Thursday, December 3, 2009

New Super Mario Bros. Wii — First Impressions

Mario games have always been the epitome of platforming perfection. I loved New Super Mario Bros. on the DS (the first 2D Mario game since the Game Boy's Super Mario Land 2) and I couldn't wait for a sequel. I got exactly what I wanted and more with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Nintendo's first Mario platformer on a console since Super Mario World on the SNES in 1990. I'll spare you the story — like it really matters — suffice to say it marks the return of the Koopalings.

The ever present Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Star all return, along with NSMB's Mini-Mushroom and three new power-ups: the Propeller Mushroom, the Ice Flower, and the Penguin Suit. The Propeller Mushroom gives Mario the ability to jump very high and descend slowly. The Ice Flower is exactly what you'd expect: it's the opposite of a Fire Flower in that with it Mario throws ice balls which freeze enemies into blocks of ice. Ice balls can often be more useful than fireballs because many enemies that are impervious to fireballs can be frozen, then shattered; and ice blocks can be used as platforms in the water. Finally, the Penguin Suit gives Mario Ice Flower abilities plus better traction on ice and improved swimming controls.

Gameplay is essentially identical to its predecessors in almost every way except two. First, NSMBW is freaking hard! I have not died this many times in a Mario game since The Lost Levels. Fortunately, some of this difficulty is alleviated by the second gameplay addition: simultaneous co-op. Up to three additional players (controlling Luigi and two Toads) can run alongside Mario and help by taking out enemies, finding secrets, and collecting hard to reach items. They can also be your saving grace, because as long as one player is still alive and kicking, the dead player will float back onto the screen in a bubble (which must be popped by an active player in order to free them) and the level continues. One of the downsides to co-op play is that characters can bump into each other, or bounce off of each other's heads, making it difficult to maneuver quick jumps and small platforms. The other is that your partners can always turn on you, stealing your 1-Up Mushrooms or throwing you into enemies and traps. Actually, this is less a problem with the game itself, and more a problem with your friends. It's actually a perfect example of the competitive co-op style of gameplay at which Nintendo excels.

At this point we're about three-quarters of the way through the main story mode (I've been playing exclusively with my roommate in two-player co-op), though it's probably more like two-thirds, as we've taken a few short cuts. I'll write a full review with my final score once we've played most of the story, including the final level, and more of the Coin Battle mode. Thus far I'd call this a must have for any hardcore Wii owner.

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