Thursday, January 7, 2010

Game Review: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

new-super-mario-bros-wii-box-art-419x590 What is it about two-dimensional Mario games that inspires me to buy game systems? When the original New Super Mario Bros. came out in 2006 and then the DS Lite came out after and fixed all of the original DS’s problems, I was all over that. Likewise, the potent combination of a $50 price cut and a new side-scrolling Mario game was what it took for me to cave and nestle a Wii underneath my TV between the Xbox 360 and the Playstation 2.

Maybe it’s a natural response, coded into me since childhood – new Nintendo systems come with new Mario games. The Nintendo Entertainment System came with Super Mario Bros., the Super Nintendo included Super Mario World, and the Christmas I got my Nintendo 64 my parents actually made the mistake of letting me open Super Mario 64 before I opened the system itself. The Mario game now usually follows the console by months or years, but by buying them only when the iconic plumber has made an appearance I can occasionally pretend that it was never any other way.

Speaking of reliving my childhood, New Super Mario Bros. made me feel like I was ten. Mostly because I would get distracted at work and at the grocery store and while writing for this stupid blog because I wanted to go home and play Mario so much. Like the morning my mom showed me the Super Nintendo hooked up in front of the TV, and then sent me to school for the most excruciating eight hours of my second-grade life.

Enough personal anecdotes. You wanted to know about this game or something?

The good news is that, in single-player mode, this game often recalls the best of past Mario games, while adding enough of its own flavor to the Mario-blend of herbs and spices that it doesn’t come off as a complete rip-off.

Don’t get me wrong, though, I would never use the word unique to describe NSMB Wii. It’s New Super Mario Bros. with more vibrancy and life to it, and while it’s easy to forget that you’re basically playing Mario 3 again… you’re basically playing Mario 3 again. You don’t need my review to tell you whether you’re interested in this game, whatever I think about it.

I do think it’s pretty rad, though. Stuff is hidden everywhere, the new Propeller and Penguin suits are awesome and adorable (respectively), and it’s one of the more natural uses of the Wii remote that I’ve experienced, with only occasional waggle and tilting needed to interface with the game. Level design is, likewise, memorable, and while just playing to beat the game isn’t going to be overly challenging for a seasoned gamer (I got 99 lives, the maximum number, toward the end of World 4 and didn’t dip back under 90 the rest of the time), getting all of the hidden Star Coins is reasonably challenging.

Speaking of challenging, it is also worth noting that this is the first released game to make use of Nintendo’s “easy button,” or Super Guide mode – for those not hip to the lingo, the Super Guide will take over from younger or less experienced players who can’t make it through a level. In this case, Luigi comes in and shows you how to make it from where you are to the end of the level.

Some have lamented that this feature is ruining video games forever for everyone, but they’re mostly big whiny babies. Nintendo is wisely using a feather touch here – you’ll only even see the Guide if you die a whopping eight times in a single level, meaning that the kind of gamers who are going to complain about this probably won’t even know about it unless they read the manual.

Luigi gets to the end of the level in a workmanlike, easy-to-duplicate way, not revealing any Star Coins or hidden exits along the way. Players can take over from Luigi anytime, and are also prompted to play the level themselves once Luigi gets to the end. Far from ruining games for the longtime gamer, this mode will actually encourage people who would otherwise never beat a Mario game to, well, beat a Mario game. It’s a great idea, and fantastically implemented.

And now, we come to the multiplayer, one of the most divisive aspects of the game. I’m not going to debate the question of the (non-existent) online play here. Suffice it to say that, with even one more player added, New Super Mario Bros. Wii becomes a completely different game, one that I’m not sure I like as much.

While single-player Mario is all about precision jumping and acrobatics, multiplayer Mario is a fight to survive at the best of times. The occasional peaks of fun, for me, were marred by the valleys of frustration – frustration with the people who ran ahead or couldn’t keep up (the screen shoves you as it moves, killing you all too often), with the people who landed on my head while I was trying to make a tricky jump, with the people who shoved me or were shoved by me off a too-tiny platform.

For people with similar levels of proficiency at Mario, or perhaps for a group of friends who (perhaps intoxicated) enjoy good-natured but hardly sporting competition, I can see how this would be a great party game. Just don’t come to the multiplayer mode of NSMB Wii expecting to play a Mario game.

To summarize, this game walks a line between exciting and familiar that manages to work almost all of the time. New Super Mario Bros. feels like a friend you haven’t seen in awhile, one who has changed in subtle ways, but someone with whom you can pick up your friendship as though not a day had gone by.