New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a project packed with contradictions. It’s a 3D title, but one that restricts itself to a 2D frame of movement. It’s a brand new product, and yet it’s essentially the same old game we’ve been playing for years. It’s inherently familiar, and yet it supports up to four players at once – a feature that’s never been seen before in a core Mario platformer.
In light of these conflicting elements, it is perhaps understandable if some people are feeling a bit confused about NSMBW. It’s initially hard to say whether we should celebrate the appearance of a new 2D Mario, or whether we should lament the fact that Nintendo has chosen to make this ahead of something else – like a new Starfox game, perhaps, or a wholly original project. The game was certainly met with mixed reaction within the VideoGamer.com camp during Ninty’s E3 press conference, although the appearance of Team Ninja’s Metroid game and Mario Galaxy 2 went some way towards cheering up the nay-sayers.
Personally, I was quite stoked about the prospect of a new 2D (well, 2.5D) Mario. This is the series that defined an entire genre, after all. Having gone hands-on with the game, I can happily report that I very much enjoyed what I played; on the other hand, I doubt that many of the game’s critics will change their minds after playing the game for themselves. Why? Because it’s exactly what it looks like – an old school Mario game for up to four players. And while the multiplayer element does bring a surprisingly large amount of spice and difference to the table, the core gameplay is exactly the same as it’s always been (I still find it hard to fathom how people can regard this as a bad thing, but never mind that for now).
As you might expect, Mario Brothers Wii is fundamentally old-school in its approach to controls, using even fewer buttons than Super Mario World on the SNES. You hold the Wiimote sideways, using the d-pad to move and 1 and 2 for your classic run/grab and jump commands. Shaking the controller results in a spin-jump move, and you can also perform the butt stomp that’s been part of Mario’s repertoire since his N64 days. There are power ups to grab, suits to wear and in-level toys to use, but the basic goal remains the same: bounce your way across platforms and past Bowser’s goons until you reach the end of the stage – here represented by a large flagpole, in the style of the original Super Mario Bros.
The key difference from the norm is that Mario can now be joined on screen by Luigi and two Toad characters, blue and yellow (I wouldn’t be surprised if there will be more as unlockables). With four players taking part it’s almost impossible to fail a level, since each character has their own stock of lives. If you should slip down a chasm or get hit by a stray Koopa, you’ll swiftly re-appear on screen in a Yoshi’s Island style bubble; as soon as someone pops this for you, you’ll drop straight back into the action. Speaking of Yoshi, the iconic dinosaur is once again available to ride – in fact it’s quite possible for all four players to have their own mount at once. As a general rule, every time you find a power-up in a block there will be one prize per player – although this doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone will manage to get one. You may not need that second or third mushroom, but if you nab it before your mate does, you’ll get a nice little boost to your score.
Indeed, this healthy sense of competition seems to be a core ingredient of Mario Brothers Wii. Nintendo tried to convey this during its E3 press conference revelation, but to be honest it’s something that’s far easier to understand once you’ve played the game for yourself. The basic idea is that each player is competing to bag the top score for the level, but in practice the game’s rivalry has less to do with this and more to do with the sheer pleasure of messing around as you play. Previous 2D Marios have had a certain grace and precision to their action, but here that poise is largely obscured by the sheer chaos of having four characters on screen at once. Mario, Luigi and the Toads can all stand on each other’s heads, and in a nod to Mario 2 they’re also capable of picking each other up. You might work together to help one player reach a high-up platform, or you might go nuts trying to murder each other over a Mario coin – giant collectible worth a stack of points.