New Super Mario Bros. Wii Review

By Lemmy Koopa

November 21, 2009

How shall I begin tackling this game that is so important to revitalizing the roots of the Super Mario franchise?  I think the best place to start is with the title, with which I have two gripes.

First, I think there needed to have been a second NSMB on the DS before this one.  I don’t care if they just slapped together a dozen new levels and kept everything else the same, as long as there would have been a New Super Mario Bros. 2.  If Nintendo would have done that, then this game’s title would be brilliant because the “Wii” would be a great stand-in for the number 3.  This game’s title would then be the best since Banjo-Tooie.  Too bad for the missed opportunity.

Second, and more seriously, I just don’t know that “New” belongs in the title.  Don’t get me wrong, the levels are all new, there are new power-ups, new moves, of course the new multiplayer mode, so yes, there is a lot in this game that is new.  But the core 2D Mario gameplay mechanics – run, jump, shoot fireballs – are still here, remaining the focus of this game and just as good as they ever were.  And there are so many references to the older games in the series, from the characters, to the items, to the level types, that if you’ve played the original SMB titles or SMW, you’re going to be immediately familiar with so much of this game.  That’s terrific, because the old things that were great are still great now that they have been made new again.

The old and new elements combine here to make a game that is really special – and I do not say that lightly.  NSMB on the DS looked like it was going to be the second coming of Mario, the new great thing; but for me, and I think many others, it just didn’t get there.  It’s hard for me to point to exactly why that is… Maybe that game was too easy, the new power-ups not impactful enough, the new enemies not endearing.  I don’t know, but whatever the case may be, I felt that game was good but not great, not special like the older Mario games.

But this new, new game is.  Everything about it feels right.

Oh, sure, there is the occasional blemish.  The control in this game might be the worst I’ve seen in a Mario platformer.  It’s still functional: your jumps are still pinpoint accurate and the hit detection is spot on.  But it’s too easy to kill yourself by accidentally pushing down while over a pit and performing a suicidal ground pound.  The spin jump, activated by shaking the Wiimote, is rarely useful but you’ll inevitably perform one by accident, and you could end up taking a quick hop into an enemy or fall into a pit; that move should not have been included.  And picking things up by holding the 1 button and shaking the Wiimote takes a while to get used to, while continuing to hold the 1 button to remain holding an item can get annoying if you must hold that item for a while.  The SMB2 formula of jump on an item, hit the action button to lift, and hit the action button again to throw would have been much better.  All this, and the game does force you to use the Wiimote; there’s no compatibility for the Classic Controller, which if nothing else would have made it easier to setup multiplayer sessions without everyone having to bring a Wiimote.

So yeah, I think there are some legitimate complaints there, but as I said, the control still functions great for the most part.  And while there are other negative things I could say about the game, most of them are really petty.

Oh no!  The Mini Mushroom (first seen in NSMB) is barely used! …  Well, yeah. I think Nintendo felt compelled to bring back at least one of the new power-ups introduced in the DS installment, but it’s only useful in maybe about three levels.  Doesn’t matter, you’ll use it when you need it, and otherwise there are other great power-ups to use.  If you really wanted, you could use the Mini Mushroom as a poor man’s Propeller Suit.  That new power-up, by the way, is just about the most useful item Mario’s ever had, and the most awesome.  The only thing I could say against it is that it does make large stretches of the game very easy, so I’d suggest that after you beat this game, perhaps you could go back and play through while using the Propeller Suit as little as possible.  In contrast, I recommend using the Penguin Suit as often as possible, because, I mean, who doesn’t want to go around as a penguin?

Oh no! The story of this game is the same as in all the Mario platformers! … Ok, so what?  Did you really expect that Peach wouldn’t get kidnapped.  It really doesn’t have an effect on the game, the only bad thing I could say about it is that since Peach is kidnapped, that means she couldn’t be one of the four playable characters.  The story is just about as minimalist as it gets, but I do love the theme of chasing the doomship – just one treasured reference to the older games – from world to world.

Oh no!  This game doesn’t have any really great songs! … Yeah, I was somewhat disappointed that this game doesn’t have any songs I feel are deserving of being added to my playlist of best videogame music.  There isn’t a new song that hits the ball out of the park, and I do have to give props to the original NSMB for the main overworld theme and the castle, both of which qualified.  Still, this game has a strong soundtrack.  There isn’t a level theme that I dislike, and there are quite a few of them for the different environments in the overworld levels.  The main overworld theme, taken from the original NSMB, maybe does play in too many levels, and there are remixes of it as well; but overall, this is a good-sounding game.  It may lack that one great song you’ll want to hear again and again, but you won’t be turning down the volume while playing… unless the game inevitably drags you in and you continue playing into the dead of night.  Then yes, please be considerate of those who are sleeping, even if it unconscionable that they are not watching.

Oh no!  This game doesn’t look as good as Super Mario Galaxy! … I’ve seen reviews that say this and I don’t know what to say except… “No, really?”  Do you really expect a 2D platformer to look as good as a 3D adventure set throughout the cosmos?  Ok, so NSMBW doesn’t have those kinds of 3D landscapes, and the characters, which need to be small so that more can be shown on the screen, are not as large and detailed.  The characters still look terrific and the backgrounds are beautiful.  I think this game looks great and I have nothing bad to say about the graphics.  So, moving on…

Oh no!  This isn’t the right difficulty for me! … This is old-school platforming, folks.  It’s not easy.  You will die because the enemies keep on coming and coming, you will die because there are six Bullet Bills coming at you from different directions, you will die because there’s long jump after long jump and finally you miss one and fall out of the sky.  There’s all of that and more to deal with, just like in a game such as SMB3.  Really, I think the in-level difficulty is at that same level – and it works for the same reason.  Almost always, the difficulty is fair.  You’re rarely going to die because the controls didn’t function properly, and there is very little chance involved.  You’ll die, sure, but you’ll come back knowing that next time you’re going to do better.  And maybe it won’t be that next time, maybe it will turn out to take a few more tries, but each time you die, you’ll know what you did wrong and have an idea for how to overcome it next time.  Even if the game does pull something cheap, like killing you with a fireball that was shot from offscreen, next time through the level, you’ll know that fireball will be coming and can learn to avoid it.

This combination of great control and predictability means that, with practice, you should be able to overcome just about any challenge this game throws at you.  But if you need even more help, you’ve got it.  Checkpoints found in most levels keep you from having to start levels over from the beginning if you fail near the end.  An inventory system for power-ups, like from SMB3, can give you an edge if you’re having trouble getting it going in a tough level without a useful power-up; and the Propeller Suit itself can get you past almost any difficult section.  And then there’s the Super Guide system.  Die 8 times in a level, and a green block will appear when you next return to it.  Hit that block, and Luigi will clear the level for you.  You then get the option to go back and clear the level on your own, or to just move on.  Some gamers have cried foul over this feature, but it’s only there as an option if you want it.  Sure, you could do nothing but hit the green block in every level and reach the end of the game that way.  Hey, if someone wants to do that, that’s their own choice.  They also could just watch the end of the game on Youtube.  At any rate, this feature is not intrusive and you can choose if you want to use it.

The last thing I will say about the difficulty is that while clearing individual levels may be as difficult as in Mario 3, beating the game is much easier.  You can save, for one, which is very important; and there are so many 1-Ups to be had that game overs are going to be nearly nonexistent.  You can always go back to World 1 and stock up on more lives if you think you’re running out.  I’ve never beaten SMB3 without cheating, but if it had checkpoints, saves, and this many extra lives, you bet I could.

So, that’s that for difficulty.  Now, where was I?

Oh no!  Bowser Jr. is in the game alongside the Koopalings! … Yeah, that is a huge problem for me and I’m pretty much disgusted by it.  But that’s my own personal bugaboo, and at the same time, can anyone say “Koopaling fan service”?  They appear in the opening video, they’re visible on the world maps, you fight each one twice, they have voices for the first time unless you count the awful ones in Mario Is Missing Deluxe… As a Koopaling fan, I couldn’t ask for more.  Unless by more, you mean less: one Bowser Jr.  It’s still really hard to complain.

And in the end, that’s where we end up: it’s hard to complain.  Here I’ve been focusing on the negatives, but I hope you’ve seen they’re all minor and are outweighed by great things as well.  This game may just have the best lineup of power-ups in the series, and is stuffed with secrets for players to discover.  The level design is terrific and the roster of characters is great, save that Bowser Jr. is in it and man, there should have been someone else other than two Toads to play as.  The game looks and sounds great despite whatever gripes there may be, and it is just a joy to play even if there are some legitimate problems with the fringe controls.  Perhaps the only thing harder than complaining about this game is putting down the controller.  I feel like I could play this game at any time.

This brings me to the only thing I will complain about bitterly.  This game fails in the act of giving me more.  I need more!  I need more levels!  70-someodd is a good start… yeah, that could be World 1.  Give me 8 times that and maybe I’ll be satisfied.  The game should come packaged with some clones or robots or something so you can find someone to play with at any given moment, because multiplayer is a totally different experience from single player and is very much worth it.  Oh, and the one old-school element this game forgot: where is the manual that introduces the characters and worlds, and has all kinds of teasers?  It breaks my heart watching on Youtube as people start up a game and they don’t know who Larry is.  Maybe they think he’s Ludwig because that’s the only Koopaling’s name they can remember.  Or they just figure he’s Junior with a Mohawk.  This is unacceptable.  The manual needs to name all the characters – even if it is the case that nearly all of them have been seen before and will be well known to real fans.

Equally unacceptable will be you, if you come to this site, think of yourself as any kind of Mario fan, and yet you do not get this game, play it, and encourage your friends to do the same.  Or if you’ve even just heard about Mario and wondered what all the hoopla was about, but never played because the old systems don’t work anymore and you’ve never gotten into the Virtual Channel – this is the game you should try.  Because in the end, I cannot say enough good things about this game.  It may not have the nostalgia that SMB3 has for me, but NSMBW tries to deliver even that by bringing back so many of those great features; and nostalgia and an old-school manual may be the only things lacking from what is otherwise an undeniable treat.

Thank you, Nintendo, for serving up this dish of unfettered fun.  I can only hope that another will be on the way.  Let there not be so much downtime before the next course, as already I hunger for the next Mario feast!

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