Saturday 26 December 2009

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Truth be told I hadn't played Super Mario Bros. 3 until fairly recently. I wasn't part of the American generation that dragged their parents to the cinema to see The Wizard and that damned Power Glove, and as a Sega fan I didn't see much of a reason to play as the plumber until the days of the Dreamcast came to an end. Thanks to the wonders of emulation in the space of the last six years I've come to know pretty much every Mario title to date, from the dangerously mainstream, to the obscure, to the spin-offs, to the rip-offs and of course the pirates, hacks and homebrews. Admittedly I never saw a reason to dabble in the sports series much, and Mario Party wasn't my thing, but you name a Mario platformer and I'll have probably seen or played it, and then I'll proceed to name ones you haven't.

Nintendo's latest work comes in the form of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a Wii "sequel" to the hit DS title. Home console 2D Mario platforming hasn't been seen since the days of the Super Nintendo, mostly because of the invention of the analogue stick. Sure there were 2D segments in Super Mario Galaxy and I suppose Super Paper Mario could count, but the "press left button to run, press right button to jump" mechanic has been absent from the big screen for a decade and a half. I didn't like Super Paper Mario much - the basic graphics and endless chatter were perhaps not worth the six month delay between NTSC and PAL releases, but NSMBWii proves that Nintendo still have the power to deliver quality 2D Mario action... without too much of a delay I might add.

But as with all Nintendo titles aimed at the "hardcore" crowd these days, questions are often asked about what the next addition to the long-running series acually offers as something new. With New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the main new feature is the four-player co-op mode, and as entertaining as this can be, you'll probably find yourself wanting to complete the game on your own, because three characters getting in your way will lead to many fatalities. Aside from this, there's new powerups - the Ice Flower, which has popped up in numerous Mario fangames over the years, the Helicopter suit, which is this game's "gimped flight powerup" and the penguin suit, which is essentially a combination of the Frog suit from SMB3, the ice flower, and a slide move of sorts. There's also Yoshi, but sadly he only shows up in a couple of easy levels so he's not put to good use.

And that's it. Aside from the change of scenery it's Super Mario Bros. 3 with new levels, plus extras. The game isn't quite as extensive as Super Mario World - you won't be hunting down keys and travelling through stupidily difficult worlds for a palette change. It's actually frighteningly easy - though there are levels that still put up a challenge I had completed the main game within a matter of hours. I even managed to accidentally find a warp between World 6 and World 8. Surely that's supposed to require a bit of work. And lets not forget, if you suck the game will play itself thanks to Nintendo's patented howto feature.

But as far as the actual gameplay is concerned, it's amazing - far better than what the NES and SNES were offering in terms of fun. It looks great, it sounds... alright (difficult to judge this - Galaxy had its own orchestra, NSMBWii recycles most of the tunes from earlier games), and the return of the seven Koopa Kids is of course a huge plus. But in typical Nintendo style, the Wii remote waggle is incorporated into the gameplay, and it works even less than usual as you're holding the Wii remote on one side (which by the way is awkward in itself - the Gamecube controller was wonderful - why isn't it or the classic controller an option?). It's mainly used for the Super Mario World spin equivalent, but for some unknown reason picking up larger objects requires a shake as does the helicopter suit. I noticed the B button was left un-assigned throughout the entire game... WHY NOT USE THAT INSTEAD.

I also found it strange that features from the twenty-year-old Super Mario World were dropped. The ability to kick Koopa shells upwards for example, or as I've mentioned previously, the extra routes and hidden levels. Though there is a secret "World 9", it's not much of a secret when the Princess blabs about it later on. I'm surprised the reserve powerup feature was axed too... I'd have thought that could have worked better with multiplayer.

Speaking of which, many critics have well... criticised the multiplayer for not having online play. Though Nintendo's "it's too processor intensive" argument is invalid, I have to admit gameplay would be hindered dramatically if there were excessive amounts of lag. Mario is often about timed jumping and platforming skill, and if Luigi or one of the coloured Toads weren't visible half the time, it would be too difficult to play. Perhaps when internet speeds are improved it'll be worth re-visiting, but this time I think it's better left out.

But the issue I have with New Super Mario Bros. Wii is that it looks old already. You can see the sprites - a common feature of Nintendo 64 games and something I thought the games industry had largely grown out of now. If it had been released on the Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 most of the graphics would have had to be re-drawn at a higher resolution, because it's not a game suited for HD televisions. Of course realistic graphics and Mario were never suited to go hand in hand, but let's just say it's not a surprise that people often thought this was just recylcing heaps of DS content.

However, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is by no means a bad game. In fact, it's a very good one, and yes, I'd probably place it higher than the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 (I can do that you see - I have no nostalgic attachments to the NES) but it does concern me that such a title needs to exist. Anything Nintendo R&D1 pump out will probably be top notch, but here we are, at the dawn of the next decade, and there's still not been any brand new "big" franchises from Nintendo since Pikmin. It's hardly innovation to keep re-releasing the same things, and occasional gimmicks aside this is practically a re-release of the games that kept Nintendo afloat when Sega came to town all those years ago.

1 comment:

  1. Actually, as far as I can see, the reserve item was axed in favour of the item storage. Having both would make the game excessively easy. Though I preferred reserve in place of storage but that's just me.