Being a traditional style Mario adventure, Nintendo has stuck to the tried-and-tested storyline of Princess Peach being kidnapped by Bowser. Mario, Luigi, Blue Toad and Yellow Toad are all busy celebrating the Princess’ birthday, but have the unpleasant surprise of finding out the massive cake that just arrived is indeed a trap. Out pop Bowser Junior and the Koopa Kids, into the cake goes Peach and off they all fly in Bowser’s airship, leaving the Mario Bros. and Toads looking bemused. Can her royal highness of the Mushroom Kingdom be rescued? Well, that is where you, and up to three friends if desired, come in!
New Super Mario Bros. takes place across eight worlds consisting of numerous sub-levels, special Toad houses where items and lives can be collected, and even nifty shortcut cannons that launch the plumbing duo to another world, bypassing a whole slew of stages along the way. As with the old school Mario platform games from the NES and Super NES, players are faced with a top-down overview of the current world they are on, with Mario being moved from one location to the next, but limited in exactly where he can travel. Whilst there are times when a few path choices are available, generally it is a case of ‘complete a stage to move on.’ It may seem restrictive in this day and age, but it really is not too dissimilar to how the majority of other games handle unlocking content. The only difference is that there is no aimless wandering around involved to find the next area of progression.
Whilst the game will appear to be nothing more than a simple retread of past adventures for the most part, those yearning for the ‘days of yore’ when gameplay was far more straightforward, and arguably more fun, will find that Nintendo has attempted to lift the best elements from its history and mix them in successfully with a few new tricks. Therefore, amidst the usual running and jumping action, collecting items such as mushrooms to make Mario grow or grabbing Fire Flowers to throw fireballs and searching for large gold coins hidden around stages, players will spot a few new aspects. For instance, although the Wii Remote can be held on its side to mimic a NES controller, shaking it upwards will result in Mario twirling to gain some air (or float upwards where possible – more on that later) and in certain situations it is even possible to tilt the Remote from one side to the other in order to manipulate certain objects along a level (tilt platforms or change the angle of light in dark areas, for instance). These additions, whilst seemingly minor, fit extremely well into the standard platform fare, adding clever new touches that are perfectly complementary to the play of old.
That is not all, though, as there are three new power-up items on offer. The original growth mushroom, special fiery flower and invincibility are all present and correct, along with the likes of the miniaturising mushroom from the DS New Super Mario Bros. Yet joining them this time round are a special propeller hat that allows Mario to zoom into the sky with a shake of the Wii Remote, floating slowly back down afterwards, a frozen flower item that lets the plumber unleash balls of ice that can freeze enemies so that can be used as steps to new areas or be thrown at other obstacles, and last, but not least, a penguin suit that grants Mario the ability to slide along the ground, picking up speed along the way to shoot across small holes in the ground or larger gaping divides when launching off a ramp. It definitely is pleasing to see Miyamoto and co. add some new features, rather than simply transposing the DS game across ‘as is’ and merely throwing in the multiplayer slant. Oh, and it should not be forgotten that Yoshi makes a welcomed return on some stages, adding a floating jump and the ability to gobble up enemies with its long tongue!
However, on the technical side, rather than go all out on the visual front, Nintendo has indeed basically taken the template of the DS game and given it a touch-up to look more acceptable for the Wii system. However, despite the various graphical tweaks and effects thrown in for good measure, the mixture of 2D backgrounds and pseudo-3D character models fail to impress as much as the cel-shaded work found in Nintendo’s own Wario Land: The Shake Dimension, or the simply gorgeous 2D art of Muramasa: The Demon Blade from Vanillaware and A Boy and his Blob from WayForward. As for the soundtrack, it consists of the usual mix of Mario classics, some of the original tunes from the DS version of NSMB and re-worked versions, plus the odd new piece of music. There is certainly nothing particularly wrong with that, yet after being spoiled by the splendid soundtrack in Super Mario Galaxy, expectations have clearly been raised.
Overlooking the presentational side, the main draw of NSMB Wii for many people, and the way Nintendo is promoting the game, is the multiplayer aspect. In principle it proves to be a fantastic addition, with three friends joining in the fun as you work through each of the levels available or face-off to see who can score the most points or collect more coins. However, this can very quickly become a highly frustrating experience for anyone playing with others than are nowhere near as adept at video gaming. Whilst in the fighting genre a combatant that is not quite as au fait at gaming can get by via trial and error, the concept of running, jumping over enemies, grabbing items and avoiding numerous other pitfalls that require a modicum of skill, can be truly baffling to even the smartest of folk. More often than not, the more skilled player will carry on as if playing solo, whilst others continuously lose lives left, right and centre, until they can no longer continue, meaning you may well find three people sat, staring at you until the end of a level. However, for those fortunate to have three talented gamer friends, it really is a fantastic option to have included, and for that Nintendo should be lauded.
Consideration for its new-found ‘casual’ audience has been given as well, however, since there is the inclusion of video guides that are unlocked during the game and show players how to work through a level in the simplest of ways. Stuck at a particular spot? Simply watch through and then jump back into the action after the frustrating obstacle has been passed by the computer. It may feel like a complete cop-out to veteran gamers, but to ensure newcomers to gaming are not totally alienated, Nintendo was very wise to include such a feature. New Super Mario Bros. may not be 100% perfect, but for Nintendo’s first home console 2D Mario platform game since Super Mario World on the SNES, it has managed to successfully create a product that appeals to all sectors of the populace!