Smashing things with your butt once again.
If you’re as old as I am, chances are one of your fondest gaming memories is probably receiving a brand-spanking new top-of-line, high-tech 8-bit NES one Christmas morning long, long ago (I know, I’m dating myself here). And back in the old days of walking uphill both ways, in the snow, naked and being chased by rabid dogs, bubblegum was a nickel and consoles actually came with games, but back then we called them “cartridges”. The NES pre-packed experience was something involving the relentless murder of ducks and a little game known as Super Mario Bros. It is my theory that every Mario game since then has been a thinly veiled attempt to recapture the essence of that overwhelming thrill and excitement.
[image1]They’ve actually succeeded a couple times too: Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World come to mind as the two best examples I can think of with New Super Mario Bros. for the DS a close third. The new New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the latest in an innumerable list of plumber-philic-centric titles that claims to be the heir to the grand throne of the modern classic. And while there is definitely some royal blood pumping through its veins, I cannot call this one worthy of kingship. Maybe an Archbishop or Duke at the very best (no slight to those out there who may be named Duke and may or may not sign my paychecks).
It’s not that this is a stupendously bad game or anything like that. It’s just not the best one I’ve ever played, and I work under the impression that unlike Michael Bay movies, games should improve over their older counterparts. While there are some interesting aspects added to the classic platformer formula, some of them almost seem to cheapen or take away from the experience.
Visually, it is a very polished and enticing experience. Colors are vivid and lines are smooth. The art style is always fantastic in a Mario game, though, so none of this should come as a surprise to anyone. As usual, you’ll play through ice worlds, desert worlds, and water worlds (sans Kevin Costner) on your quest to save the princess who always seems to be in another castle.
[image2]Only this time up to three of your friends can you join you on the adventure, which sounds like a great concept when you say it out loud. Kinda the same way "world peace" sounds great in concept, but the fact of the matter is people are going to disagree and one man’s heaven is another man’s hell. The multiplayer in the story mode ends up resembling a Morse family Thanksgiving. Everyone’s belligerent, yelling, falling off of things, and not cooperating at all. The fact of the matter is that four people is three too many for the fast pacing of a platformer.
The two multiplayer-focused modes, Free-For-All and Coin Battle, fair better in groups, as they’re made to be cutthroat competitive and provide single-level bursts of entertainment, which makes it easier to walk away from when someone’s pride starts to get hurt. At the same time, there also seems to be fairly little difference between the two modes save for some placement of coins here and there. A little more variety would’ve been nice, especially since four people on screen at one time is one of the major features touted for New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
Not to say that everything new is bad. I enjoy the fact that not only is there now a Penguin suit in the Mario-verse, but it’s the most useful item in the game. It can hurl the newly added ice balls that freeze enemies just like the new ice flower upgrade, plus it also makes it easier to run on frozen surfaces and control swimming, and you can slide on your belly. And really, penguins are just about the most awesome creatures to ever exist, so it lends some street cred to the title, but it does make the ice flower a bit redundant.
The other new suit for this adventure is something I’ve dubbed the “short bus kid in a helmet” costume. Essentially, it’s just a helmet with a propeller that lets you fly a little higher. Very much a standard for the series, but it doesn’t come in as handy as the Penguin suit in most cases.
[image3]Level design is clever, sometimes too much so, almost becoming a Rubik’s Cube as opposed to a run-and-jump in some places. There are still plenty of fun levels, but those tend to be of a more traditional design. Still, Giant Wigglers that you bounce off of to keep yourself form falling into toxic ooze, platforms that won’t move if there are too many enemies on them, and blasts of wind over sand dunes that can propel you into enemies all add variety and depth to the core gameplay. It just seems overshadowed by the "cussing your mouth off because you’re trying to play through the same level for the tenth time with success nowhere on the horizon" moment that you’ll face.
The best moments come from the old-school elements of the game, such as playing the "match the cards" mini-game, fighting the koopa kids, or hopping on the back of a Yoshi and having it eat some goombas. Honestly, it’s all the stuff from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World that kick the most ass. There have been tweaks and innovation since then that have become standard, but these seem to be the most “likeable”.
Maybe it’s just me and I’m getting old, cranky and out of touch with what’s new and hip, but really it seems like the less they do to change this chubby Italian, the better. The New Super Mario Bros. Wii is not horrible, unplayable, or anything ridiculous. It’s just not as much fun as you had playing with older versions of the stubby mustached plumber.