Nintendo fans, old and new, can all unite behind this fantastic entry in the Mario series.
New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS was a huge success for Nintendo. On the surface, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is much like its predecessor: a 2D Mario game that plays out like a "best hits" album. But the familiar veneer belies a far more robust and innovative design. In every important way, NSMB Wii is a brand new Mario game well worth your time.
That's not to say it reinvents the series—far from it. The classic Mario mechanics are back, from running and jumping to fire flowers and Yoshi. Mario and his friends are notably sticky, allowing for heroic aerobatics with rotating platforms and wall jumps. The nostalgia factor is in full force as well. Long-time fans will shout out with glee as they encounter almost-forgotten baddies and subtle head-nods to prior games in the level designs and soundtrack (Remember Fire Chomp?).
But NSMB Wii is Nintendo EAD's first 2D Mario console game since Yoshi's Island for the Super Nintendo, and its efforts to harness the technology are readily apparent. Most obviously, NSMB Wii features four-player co-op and can handle far more on-screen action than the SNES ever could. But much like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures on GameCube, NSMB Wii uses the extra horsepower in clever ways that directly affect gameplay. For example, one extremely dark level leverages dynamic lighting, enticing players to discover their surroundings using Mario and enemies' fireballs. In another, players can freeze underwater baddies (using the ice flower) so that they float upward in blocks of ice.
Most importantly, NSMB Wii sticks to the fundamental rule of all good Mario games: focused level design. As I explained in my review of Super Mario Bros 3 for Game Boy Advance over half a decade ago, the NES classic remains distinctive to this day because almost every level presents a unique challenge or twist. Whether large or small, this nugget of personality makes each level memorable and worth revisiting. NSMB Wii carries on this tradition far better than the DS entry, introducing new gameplay variants and baddies from start to finish and never lingering on a single idea. The one arguable exception are the fortresses and castle designs, but the varied and clever Koopaling boss battles help address this—even if they are somewhat easy.
The brand new multiplayer gameplay is a triumph. A second player introduces an element of unpredictability that runs counter to Mario's empowering skill-set. In a single-player Mario game, it's the player's job to remain in control of the environment; attempting to do so in NSMB Wii's co-op is futile. Players will stumble over each other, swipe items, scroll the screen forward, and generally engage in horseplay. Much like in Super Smash Bros., the action can become profoundly chaotic with four players, and unintentional interference can result in some catastrophically hilarious failures and colorful banter. The result is a multiplayer experience that plays very much like a single-player Mario game, but simultaneously feels new and different. One nice touch is the ability to add and drop players from the map screen without having to exit—perfect for passersby at parties. The multiplayer experience is further bolstered by Coin Battle mode, in which players can quarrel through any of the main game's levels in addition to a handful of extra stages, competing for the most coins.
What makes New Super Mario Bros. Wii's robust multiplayer even more impressive is that it hasn't upset the game's difficulty. This Mario game isn't afraid to put veterans through Bullet Bill Hell. Gamers aiming for 100 percent will have to exploit Mario's arsenal of power-ups to find secret areas and nab star coins, and even those who simply want to clear each level will be expected to pull off some advanced moves. The game remains difficult in multiplayer, but for a different reason: death itself is no longer a great inconvenience (players with remaining lives respawn in bubbles as long as someone is alive), but coordinating amongst friends is often its own challenge. Players looking for some tips can purchase demo videos with star coins they collect, and struggling players can defer to the Super Guide, but discovering secrets and tricks alone is far more satisfying.
The game does have its shortcomings. There is no online play—although the feature's omission is perfectly understandable after the similarly busy Super Smash Bros. Brawl's failed attempt. The graphical style is crisp and less plastic-y than on the DS, but still unimaginative, as is the use of a second Toad character for Player 4. Allowing you retain Yoshi instead of sequestering him to specific stages would have been nice, and the game could have used a greater emphasis on secret exits and map exploration. Also, the game bafflingly allows the team to commit suicide in co-op by accidentally pushing the A button to idle in a bubble.
But the complaints above amount to nitpicks. This is New Super Mario Bros., not Super Mario World, and on its own terms New Super Mario Bros. Wii holds its own. As both a platformer and a party game, for both casual and enthusiast gamers, Nintendo's latest Mario game delivers in spades.