New Super Mario Bros. Wii Review
You probably haven't seen Borderlands and New Super Mario Bros Wii mentioned together in the same article very often, if at all. But, until their respective releases, the two occupied the very same apprehension-driven space in my mind. You see, despite offering wildly different interactive experiences, appealing to equally varied audiences, I couldn't get past the back-of-the-box feature they both proudly boasted: “4-Player Co-op!” I'd looked forward to both titles, and found them appealing for different reasons, but my phobia of multi-player—competitive and cooperative—kept my enthusiasm at arm's length. Was one of my all-time favorite franchises, one that my young teen self played—solo!— for hours on end, to be sullied by the industry's latest trend? Did one of gaming's most revered series really need to jump on this particular bandwagon?
Thankfully, as Borderlands taught me after just a few minutes engrossed in its addicting cel-shaded world, just because a title's pre-release buzz is dominated by a single feature or selling point, it doesn't necessarily define the entire experience. 4-player co-op be damned—New Super Mario Bros Wii is also a fantastic single-player platformer that stays true to, yet evolves Mario's Mushroom Kingdom adventures. Whether you enjoyed the original princess-rescuing romp on the NES, or just discovered this timeless franchise with the more recent New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, NSMBW is a not-to-be-missed new entry for all fans of the portly plumber. And, if playing alongside friends happens to be your turtle shell full of tea, even better.
Now before you recharge those Wii Remote batteries, understand Mario's latest is not a sequel to Super Mario Bros Galaxy; while a true 3D follow-up is in the works, this one's more of a throwback to the series' 2D side-scrolling roots. In fact, it looks and plays a lot like the aforementioned 2006 DS entry. Aside from the co-op feature, NSMBW doesn't do anything wildly different. You'll collect coins, crush Koopas, bash bricks, and battle Bowser like you've done in countless previous Mario platformers. That said, the formula remains as addictive as ever, and a few fresh tricks tucked into Mario's plumber's tool belt make this stroll through the Mushroom Kingdom as engrossing as it was back in 1985.
Visually, NSMBW sees the series at the top of its game. To be fair, it uses a mix of 2D and 3D tech to bring its colorful characters and detailed environments to life. The result is a pop-off-the-screen pleasure that somehow manages to be more engaging than many of its full-on three dimensional competitors. Complementing the visual splendor is a similarly immersive audio score filled with plucky sound effects and music that mixes classic tunes with new twists. By now, though, we sort of expect our Mario games to look and sound great; it's the evolution of the classic gameplay formula we sometimes worry about. Thankfully, NSMBW doesn't disappoint, as it brings back plenty of old favorite power-ups and abilities—including the DS version's Mario-shrinking Mini Mushroom—while adding some instant classics to the mix.
The Propeller Suit helps you achieve air with a quick twirl of the WiiRemote, while the Ice Flower—a variation on the classic fire ball-granting flora—allows you to put the freeze on Bowser's army. Most notable, though, is the Penguin Suit, which affords better control on slippery surfaces and in water, while making the characters look admittedly adorable. As with the previous titles in the franchise, NSMBW benefits most from inspired level design, inventive enemies, and fantastic pacing, all key ingredients that are often taken for granted, but, in more subtle ways, lend far more than any enemy-crushing power-up to this series' enduring success.
NSMBW also packs quite a challenge, more so than most of Mario's previous 2D outings. Longtime fans will definitely appreciate this, but newcomers won't be left out, either, as a new Super Guide handily helps those struggling through the harder levels. Upon multiple fails, the guide gives you access to information that'll make your next attempt a breeze. This innovative feature gives those who are having trouble some much needed help without dumbing down the challenge for more seasoned Mushroom Kingdom travelers. It's a neat little addition I hope to see other games, on all consoles, adopt.
Of course, most casual players can also navigate the clouds, green pipes, and brick-based platforms with friends in the new co-op mode. Despite my curmudgeonly declarations of not being a huge fan of this feature, I surprisingly had a good time with it. It's certainly not my preferred way to play a Mario game, and I'm not even convinced it's a logical alternative to completing the entire campaign by yourself, as it can get awfully chaotic. But it does offer some frenzied fun in small chunks, as cooperation can turn to competition at any moment; you and your buddies will no doubt find yourselves fighting for coins, collectibles, and power-ups, and you can also toss each other around and even enlist Yoshi to swallow each other up. My biggest concern was that the co-op would rob something from the solo experience, but that's absolutely not the case. Regardless of how you feel about this party play-encouraging feature, you're still getting an amazing, full-featured solo game that'll warp you right back to the days of chunky gray cartridges and wired controllers.
NSMBW gets a lot right, nailing the classic vibe while also evolving the series in some interesting ways, but a few flaws keep it from achieving the the sort of classic status enjoyed by Super Mario World and Super Mario Galaxy. For one, despite some new ideas, it's still very similar to previous entries, especially the the DS's New Super Mario Bros.. As longtime fans will attest, this is by no means a bad thing, but it'll also keep it from garnering any game-of-the-year awards. Additionally, its most buzzed-about new feature, the co-op, stumbles a bit in two key areas. I know it's said all too often about Wii titles, but "Where is the online multi-player?!" I can't think of a Wii game that'd benefit more from this addition. Furthermore, if you're going to give us four playable characters, do two of them really have to be Toads? How about Princess Peach—or even one of her generic princess pals, since she's off being kidnapped—in the 3- or 4-player slot? Still, none of these faults make NSMBW anything less than an easy recommendation for fans of the classic franchise, and even Bowser-thwarting rookies wondering what all the fuss is about.