NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII – Review
NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. WII is a videogame developed by Nintendo EAD and published by Nintendo for the Nintendo Wii. It was directed by SHIGEYUKI ASUKE.
This article contains the following types of spoilers:
Before anything else, let me say that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a good game and you should play it if you can find it cheap.
Gamers who knowingly buy New Super Mario Bros. Wii (NSMBW) are going to get exactly what they expect: there are the Mario Brothers, on the Nintendo Wii with super powers. Only the New part of the title is misleading. Perhaps it was irony, I don’t know. There is nothing really new in it. This is a remake from the Nintendo DS game New Super Mario Bros. (NSMB), which is itself a remake of the original Super Mario Bros. (SMB) for the NES. It’s a turtle on top of another turtle and, if this “New” series continues, that turtle will be on top of yet another turtle. Eventually this will become a perpetually remade series – with Koopas all way down.
I call NSMBW a remake because this game is the equivalent to Gus van Sant’s shot-by-shot refilming of Hitchcock’s Psycho. But while van Sant’s work can be viewed as an invaluable experiment in the theory of cinema, games have no need for such lesson, as gamers are already all too familiar with ‘more of the same’ sequels, ‘me too’ copies and remakes. NSMBW, however, did make me more aware of how I admired the creativity behind the older Mario games – including the DS one. Apart from the 3 new power-ups – the Propeller Mushroom, the Ice Flower and the Penguin Suit – everything in NSMBW was featured somewhere before. We are dealing with the same overall style of NSMB: the very same level archetypes (grass, desert, ice, water, forest, mountain, sky and lava), the same enemies, same Boo houses and even the same Bowser castle – so this is basically NSMB redone. Other features are aimed directly at the player’s nostalgia: the background features both hills from Super Mario World (SMW) and blocks from Super Mario Bros. 3 (SMB3); bosses’ castles feature all the traps we have seen in both SNES Mario games. There are appearances from the Koopa Clown Car and the airships from SMB3, but while in SMB3 those airships were used as reasons for developers to play around with fixed-scrolling stages and the impression of relative movement, the airships in NSMBW are purely gratuitous.
There is nothing visually unique in NSMBW. There is nothing that will create lore to the Mario canon. We now look at these background blocks pictured below and can instantly recognize them as being part of Super Mario Bros. 3‘s unique stylistic niche. There is nothing of the sort in NSMBW. These are the recognizable features that add to a game’s identity. NSMBW lacks that coherent identity.
The DS game was already conservative. Its only remarkable feature was a mushroom that made you huge and invincible, allowing Mario to destroy the entire stage as he walked. It was a concept that showed some promise but was, sadly, greatly underused. Jay Pavlina must have understood the brilliance and sweetness of that unstoppable destruction when he took that concept and expanded it into Super Mario Bros. Crossover. Now THAT is a Mario game with soul! In any case, it’s understandable why the DS’ New Super Mario Bros. is so similar to the previous games: it was, after all, developed under consensus between 5 (FIVE!) different designers (Takashi Tezuka, Shigeyuki Asuke, Masahiro Imaizumi, Taku Matoba and Shigeru Miyamoto) facing the challenge of returning to a format Mario hasn’t revisited since 1992’s Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. With a development methodology like that, I was actually surprised NSMB didn’t end up being even more conservative than it was. Meanwhile, NSMBW was a game whose development was led by the firm hand of one person, building on a concept already proven to be a great success; so there was margin for innovation. Unfortunately, this opportunity was allowed to pass by.
This person was not Shigeyuki Asuke, assistant director of Super Mario Sunshine and designer of DS’ New Super Mario Bros. It was Shigeru Miyamoto. Asuke wasn’t even featured in Nintendo’s Iwata Asks interview series until the 3rd volume (in it, he spoke mostly of trivialities, production aspects already mentioned in the 2 previous interview volumes and useful hints such as “When you reach the final goal of a normal course, if you grab the goal pole at the highest point, you can get 1-UP.”). Instead, Miyamoto was there, saying that although he was supposed to have been the producer, he ended up acting like a director for that period, writing the specification documents.
The partially redeeming factor of NSMBW, its 4 player mode, was also familiar territory for Miyamoto. He designed The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures (FSA), after all. Despite its high entry cost, I played FSA beginning to end on multiplayer. It simply did not fit. It was fun while it lasted, but unremarkable in any way or form. By streamlining the game into a forced linear path, Nintendo believed the essence of Zelda was simply passing through a N number of temples and defeating N bosses (and judging by Twilight Princess, I believe they haven’t learned their lesson). They were wrong. Above all, Zelda needed the illusion of being able to go to everywhere in order to be Zelda. The Legend of Zelda isn’t about Link facing bosses, but the place he is in – be that place Hyrule, Termina or Koholint Island. I was glad to realize, however, that the multiplayer in Super Mario was a much better fit – the problem is that there is nothing much to see beyond that.
Should I be looking only into the fun aspect of the game? That ever elusive intangible the most shameless and mediocre reviewers still dare to quantify? Well, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is fun – and depending on who are you playing it with, it can become a blast – but it is a type of fun I’m more than familiar with. It’s like tasting a new ice-cream flavor. Assuming you have eaten ice-cream before, it won’t blow your mind. In Decision Analysis, choosing between ice-cream flavors is viewed as inconsequential. Considering I paid much more for this game than I pay for ice-cream, the decision to buy this game receives more significance, even though the difference value of the outcomes is still minimal. This is the sort of crap running through my mind as I play NSMBW alone. It dilutes whatever positive response I would otherwise get. Suddenly, I’m not having as much fun as I would have when playing something more original. If games are meant for having fun and evaluated only with this criterion, unoriginality diminishes the fun I can have.
But yeah New Super Mario Bros. Wii can be a blast when playing multiplayer. It also becomes trickier too. Suddenly there are 2-3 other characters dividing the same screen, bouncing at each other with different play style rhythms. We call each other names; my mom can’t stop laughing as Luigi keeps bouncing on Mario’s head. Mario gets pissed at Blue Toad for always going too far ahead and starts grabbing him – Blue Toad proceeds to whine and then tries to hit Mario with a Koopa shell whenever he can. Luigi is hit instead and my mom uses that as an excuse to stop playing. These are the moments I forget about the game’s generic levels and how I can’t remember a single particular stage from World 3, which we beat last week. Eventually my friend controlling the Blue Toad wants to do something else and the apprehension of having to play the single player again all by my lonesomeness begins to haunt me again. Now is the time I wished this game could be played online.
You know, IGN reviews are filled with what I call that game has it and this game doesn’t, so this game sucks complaints and I usually dismiss their criticism because of that. For NSMBW, this wasn’t the case. IGN‘s Craig Harris harshest objection was about the lack of any online functionality and he is absolutely right! If anything, an online mode would mask the game’s flaws, which are so visible when playing this game alone. According to Kotaku, Shigeru Miyamoto was the man ultimately responsible for not including this feature. He thought that the true value of the product was going to be determined by how compelling and unique the experience would be for two, three or four people playing together in the same room – but forgot one detail. The same detail he forgot when he made FSA: that real people are not always available for a play session.
That two generic, nameless Toads are used as avatars also adds to the developers’ apparent laziness (I say â€˜apparent’ because a team that searches through 50 different sound samples to be used for the Propeller Mario, as claimed at the Iwata Asks interviews, simply cannot be called lazy – although the cost-benefit of such endeavors can be debated). Mario has one of the largest and richest character rosters around, so why not use a less bland characters instead? When questioned about the why they did not use Princess Peach as a controllable avatar, Miyamoto said that her dress would require “special processing and programming to handle how her skirt is handled within the gameplay.” This begs two questions. One: why did you not simply give her a more athletic outfit then? Two: why didn’t you perform that “special processing and programming instead of wasting resources with propeller sounds? Even in Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels, Mario and Luigi already exhibited differing movements, so it is simply puzzling that all the characters in NSMBW control the same. I have the impression Nintendo itself might have been aware of NSMBW’s lack of unique features and tried to compensate that by selling the game in a red colored DVD case.
I still find it amazing that from the plethora of new moves introduced in Super Mario 64, only the Triple Jump, the Ground Pound and the Wall Jump remain. What happened to the Backward Flip, the Sideway Jump, the Belly Slide and the Long Jump? Same goes to Yoshi. He only shows up in about 5 stages and is restricted only to those stages. Why? Beats me. Another puzzling question is the existence of a score meter at the top of the screen. It’s only there because that is The Way Things Have Always Been. Maybe it’s all part of Miyamoto’s unapproachable humor. That score is like the bouzouki music players at Monty Phyton’s Cheese Shop. Maybe that’s the way Nintendo tries to tell us that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a cheese shop without any cheese, while insisting it is the best in the district due to its cleanliness. If that’s really the case, I’ll eat my hat.
There are things I admired, though. I loved the concept behind the bosses. You fight them twice: in the middle and at the end of the stage. The only difference is that a Magikoopa will alter the environment of the second boss fight somehow (e.g.: he can make the floor start moving), but the boss himself won’t change his attack pattern. Boy! What difference does that make! That alone felt like a small lesson in game design. It gets especially tricky with 4 people dividing that room’s space. It’s a clever little twist and for the first time in a Mario game I was anxious to see what kind of shenanigans Magikoopa would throw.
Another good idea is the Hint Movies with actual hints, which saved me some trips to the internet, and gameplay footage that show you tricks I didn’t even know were possible. The Super Guide’s concept is also solid. Nintendo is absolutely right in that regard: if you bought a game, you should be able to see its ending regardless of your skill. Beating a particularly tough level should be its own reward, and the presence of the Super Guide ends up adding more value to it, because the game acknowledges you for finishing it without ever needing the Guide’s help. But you know what? That’s not enough. The game still needs *gasp!* a tutorial, because it never really teaches people how to play. We ourselves only amassed our platforming knowledge after passing through A LOT of trial-and-error. Newcomers won’t experience that learning cycle because they will be able to make progress no matter what: either with the Super Guide when playing alone or their friends will beat the stage for them at multiplayer. Sure, the very reason why these people are newcomers may be the fact that they aren’t resilient enough to try the same stage several times in order to beat it, but that doesn’t change the argument that the game still needed some sort of tutorial and/or coddling.
The forced motion controls just adds to the injury. Shaking the controller to make Propeller Mario fly makes sense, but having to shake while pressing 1 to pick up objects is simply retarded. I mean, we managed to survive so far without that nuisance, didn’t we? From what I’ve seen, a non-gamer still lacks the dexterity to press 2 and forward at the same time without looking at the Wiimote – imagine pressing two buttons AND shaking?
However, if you are playing the game alone and have already managed to beaten any other 2D, 2 1/2D, 3rd fixed perspective 3D (or however you call it) Mario game, you won’t have a problem in beating NSMBW. The game’s difficulty is still way easier than the 3 hand-traps followed by that Airship stage from World 8 of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World’s Tubular level or even Yoshi’s Island‘s Poochy Ain’t Stupid stage.
What else is there to say? After all that I still can’t say the game is not good, can I? The multiplayer is still a blast while it lasts and the end result is perfectly serviceable although disposable and unremarkable. It’s just a good “the same game again”, like Twilight Princess but without its initial hints of greatness, which means there is less disappointment. I won’t comment any other review today. I’ve read a bunch of them and most of them felt too much like there were only nostalgia talking; the exception was Yahtzee‘s Zero Punctuation review. Yahtzee cuts to the chase and says this was a game that doesn’t have any right to exist and whose developers lacked ambition. To which I can only say: Bravo, sir!
I suppose that the best way to compare these games is by saying that they are as fun as their flying power-ups. SMB3 is the Raccoon Suit. You must get some wind by running; sound effects start coming in a rapid succession; you reach crescendo as you start flying – and you fly far – and then, finally, you start your slowly nuanced descent. It’s a rewarding and – more importantly – significant experience. NSMBW is the Propeller Suit. A short burst with some minor engine sound, a quick upwards soaring, immediately followed by a pitifully slow descent. Overall, it’s an affair as trivial as munching some Snackoos.
Other reviews that were mentioned: