New Super Mario Bros. Wii

One level takes place on a raft floating through a dark, water-filled cavern. All the point-scoring items are on rocky platforms overhead, forcing players to make risky jumps into the gloom, where enemies lurk and death is a mistimed jump away.

The unusual feature here is the raft’s searchlight, which cycles between each character in turn, illuminating them for a moment and leaving everyone else in darkness. Fireball-chucking cousins of the Hammer Bros. also cast a little light on the situation, making it such a dangerous level that we were obliged to set aside competitive urges and concentrate on making it out of the tunnel alive. Hopefully there’ll be more levels like this in the full game, as a counterpoint to the non-stop backstabbing that comprises the rest of the demo.

The demo left us with many unanswered questions, such as how will the game be structured? Is it essentially a series of battles that take place in Mario levels or is it actually a proper Mario game? We’d certainly like to see a mode where you don’t spend quite so much time robbing or getting robbed by other players. Versus play is great and it really works in this game, but we’d quite like the chance to explore and attempt the kind of death-defying precision jumps that define Mario platformers without having some cheeky sod use us as a stepping stone at the apex of our flight. Maybe that’s what the solo mode is for, but as we mentioned already, the levels aren’t entirely designed for lone players.

The only other issue we have with the game is the control system, which uses the remote’s D-pad and two buttons. Although that’s enough to take care of all of Mario’s basic moves, this game has a lot more in it than NSMB on DS. There’s a spinning attack, for instance, that you have to activate by shaking the remote – the harder you shake, the longer the spin lasts. That’s not really the most convenient way of doing things, and we didn’t bother with the spin move all that much as a result. With any luck there might be a GameCube or Classic Controller option.

Finally, how substantial is the game going to be? It does feel at times like it ought to be a multiplayer bonus mode from a bigger Mario title rather than a standalone game. It needs a healthy selection of modes and a ton of levels if it’s going to make a serious impression in its current form. But these are early days, and maybe we’re just miffed because we kept losing. Damn you, Luigi!

Jul 21, 2009