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.