mario games without a second thought. Others dabble for a few days, then move on. The elite few consider Mario “the” game to break down and destroy, birthing speedruns and unbelievable feats of platforming in the process. It’s cool to see Nintendo acknowledge the daredevil segment of its fanbase, even if the levels themselves are somewhat wanting.
Is it better than?
New Super Mario Bros? Not really. Both suffer from simplistic level design, but there was more boss variation on DS and the controls didn’t feel as jittery. We expect more from a console Mario game; New SMB Wii feels like an upgraded DS port, not a true new game.
Super Mario Galaxy? No way. Galaxy is almost the complete opposite, bursting with ingenious new ideas, amazing visuals and occasionally breathtaking level design. It’s possibly Wii’s best game. New SMB Wii falls way short of that goal.
Mario Party 8? Yes. We make the comparison because, well, the four player mode isn’t too far removed from a party atmosphere, and the same crowd may be drawn to both games. But platforming is always better than minigames.
Just for you, Metacritic!
Nintendo saved the industry with games like this, so we’re sad to say the latest lacks the imaginative spark found in past entries. Easily the weakest of the 2D Marios, but even the worst Mario is better than most other platformers.
Nov 13, 2009