The “new” in New Super Mario Bros. Wii is highly debatable. Much like its predecessor on the DS, this game stands solely on Mario’s legacy, a kind of “best of” amalgamation of everything that made the old-school platformers great. These qualities also represent what’s so good about NSMB Wii: it’s freaking Mario.
The game’s story goes that Princess Peach is celebrating her birthday when she’s presented with a gigantic cake topped with bizarre and oddly familiar icing decorations. Out from the dubious dessert erupts an evil kidnapping at the hands of Bowser Jr., everyone’s favourite little Koopa brat copycat. What nobody expected, however, was the addition of the Koopalings, Bowser’s other seven kids, who hadn’t been seen in a proper Mario game in almost 20 years. After Peach’s abduction, the Mario brothers and two Toads from her castle race to her aid, though not before helping themselves to two of her birthday presents: a huge supply of… propeller hats and penguin costumes? That must have been a wild party they had planned for her…
The foundation of New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s gameplay is standard fare for the series: stomping enemies, hitting question mark blocks, collecting coins and items, smashing bricks, jumping down plumbing pipes, and searching for secrets. The mechanics are so well known by this day and age it’s a wonder they don’t teach this stuff in preschool. Mushrooms make you big. Flowers let you throw fireballs. Collect 100 coins and you get a 1-up. A sparkly star turns you into a crazed rainbow being of pure death to everything that stands in your way.
Notably new to the formula here, though, is the odd and unexpected way the world works. As you race through levels, you see large chunks of landscape twisting, spinning, flipping, rising, and falling. Coins and blocks may fly overhead in an arc, giving you minimal time to react and hit them as they pass. You might come across a series of block platforms that swing and bob in time with the music, making for tricky platforming hazards. It’s not uncommon, particularly near the start of the game, to find large, globe-like platforms that spin endlessly, propelling enemies that step onto them towards you. The sudden movements of a stage can surprise, and it’s this randomness that makes the game leap ahead of the previous 2D Mario titles.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii also operates on a much grander scale than any other 2D Mario game. The camera dynamically pans in and out depending on how much open stage there is on which it can focus, and the scope of the levels can be daunting. My favourite new enemy only appears in one stage—the King Bill, a monstrous Bullet Bill with a demonic grin that takes up over half the screen and slowly crushes everything in its path.
Of course, plenty of classic Mario elements make a return, to great effect. Shaking the Wii Remote sends Mario into a spin jump similar to that of Super Mario World. You could use this move to unearth hidden coins from the background scenery, but in NSMB Wii you can also perform the spin in mid-air to give yourself a fraction more hang time. It’s not much, but when used strategically it can mean the difference between life and death.
Yoshi also makes a welcome return to 2D Mario glory, ferrying Mario on his back, gobbling up enemies and berries just like the olden days, and producing his classic sound effect—no more horrible squeaky voice from Yoshi’s Story!
Enemies new and old parade towards you while cheerfully stopping to dance in time with the music. You’re under constant attack by everything from series staples like Goombas and Koopas and more obscure, classic creatures like the Fire Bros, Spike Tops, and Mecha-Koopas.
Every type of classic stage you’ve come to expect in the series (plains, caves, oceans, castles, volcanoes, jungles, deserts, and more) is present in NSMB Wii. Bowser’s airships from Super Mario Bros. 3 also make a triumphant return, complete with all the tricks and traps they had in the past.
Three new items debut in NSMB Wii. The aforementioned Propeller Mushroom provides a flight suit with a copter helmet, allowing you to spin into the air and gently glide back down to earth. Leaping off a cliff and using the propeller to zip back into the air becomes a useful strategy, and lets you scoop up out-of-reach coins hanging precariously over bottomless pits. The (quite literally) polar opposite of the Fire Flower, the Ice Flower, gives Mario and company the ability to throw balls of ice. These frozen spheres move slower than fireballs and break after just one bounce, but can encase almost any enemy in a square block of solid ice, which makes a handy platform to reach high areas. You can also pick up and slide any frozen enemy along the ground, causing them to take out other foes until they hit a wall. The Penguin Suit imparts all the benefits of the Ice Flower, but also improves your traction when running on ice and greatly improves your swimming ability. You can also hop onto your belly while wearing this suit to skim along the surface of ice or water.
A big selling point for NSMB Wii is its four-player co-op, which allows your buddies to join in the fray and help out, or get in each other’s way in a competitive craze. Players can bounce off each others’ heads, or pick up and carry each other as they scramble around the screen racing for items and coins. Players can use Mario, Luigi and two Toads; the game might have benefited from the inclusion of some of Mario’s rich backlog of characters instead of the Toads—why not Wario and Waluigi, Peach or Daisy, or even a Pianta from Super Mario Sunshine? Nonetheless, each player has an identical move set and jumping height, making things balance out nicely, and getting a full group of four players is a recipe for a hectic and crazy scenario.
The release of NSMB Wii also marked Nintendo’s first implementation of the Super Guide, a help system for players struggling with the game’s challenges. If you die continuously in the same stage, a green exclamation point block appears at the starting point. Hitting it block calls Luigi, who proceeds through the level in a bare-bones run through that avoids the elusive Star Coins and ignores secrets. The player can hit the plus button and resume control at any time during this automated walkthrough, allowing less-skilled players to proceed through the game and learn the ropes. Nintendo has since adopted the feature for many of its first-party titles, but it remains an unobtrusive option for those who don’t want its service.
For a fan of Mario, Nintendo, or even just 2D platformers in general, this game stands as one of the Wii’s best, and can’t come with more of a recommendation. It’s wholesome family fun at its finest, with superb level design, tight controls, and enough challenge for even veterans of the series to whittle away their supply of lives trying to track down every last secret.