I can't remember when I laughed like this at something in a game last. An ignited Bob-omb lands in front of me (Mario) and I instinctively toss it to the side. It lands in front of my friend (Toad) who does that same. Like something out of a Laurel and Hardy film we kept throwing it back and forth until one of us got blown up and our progress was halted.
This time you can bring along three friends to Mushroom Kingdom, and there are eight worlds filled with platforms, pipes, blocks, Koopas, Goombas, and air ships. Most of the time it's very forgiving, and optimised for party play, and if you happen to die you are quickly returned in a bubble that one of your friends has to burst in order for you to continue playing. Apart from the multiplayer there isn't much that has changed since Super Mario Bros. 3. You choose a level on a map, put Bowser's kids in place, and visit worlds made out of lava, ice and water. Just the way it should be it.
The experience in multiplayer is largely dependant on your friends. If your friends likes to mess with each other, you will send shells their way, knick mushrooms in front of those who need them, and the favourite, picking someone up and hurling them into an abyss. More coordinated groups will plan, communicate and hopefully advance through the increasingly difficult levels.
Most of the time the objective is to just make it through the level, but sometimes there are simple co-operative puzzle like a seesaw or walking out through different doors. No matter how you choose to play there is always a lot going on, and Super Mario Bros. Wii is a very intense experience.
This chaos is both something positive and something negative. The fact that the screen is frozen when someone collects a power-up makes other players loose focus when attempting a precision jump. And that's just stupid. Multiplayer also leads to problems with overpopulated platforms, stragglers, and regular realisations that you've been controlling the wrong character for the last thirty seconds.
When four players take on the levels at the same time things happen in literally every corner of the screen. The camera does a good job of zooming in and out, but in some vertical levels a player may be left behind and forced to make a leap of faith to make it up. Make sure your co-players are nice enough to wait for you. Fundamentally the multiplayer is a casual experience.
This is why it is even more encouraging that so much effort has been put into singleplayer. It even rivals some of Mario's best 2D adventures. Airships and cannon balls cover the screens, haunted houses where finding the exit is a challenge, and not to mention an epic final encounter with Bowser. The level design is varied and I'm thankful Nintendo didn't settle on making a simple party game.
There are plenty of great platform designs, both variations of old ones and brand new ideas. I was escpecially impressed by a level in the fifth world, inspired by the rain forest, where Mario and his friends must make their way over a deadly purple liquid on a barge. There is a number above the barge that counts the number of players and enemies on it. If you play alone it stops when it reaches five, and Koopas, Goombas and hordes of tiny Baby Goombas fall onto the barge. Your job is to get rid of them in order to survive and progress. Brilliant.
Apart from reaching the flagpoles there are also little challenges spread out in the game and these will keep you on your toes. Certain levels have hidden Toads for you to rescue and carry to the goal. If you jump through a red hoop there are red coins you need to collect within the allotted time.
There are houses in the maps where you get to play a variation of memory, or shoot yourself out of cannons for extra lives. And don't forget to collect enough of the big gold coins in order to unlock a collection of challenging levels at the end of the game akin to Special World in Super Mario World. Pure platforming bliss and something no gamer would want to miss out on.
Classic power-ups make their return and you will also be able to master the ice levels with the penguin suit or take to the skies with the propeller suit. The propeller suit will give you a boost upwards as you shake the Wiimote. The most charming dinosaur ever, Yoshi, makes a beloved return, but can only be found in a handful of levels unfortunately. Let's hope he is saving his strength for a proper comeback in Super Mario Galaxy 2.
The visuals are charming from start to finish, but I can't shake the feeling of how lovely it would have looked in HD resolution. The Wii is wrestling with the constraints and when the camera zooms in and out the result is rather blurry characters.
With that out the way let's focus on the wonderful design. Everything from fire to ice levels puts a silly smile on my face, and if you have grown up loving this you are bound to feel right at home. To play New Super Mario Bros. Wii is to play something that is both modern and classic at the same time. Timeless.
The controls are precise enough to live up to the high standards we expect from a Mario game (extremely high standards). You hold the Wiimote horisontally and even though the d-pad and 1 and 2 buttons are a bit small, there is nothing that prevents you from doing exactly want you want to in terms of jumping throwing shells or picking up other players. I do miss the option of playing with the Gamecube controller or the Classic Controller, and even if the reason for this has to do with motion controlled actions (such as the propeller suit, or regular spin attack) it should have been possible to assign it to a button. If you don't already own four Wiimotes you might have to make that investment.
A new feature, not just for Mario titles but that will also be in future Wii games, is something called Super Guide. If you have squandered eight lives in a particularly tricky level a block appears at the start of it and jumping on it will make the game play itself for a while. You will be treated to a perfect playthrough of the level and you can stop it at any time. It's something of a speed run and it does not reveal secrets or hidden coins. Super Guide is a nice idea and as you take on the later levels you realise it's not just for kids or clumsy parents...
At times New Super Mario Bros. Wii approaches the brilliance of Super Mario Galaxy. It's a game that reminds us that platform games are still relevant. It feeds on my most primal gaming instincts. I hold down the jump button, jump head first into every coin and question mark I can find. The clouds are fluffy, and the tunes are gay. I aim for the flagpole and this time I can have all my friends along for the ride!
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