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Much like the ‘new’ DS iteration, the core gameplay of this latest Mario Bros. jaunt is largely unchanged from its Goomba stomping, mushroom chomping, and pipe warping, 8 and 16-bit platforming origins. Still driven by entirely innocent narrative undertones of kidnapping and hallucinogenic drug addiction; Peach once again being abducted and held captive by a family of gigantic spiky-shelled turtles, with Mario journeying through the psychedelic locals of the mushroom kingdom in his quest to save her. Instead the ‘new’ here comes in the form of four player co-op and some subtle motion control implementation, layered atop this well worn but much loved formula.
A slight flick of the Wii remote spins Mario into a Galaxy inspired twirl, an ability providing vital extra aerial hang time, crucial for life saving hazard avoidance. Elsewhere new interactive environmental elements are controlled by tilting the Wii remote, which is held in a sideways fashion much like a NES controller: Some platforms can be see-sawed back and forth, or propelled along rails by the lean of your remote. A darkened cave level gives you control of a flashlight, aimed through the tilt of your remote to illuminate your path. It is clear that Nintendo has been careful not to introduce any overly obtrusive motion control that could have impeded progress; instead they have managed to blend these elements organically with classic Mario platforming, making them refreshing new additions to his toolset.
Some powerups are also motion controlled, with a remote shake activating the new helicopter suit, propelling Mario into the sky. This ability is somewhat unbalanced allowing you to easily breeze through any ground level obstacles. Alongside this a rather unflattering Penguin suit gives Mario the power to slide along water surfaces, but its most useful feature allows you to shoot ice balls and freeze enemies, an ability that has its own separate ice flower power up making Penguin Mario slightly redundant. Elsewhere the mini Mario shroom is woefully underused and there is nothing here as game changing as the super sized Mario of the DS iteration or as wonderfully inventive as the Cloud and Bee Mario’s of the Galaxy series.
The most significant and advertised change comes in the form of four player co-op which permeates the entire experience; players being able to drop in and out between any stage. Accommodations for the extra body count are evident in the width of platforms and in the relative simplicity of level designs. Nintendo have taken on a fine balancing act in attempting to design stages for the multi-purpose of both co-op and single player, and whilst they have reached a successful middle ground, they fail to strike high notes with either premise: Stages are to widely spread to present enough challenge to lone Mario Bros. veterans, yet when an extra 3 people are thrown into the fray they feel too thin, too cluttered for precision platforming.
This lack of precision ironically is where New Super Mario Bros Wii finds its greatest strength, through the sheer chaos of multiplayer: Bounce a friend into an abyss with a surprisingly elastic head stomp in selfish pursuit of a power-up, slide into a teammate and knock him from a ledge, fling a Koopa shell in the path of an unsuspecting Luigi, pick up a friend and throw him into a Piranha Plant. Who would have thought that such an innocent and child friendly piece of entertainment could present such an array of gleefully sinister betrayal options?
Once this madness of co-op backstabbing has calmed down, attempting to safely navigate four players through each stage can prove difficult. Remedying this Nintendo have included a feature by which a tap of the A button will bubble up any player into the foreground allowing them to float along safely whilst the most skilled player traverses difficult sections. A small design detail, but an utterly necessary one in ensuring that people of all skill levels can easily play with each other.
Continuing the permeance of multiplayer throughout every aspect of New Super Mario Bros Wii two additional modes are available further to the story. Coin battle pits players against each other throughout a selection of campaign and extra unlockable stages, with the simple task of collecting the most coins. Free play differs only in the sense that players compete for high scores and enemy kills. In addition to increasing the longevity of the experience these, stages actively encouraging competition, inducing even more experimental treachery.
As an introduction of co-operative multiplayer into a classic Nintendo formula then the game stands as great success, if a little messy, requiring far less of a redesign than Zelda: four swords did. But it is in some of the more established and standard aspects of Mario’s design that disappointment lurks.
Visually the Wii is clearly capable of more: You need only look at Donkey Kong Country Return’s semi cell shaded lush jungles, the beautiful quilted patchwork of Kirkby’s Epic Yarn or Mario Galaxy’s detailed and soft-polished spherical worlds as evidence. Everything is as colourful and quirky as you would expect from a Mario game, but there is a distinct lack of flamboyance with the aesthetic approach taken here. Granted this may be a deliberate design decision to reduce clutter when four players are present, but the descriptors plain and safe come to mind.
Boss designs (with the exception of the final encounter) are disappointingly uninventive too, all being a twist on a single archetype, with an all too easily achieved 3 hits required to defeat each. And there is a horrible tendency to increase the difficulty of some stages by dropping enemies from above leaving no time to avoid them and causing many frustratingly unfair deaths. Adding to these annoyances a game over screen returns the player to either the start of the world, or the last boss battle. A rather archaic and disheartening design choice.
Still there are plentiful Toad-houses spread throughout each overworld map containing fun mini game interjections that present opportunities to earn extra lives and power-ups. And the appearance of a super guide for anyone struggling with progression does help to alleviate frustrations.
Where this iteration finds its greatest success then is in the cataclysmic chaos of its co-op, sacrificing precision platforming for a chaotic mess of hilarious betrayals. Yet its core platforming design remains staunchly adherent to the classic Mario Bros formula, retaining the feel of the original 8 – bit Super Mario Bros. As such it stands as a testament to the strength of the simplicity of that design that it remains enjoyably compelling to this day. Yet the tweaks applied here feel too conservative, especially in light of Nintendo’s other recent more creative returns to its classic 2D platformers, and most starkly in comparison to the sheer saturated imagination of Mario’s spherical, gravity contorting galactic adventures.