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May 6, 2016

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

I am a man of a few friends. Well, actually no, I have many friends, but the friends I can see in person are few. Don’t act like you don’t have Internet friends too. Most people I met during college and university, I don’t hear about them much anymore. However, whatever friendships I could salvage from my high school days, I managed to keep. And to this day, I still see these friends. There is, of course, the Pokémon fanatic I often mention in passing, but there’s also a guy who’s a lot more active than I am, who I see maybe three or four times a year, at most. And every time he comes over, he has one request: Play New Super Mario Bros. Wii. He just loves that game, and we played through it (granted, we would take shortcuts), even beating it pretty quickly. Don’t ask us to get 100% completion just yet, we don’t see each other often enough for that.

Following the massive success of the 2D/3D platformer New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS (which I reviewed previously), Shigeru Miyamoto and everyone else at Nintendo decided they could continue on this way; more 3D throwbacks to the retro 2D Mario platform games. And thus came out New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Also one of the games that barely uses the Wii’s motion detection, with the remote being held horizontally; and the motion detection itself is used when one of the characters, mid-jump, wants to spin, which activates the ability of the Propeller Mushroom. Or when a character wants to pick up something large, like a barrel, a frozen enemy, or a Toad. There are some other gimmicks that require tilting the Wii remote. The game also features a number of new power-ups. Of course, it’s just another Mario platformer, so I won’t exactly have much to say about the plot.

"Mario, is it possible that all the gifts for my birthday are actually gifts
for you? I don't see myself using the Penguin suit anytime soon..."
It is Princess Peach’s birthday, and her two plumber heroes have joined the party. A huge pile of gifts awaits the inevitable unwrapping. Among those gifts, large boxes show two new power-ups: The Propeller Mushroom and the Penguin Suit. Oh and yeah, there’s actually a third new Power-Up, the Ice Flower. Well, that’s neat! Though, why would those be offered to Peach? I mean, Mario and Luigi are the ones who would use them, right? Oh, but wait, here’s the pièce de résistance: A giant cake! Man, there’s enough in there to feed the entire goddamned kingdom! And how nice, the bakers decorated it with the scalps of the Koopalings, to celebrate the innumerable victories Mario has had over Bowser! Uh… Wait a second…

The Koopalings (and Bowser Jr.) come out of the cake, then they throw the cake on Peach and run away with her. No wait, you got that all wrong. You put someone INTO the cake to surprise the person having their birthday, you don’t put the person having their birthday into the cake, and… Also, no, this cake looked too good to be a lie. It was probably a real cake, just they used it for the attack, except now they're all sticky with cake and whipping cream- Wait, what the Hell am I saying? We gotta go after them! So Mario, Luigi and two Toads decide to chase after the Koopalings (and Bowser Jr.)!

For the plot… that’s it. There really isn’t much else. From this point on, Mario (and, in multiplayer mode, Luigi, the blue toad and/or the Yellow Toad) just plays through the levels, enters fortresses, battles a mid-boss, completes a few more levels, enters the word’s Castle, battles the boss, moves on to the next world. With the occasional Airship mixed in.

World 2, with a shifting sand lake.
The “New Super Mario Bros.” sub-series as a whole calls to mind the aesthetic choices of retro Mario platformers, mixing Super Mario Bros. 3 (with Toad Houses on the map, although there were only two different Toad Houses back then and there are three now) and Super Mario World (with the Ghost Houses). However, this Wii game takes things a step further from its Nintendo DS predecessor by including the “map enemies” from SMB3 as well as the famed Airships. Now, all we need is a giant map that encompasses all the worlds, like Dinosaur Island. Also, whereas NSMB has the “one saved item” mechanic from SMW (though you could access it anywhere, even in the middle of a level), NSMBW actually uses the “bank of saved items” from SMB3 (which can only be used on the World Map), and actually improves on the concept in certain ways. It’s partly a downgrade as SMB3 had many peculiar items that could be collected like the Warp Whistle, the Hammer (not the Hammer Suit, just the Hammer), the P-Wing and the Lakitu Cloud (to skip a level), and here all you can collect is power-ups.

Wait, if Luigi is the Super Guide, does that make Luigi
better than Mario? Awesome!
This game also includes the first Super Guide, a gameplay mechanic that appears when you lose more than eight consecutive lives on the same level. The advantage is that if a level’s devilish layout proves too difficult for you, you can see a guide that helps you through it. The downsides, however, are enormous; if you so much as see the Super Guide block at the beginning of a level, the completion stars on your save file will lose their shine permanently. Yes, merely seeing the Super Guide show up means you can’t technically ever get 100% completion. That’s… pretty terrible. This was corrected in later games using the feature, making the save file stars lose their shine only if the Super Guide is used, not if the block merely appears.

Also on a world map, sometimes a Toad bubble with “HELP ME!!” will appear over a level. This is a side-quest of sorts where you have to save a Toad by carrying him through a level. Yes, carrying, which means you cannot take flight with the Propeller Mushroom, and you can barely defend yourself from the enemies. This can be really difficult because these Toads to rescue have a bad tendency to appear in levels that are already difficult. And of course, you can drop a Toad accidentally at any moment by shaking the Wii remote (which, alright, Toads are sometimes so annoying I could understand if you do it on purpose). Thankfully, the reward is usually worth it; an extra life, and a new item Toad House appears on the starting point of this world’s map. There’s also the roaming enemies on the world map; when Mario bumps into one of them, he has to take part in a mini-game of sorts where one or multiple copies of that enemy are placed on the screen, and Mario has to collect eight Toad balls. If he succeeds, the enemies will be defeated instantly, and a chest containing a Toad will appear; Toad will even give Mario three Super Mushrooms for free! Oh thanks, this sure repays the life I may have lost trying to save your sorry little ass!

A completed Power-Up Panels mini-game.
Well, on the other hand, a simple Super Mushroom can make or break the start of a level, and decide whether or not you’ll get a more helpful power-up in a question block… More power-ups can be found in the red Toad Houses; there, you play a mini-game where Mario knocks panels on a grid, and the game ends when he finds ether two Bowser symbols or two Bowser Jr. symbols. Whatever pairs of power-up symbols you find become power-ups in your inventory. Then there’s the green Toad House, which lets you gain extra lives, but it’s a lot harder than in New Super Mario Bros (in which, with some luck, you could gain 12 1-Up Mushrooms!); here, you’ll be lucky if you gain more than two. Last but not least, the yellow Toad House gives away an invincibility star. Always useful when you need that boost at the start of a level.

The enemies are clearly helping each other, why can't we?
Then again, the major innovation here is the multiplayer system that lets you play co-operatively with up to three friends. Player 1 always controls Mario, but the others can choose either Luigi, the Yellow Toad (affectionately nicknamed Wolley by the fans) or the Blue Toad (nicknamed Yvan). You can of course choose to go the competitive route (by having the players battle on the level to see who reaches the goalpost first), but with the difficulty level in this game you’ll probably be better off helping each other. Shigeru Miyamoto explained, at this game’s release, that for a long time they had been trying to get a co-op multiplayer mode in the Mario platformers, and it seems they did it the right way.

Luigi, this is not time-a for a bubble joyride-a!
Yeah, yeah. And they achieved such by using camera tricks, zooming in and out depending on how far from each other the playable characters are, and by allowing them to interact. As an example, characters can pick each other up and throw each other. Yoshis can also take a character in their mouth and throw him. Last but not least, when a character dies, he reappears in Small form on the screen in a bubble and can be rescued, allowing him to continue the level. Just be thankful they don’t bawl annoyingly like the babies in Yoshi’s Island! Of course, if you prefer competition, two modes are available: Free-For-All, where all the tricks are allowed and the winner is the character who reaches the goalpost in every level, or Coin Battle, where the winner is whoever has the most coins at the end of a level. You can also play in bonus coin courses in the Coin Battle mini-game.

Last but not least, if you really want to see professional players and what they achieve in a level, head all the way back to World 1; the doors to Peach’s Castle are open. In there, you can spend a number of Star Coins to view either excellent exploits, tips to get many additional lives (you’ll need those), or the path towards secret exits in some levels. And really, isn’t the game complete until you’ve seen absolutely everything it has to offer?

And not a single warp whistle in sight.
Every world in the game has a theme, as par for the course for Mario games. You go through grass, desert, ice, islands, forest (with bonus giants!), mountain, sky and, finally that little Hell-like place Bowser always lives in, because apparently that’s the only place where he feels at home. Once again, every level has three Star Coins to collect, a task that has become pretty tricky with the large number of hazards. Hell, it’s much harder here than it was in NSMB. Then, if you collect all the Star Coins in a world, you unlock a level in World 9, a special level among the stars. There’s one like this for each world, excluding itself. And you can also collect Star Coins there.

Like I said, many levels have unique gimmicks, and sometimes you need to adapt to the situation. A situation which you’ll usually only know about once you enter the level! Of course, this adds a breath of fresh air to the concept, as many 2D platforming Mario games wouldn’t play around as much with the physics and enemy placement. NSMBWii features a wide variety of enemies, old and new, and some enemies appear in a single level, making them a sweet surprise. (P.S. Look out for the King Bills.)


Let's see what's behind door #2- wha? It disappeared!
Also, I enjoy how the “special” levels (the Fortresses, Ghost Houses, Castles and Airships) tend to tone down the enemies themselves to focus on tough platforming. Ghost Houses follow the trend of their predecessors from SMW and NSMB by being platformer puzzles, making you search for the exit(s); the Boos often feel like an afterthought, though they do add a layer of difficulty. Fortresses, Castles and Airships, while also often containing enemies, also tend to be a greater challenge on a purely platforming perspective. They concentrate on making the path towards the boss significantly harder thanks to hazards (like spike balls, moving platforms and lava). The bosses themselves would frequently be really simple, they follow the same “stomp three times” rule of most Mario platforming bosses. The boss battles, especially the Castle and Airship ones, add that little something that makes the boss tougher… by greatly changing the layout of the boss’s room, once again putting forward the platforming rather than the battling. It works on both levels! And as a result, the final boss battle starts with a normal boss battle, then moves on to a platforming-driven “true final battle”.

So… let’s talk about the bosses. One awaits at the end of each Fortress, and when defeated there the boss just runs to the Castle to hide and is faced a second time. Obviously the Koopalings CAN live through two defeats without much trouble. After all, they are elite members of Bowser’s army. And yet, it’s as simple as it can get: Every world has a Koopaling. That’s it. One battle against the Koopaling in the Fortress, and then a second battle against it, with Kamek changing the layout of the boss room, adding that little edge. Then there’s Bowser Jr., who uses his own kid-sized Koopa Clown Car; you fight him at the end of every Airship, all three of them.

Then his father awaits at the end of the final castle, which is so large it fills the screen at the end of World 8. The level itself feels actually bland compared to the rest of the game. The first phase against Bowser could be a challenge if you choose to fight fair, but of course he has that button that destroys the bridge he’s standing on. And you can easily press it. The Princess, who had been waiting in a cage hanged from the ceiling, reveals herself to be Kamek (Did you see it coming? Congrats, you’re part of a very select club comprised of, oh, I dunno, 98% of everyone who’s reached that part of the game!). Kamek uses his magic to make Bowser giant, and the next part is Mario running away from his lifelong enemy. Gee, Bowser going giant? Never seen that before!

I know it's Baby Bowser, but it counts!
I mean, I'm not saying it's no longer creative, buuuuuut...

It's Bowsering Smash?
Wait, I think I got my references mixed up.
Here, however, Mario has to escape Bowser’s giant menace, and Bowser helpfully spits fireballs that destroy the walls in the way. Even after this part, Mario has to jump his way across lava, on floating platforms, to finally reach a second button, which he presses, sending Bowser falling again. He’ll get better, he always does. Princess Peach is freed from her cage. Mario and she leave the castle, and get into a balloon. Yvan, Wally and Luigi in another balloon, and everyone heads home. Finally, we see the Koopalings trying to wake their boss up, and when he does, the castle comes crashing on him.

That’s the whole game. I went through everything there was to see here; little to no plot, which explains the more analytical review. So, how’s this game?

Hard. As in, really hard by Mario standards. I’m just speculating here, but I’m under the impression that the folks who worked on the level design for this game were attempting to do something that wouldn’t be too easy for a 4-player co-operative mode, and not too difficult for a single player. They achieved it, in part. I consider the game really difficult for a single player trying to play through. Difficult? Yup. Challenging? Hell yes. Impossible? Oh, no, not that bad. But definitely tricky. I’ve played through it, though I haven’t collected all Star Coins yet (I really should get into that at some point…).

The multiplayer mode works like a charm (but obviously it takes some practice between you and your friends before you can form a team good enough to overcome the obstacles). You can choose whether you’re helping each other or competing. I strongly suggest co-operating, though. Well, unless you want your friends to greet you with a phone book to the face. Wow, that joke made me feel old for some weird reason. At least you should all agree on what you’re going to do as a playthrough. And if you want competition, the game offers Free-For-All and Coin Battles, so there’s not really much of a problem here.

Is everything better with penguins?
Well, it depends if it's an ice world or not.
The new mechanics and power-ups are good. The physics work really well. Shaking the remote between your hands to cause Mario to spin mid-jump may seem like a near-useless thing (well, outside of activating the Propeller Mushroom’s effect), but it may often save your life. The ice flower works well, though its power takes a moment getting used to, and the Penguin Suit is a welcome addition to Mario’s arsenal; it’s like NSMB’s Blue Shell power-up, except better in a bunch of ways.  The Propeller Mushroom is not the best iteration of a “flight” power-up in the series, but with some practice it can become a trustworthy item.

Hell, I even think putting Toads as playable characters in a platformer is actually a good idea! It’s about time these guys got a part of the spotlight, and if you’ve followed the Mario continuity these days you know Toads became playable in more games after this one and Toad even got his own game for the Wii U, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker.

So yeah, I do have a number of points of criticism.
-The difficulty, which makes some levels annoying to complete;
-A generic story, even by Mario standards;
-The annoyance of the Super Guide causing you to be unable to get 100% completion if it merely appears in a level;
-A lack of creativity in the worlds (it's the worlds of SMB3 all over again, just in a different order), and the lack of creativity for the bosses;

But in the end, this is a good game. Tough but enjoyable. I just… I just don’t care much about it, honestly. It’s an excellent game, no doubt there, but I have many more Wii games that I feel like completing more than this one. Chasing for Star Coins is a great side-quest, and discovering all the secrets is a worthy self-imposed mission. I just don’t feel attracted to the game. But you know what, that’s just me. Go buy this game, have a blast, play with friends, have your Mario adventure. It’s just not one that would rank among my favorites. I think I even prefer Super Mario Galaxy. Come to think of it, I should review that one someday…

Next Friday, a Top 12!