Wednesday, January 6, 2010

What's Old is New Yet Again

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (NSMBW) is a prime example of what is wrong and what is right with the console. On the one hand, there's nothing terribly new about this game. Yet, I have a feeling that people will eat this game up -- and they should -- whether fueled by nostalgia or the fact that casual gamers can pick this one up and play right off the bat. There's nothing wrong with this, but it may encourage Nintendo to sit on their laurels a bit and keep pumping out retreads of a brand and game format that peaked roughly 20 years ago. As much as I'd likely play NSMBW4, I still think innovation is necessary in the gaming world. Even if all I mostly play are platformers and sports games.

The game is simple, familiar, yet challenging. I made my way through it with my girlfriend in roughly a week, using a grand total of 32 continues on the Mario character, and perhaps 10 or 15 spread out across Luigi and the two Toads. (The continues with the other characters denote that we were playing two characters at the same time.) There were some genuinely frustrating moments over the course of the 8 worlds, but nothing that made me throw my controller through the television.

NSMBW takes most of its cues from Super Mario Bros. 3: the layout of the maps, the themed worlds (desert, ice, etc.), mushroom houses with power-ups, and an inventory of items. Super Mario World from SNES is scattered throughout the game as well, with ghost houses, Yoshi, and probably some other stuff I'm forgetting.

As far as enemies are concerned, there aren't a whole lot of new foes to defeat. However, there are new ways to defeat them thanks to some new power-ups, including the Propeller and Penguin suits, and the Ice Flower. None of them are particularly mind-blowing considering the dearth of power-ups from past Mario games, but they do keep the game just fresh enough.

The levels themselves are standard Mario fare, but again some new innovations keep things interesting. For example, some underground or underwater levels are completely dark save for the the light of some enemies (or your fireballs, if you're lucky enough to be Fire Mario). Other levels are navigated by platforms that slant or slide based on how you waggle the Wiimote. The castles at the end of each world -- where you fight one of Bowser's kids (who would procreate with that asshole, anyway?) -- mostly resemble the castles from Super Mario World. These present quite the challenge, but not nearly as much as the final, epic battle with King Koopa himself. Okay, it's not so much a battle as it is an escape, but it has to be seen to be believed.

Despite the fact that NSMBW might be one of the best 2D Mario games ever, I do have some complaints. The multi-player aspect of the game becomes more annoying with more than two characters on-screen. (With only two, it can actually be strategically advantageous, i.e. the game continues when one person dies with no interruption.) You spend more time waiting for other players or screwing around instead of stomping goombas and progressing through the level.

The other problem -- and it is only slight -- is that the game feels short. SMB3's worlds each seemed to have 8 or more boards to play not counting the fortresses and airships. NSMBW tops out at 5 or 6 boards. As challenging as some levels were, I was left wanting more.

Of course, the game does give you more. Upon completion, a ninth world appears... but the only way to get to each board is to find all the star coins in each corresponding world (everything in World 1 for 9-1, etc.) This enhances the replay value, though it's kind of a pain in the ass at the same time. Like I said, it's only a slight problem.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is nearly perfect. Nintendo took everything that was right about SMB3 and Super Mario World and crammed it into this game, plus added some more to keep things, well, new. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend this game to someone who loves old-school, platform-based games.

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