Right here is the platformer as it's meant to be played, by the first rulers of the side scroller, and starring their very own golden boy. New Super Mario Bros for the Wii is a game that takes all the elements of the true classics, adds a few mandatory bells and whistles (it's 2009, y'all), and brings us yet another excellent outing for the Big N's mustachioed flagship. You have to wonder when they're going to get it horribly, horribly wrong (if it sounds like I'm repeating myself, it could be because I looked at the Bros' latest DS appearance with much the same level of shock and awe: how can they keep making such damn good games? It doesn't seem natural).
NSMB Wii starts out with Princess Peach getting... wait. Wait. Can you guess what I'm gonna say next? Can you? Wait... she gets... kidnapped. It's Mario's job to navigate the Mushroom Kingdom with the help of a few old friends to get the lady in pink back on her throne. If I was him, I'd give up, but I guess that's why I write video game reviews instead of playing for the All Whites. As well as a lot of familiar mates, there's a lot of familiar mongrels trying to trip him up, so it's your job to make sure he bests them.
As well as simplicity of concept, development and execution, Nintendo have pared back the controls so much it feels like you're at the helm of an original NES. At times, there'll be call to use a bit of the old modern magic to perform certain tasks (hold 1 and shake remote to take flight as Propeller Mario, or to pick up an item, Toad or friend in multiplayer) but largely you're holding the thing just as you did in '89. Instead of A and B, you've got 1 and 2, but things never feel like they've moved on all that much. Am I complaining? Hell no. I like a game that knows its roots and doesn't try to fix what isn't broken. It's true beauty.
A new system means new controls, yes, but it also means new graphics. Too often the graphics in Wii games are skipped over in reviews, as the writers/podcasters/video darlings go on to talk about the other great aspects of a game. We expect nothing, and usually we're delivered about that much. With this game I wanted to take a little more time, and the findings are thus: it's never going to be as vibrant as it could be on PS3 or Xbox, but for this day and age, the box-a-fluffies, round and cutesy world of the Mushroom Kingdom is wonderfully produced. It's rich, deep, and, as always, impossibly stupid. The map screen ought to bring a big enough smile to your face, but as you engage with the enemies, little traps, hidden platforms and scrolling backgrounds, expect to enjoy it all immensely - for what it is.
NSMB for the DS was well received, and this type of game is always at home on handheld systems. I feel like things have really been moved along here, though. As I said, everything is there, just as its always been, but it's new just as the title suggests. Everything is more fresh and exciting - little extras like games of chance with the Toads have been added for depth and to help you win items for some of the more difficult levels (I don't know if I'm out of practice or what, but some of this game is extremely challenging - and that's before you get your mates involved). While this could never be vehicle enough for the Bros. to make a massive splash on the system, the game's going to fly off the shelves, and the fact that you can plug it in to the home system and get that really old school gaming experience is just wonderful.
There's a range of power-ups available, allowing Mario to fly, turn into a penguin, and shoot ice balls, as well as his classic fireball. The standard invincibility star is there, and you can build a bank of these items to use before you enter a level. While they're all in there, hidden away for you to find along with the ubiquitous coins, sometimes it's good to load up from the outset. They may also help you on the map, if you need to bash a particularly large enemy out of the way. There are eight worlds to choose from, each with an array of devilish levels. As well as your mission to rescue the Princess, a bunch of Toads have been nabbed and stuffed into boxes - you'll need to rescue these guys too. They'll reward you for your efforts.
And watch out for Yoshi, who's always keen to give you a lift.
Of course, the single player quest is just part of the overall package in NSMB Wii. With up to four players, you can multi- your way into hysterics. You can choose to race to the flag just as you would on your lonesome, or play through a coin battle. A coin battle is more or less what it sounds like: compete with your mates to get the most coins. But no matter what mode you play, you can be as much a help or hindrance to each other as you like. Just as you can "1+shake" the remote to grab a block or a rogue toad in single player, you can do the same to nab an annoying friend. If they've a power-up like Propeller, they can lift you up and carry you around (could be good, could be bad, depending on where they take you to) and if they're no use at all you can toss them into a chasm. Unlike the life-losing error this is in the regular game, in multiplayer it just means you re-spawn inside a bubble. The second you're touched, you're popped back into the game.
The additional dimension of a multiplayer romp will be (and should be) a major motivator in parting with your cash this close to Christmas. Those of you with that pasty gamer glow won't need to worry about sunburn if you and your mates are inside all summer.
The music and sound is a mix of new tunes riffing on the old Mario Bros. theme. Mushrooms, fire-flowers, a sudden death - these all sound just as they always have. It's hard to be truly critical when looking at music and sound for these types of games; much easier to slap a 9 on and be done with it. But why not a 10? And why that extra point that really lifts it out of the realm of 8? I am just packing in extra words here: it's semantics. The sound is fantastic, and who would expect anything less? There's also little touches like the Koopas that jig to a certain beat. As they walk their patrol, they'll suddenly stop and face the camera to dance, showing more than anything else that they have style.
And here goes - the only two negatives I could find: one is, it's actually quite hard. I said "extremely challenging" up there, but it goes a little far for that. I found myself getting angry more than once: seemingly simple tasks become almost impossible for the most ridiculous reasons. This isn't a bad thing in and of itself, but newcomers to the genre or franchise (and that's mostly going to be very young children) will find this game very difficult to move through with any real pace. Stacking up coins in the hundreds for additional 1Ups and those wonderful green mushrooms will be incredibly important. That sort of goes against the "medium" level I've given for difficulty and the five minute learning curve, you reckon? No, and here's why - medium is going to be about average. So many of the gamers playing NSMB will be experienced enough that it will be a) a zero minute learning curve and b) just another notch on the belt. This will account for those who pick it up and spend a couple of hours falling into chasms. The reason the learning curve stays nice and low is because it's not often you fail because you don't know what to do, it's because you can't get your hands to do what your brain tells them. And ain't that a b*tch.
The other is its simplicity. What? Whoa! Contra-DICK-tory! But listen, all I'm saying is that is does kind of feel a bit like Nintendo are resting on their laurels. All the effort has gone into developing a classic Super Mario Bros. game on a new system, with new controls and new visuals. It can't help but be good because it's SMB. It would be like Michael Laws wearing a really nice suit, not talking and hanging out in Wellington. It's still Michael Laws, with a head full of stupid things to say and he'd still be Mayor of Whanganui - he can't help but be a waste of space. It seems strange to chop an excellent game down for being too excellent, but I guess that's what I'm doing - I said something similar about Bowser's Inside Story, but at least there they broke out into a new and exciting genre, right? On some level (some, not really immediately obvious level) there's a hollowness. If it wasn't for the excellent, enriching multiplayer I should be very worried about this game's long term potential.
Oh, but should you buy it? Absolutely!