The tribute and tribulation of New Super Mario Bros Wii.
A rotund, European blue-collar worker with both an obscenely low center of gravity and yet a shockingly high vertical leap teams with his lanky brother. Both are twins so therefore must dress identically in fashion but different in colour. Both have a strong resemblance to Ron Jeremy. They exist in a land paved and constructed almost entirely of bricks and sewage piping is used as transportation. These European plumbers must leap on top of unassuming turtles and teeth-boasting plants while seeking power from mushrooms and flowers with presumed hallucinogenic properties. Their goal is to rescue a teeny-bopper princess from a giant, fire-breathing turtle king.
Find someone you know who doesn’t follow video games at all, preferably a movie buff. Tell them that the above synopsis describes the Citizen Kane of video games. I know, the Mario games are a bit…imaginative, but the wacky sense of drug-induced creativity has always been part of the fun. Most key Mario platformers have a demented sense of personality, flavour, identity, IT, whatever. Something that makes it a unique and beautiful snowflake in the pile of slush that is the video game industry. It’s a certain intangible, an immeasurable combination of solid jump-driven gameplay, apeshit creativity, nostalgia and zen-like harmony that New Super Mario Bros Wii is trying too hard to obtain.
New Super Mario Bros Wii (a tongue-twister if there ever was one) is trying its sweet little heart out to be a Mario game. It’s like your daughter, sneaking into mother’s drawers and wearing dresses and high heels too big for her little soles; it only looks cute until she finds the cigarettes in her purse and imitates smoking. In this game, the Princess gets kidnapped yet again (by virtue of Baby Bowser and a cake being a lie, go figure) and Mario will have to traverse a series of stages, castles and ghost houses to unkidnap her.
The core mechanics of a Mario game are intact; you run, jump, smash blocks with your head, smash enemies with your feet or rectum, you collect stars and mushrooms to power up and you traverse pipes to collect coins. If you’ve played New Super Mario Bros on the DS, you’ll find a very similar game here. There are 8 worlds, including the obligatory ice world, water world, desert world and lava world. Many of the obstacles facing the player are throwbacks to other Mario games, namely Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.
Which, in turn, is part of the problem with New Super Mario Bros Wii. It relies almost entirely on nostalgia, which feels redundant since just about every Mario game before it played a nostalgic fiddle. (Well, almost every Nintendo game does too, but that’s another discussion for another day.) The difference is that past games, and in particular the outstanding Mario Galaxy, merely use those throwbacks as either pleasant surprises or conventions for which many new and exciting ideas can be built upon. Those games have identity. New Super Mario Bros Wii merely tosses one old Mario-ism after another in some kind of strange platforming mixtape; one level will pit you against the spiked ball-throwing lizards from Mario 3, the next will be built around Yoshi eating the red berries from Super Mario World. Even the Koopa Kids drop out of community college to make their return to gaming as each world’s easy end-boss. The game feels like a fan-made Flash version of a Mario game, but with an out-of-place soundtrack that belongs more in a fabric softener commercial.
Oh, there is waggle in there, too. That waggle jumping mechanic that was a minor nuisance in Mario Galaxy is swarm-of-mosquitoes-annoying in New Super Mario Bros Wii. You’ll have to waggle to pick up some items, tilt the remote to manipulate platforms and shake it to fly using the new propeller-pajamas powerup. The motion controls in the game are about 65% responsive (which I guess is better than most Wii games. Better in my mind than freaking Zelda) and they’re not a deal-breaker, I just would rather be able to play the game lying on my arms than sitting upright.
Now, keep in mind that the game is completely devoid of merit. The platform jumping sequences are appropriately hefty. There are plenty of obstacles to test the spring in your step. The levels scale in difficulty at a suitable pace, starting out as inviting but becoming true tests of one’s leaping prowess. And the game is, if anything, more lengthy and beefy than most platformers. It should take about 5 hours for a seasoned platform leaper to hop, skip and jump through all of the game’s stages, so at least the $60 price tag is halfway justified. And just like the DS New Super Mario Bros, the stage-based nature of the game makes it ideal to pop in and play at any given moment in time. We’ve all had those moments before, where we want to play a video game but just don’t know which one, and most of the games in your collection require hearty multi-hour sessions. In that regard, New Super Mario Bros Wii has them beat.
There is also a multiplayer component. Up to four players can control Mario, Luigi and two coloured Toads (because presumably, Wario or any character that could be considered more interesting than a blue and yellow toad were out vacationing in better games.) It’s the LittleBigPlanet kind of multiplayer where all the players run through the stages in tandem. The theory behind this mode is that players can either 1: co-operate to reach the end of a stage and collect the rare coins, or 2: sabotage each other like jerks. The answer will almost always be either 2, or 2 by accident. Characters on screen will bounce off each other like you expect fat people in Looney Tunes cartoons to bounce off each other, and the stages feel designed for the specific purpose of having multiple on-screen casualties. So you’re stress level will reach unwelcoming levels if you treat the multiplayer component as a serious mission like the Modern Warfare 2 Spec-Ops mode, or if you’re a firm believer in the power of teamwork. Rather, I think that there is potential fun to be had if you bring out the multiplayer mode in New Super Mario Bros when your friends are drunk. Hell, you can even turn it into a drinking game where shots are to be had when someone loses a life. I can’t, however guarantee that there won’t be fatalities as a result.
New Super Mario Bros Wii is a safe purchase for platforming fans to be sure. You’ll get a decent amount of content, your wits will be challenged, and you’ll get to hear Mario’s pudgy voice chant “Lets A Go” enough to fill your heart with nostalgic joy as you’re reminded of better games. But most major Mario platformers and even recent games like Trine have New Super Mario Bros’ number. I feel no obligation to collect all the star coins and unlock the hidden levels, and I would sooner unleash Mario Party 8 or Tiger Woods at a social gathering than the four player mode here. (No, really, Tiger Woods on the Wii has alarmingly wide appeal as a multiplayer game, and not just for all the infidelity jokes that it will now inspire.) So think of this as a trepid recommendation; buy it if you crave a new platformer, but don’t make it a priority on your to-play list.
3 ½ stars.