Upon its 2006 release, New Super Mario Bros. became the first entry in Nintendo’s Mario series since Super Mario Land 2 to send the title character on a side-scrolling adventure. Although some critics had their reservations about the game’s lack of innovation, it was well-received. After innovating with three-dimensional gameplay, New Super Mario Bros. saw the series revisit its roots to capture the spirit of a bygone era. It became an instant hit, going down in history as the single best-selling Nintendo DS game with over thirty-million copies moved worldwide.
Later in the same year, Nintendo launched their Wii console. Touting itself as the first console to extensively utilize motion controls, the anticipation for the Wii’s debut surpassed even that of the more technically advanced Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3. It wouldn’t take long for Mario to make his debut on the platform in the form of Super Mario Galaxy. After the somewhat divisive Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy was considered the follow-up to Super Mario 64 fans had wanted for years. However, unlike the previous three consoles, Mario wasn’t going to be limited to a single adventure this time.
Series creator Shigeru Miyamoto would help oversee the development of a sequel to New Super Mario Bros. Although he thought highly of the original game, in retrospect, he felt it wasn’t especially challenging. With this new project, he wanted something that could both challenge experienced gamers and draw in newcomers. Entitled New Super Mario Bros. Wii, this sequel would be released in late 2009 for the titular console. Did it mark a triumphant return to form?
Analyzing the Experience
Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad, and Blue Toad are celebrating Princess Peach’s birthday in her castle. To their surprise, a large cake appears. Anyone who thinks life giving them a free cake sounds a little too serendipitous would be displeased to know that it is indeed too good to be true. Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings emerge from the cake, trapping Peach inside. It is then loaded onto Bowser’s airship, prompting Mario and company to give chase.
With New Super Mario Bros. Wii, the series’ familiar side-scrolling gameplay finally made a return after a nineteen-year absence. This installment plays very similarly to its predecessor. Although he is rendered as a three-dimensional polygon, Mario is limited to travelling upon a two-dimensional plane. The controls are instantly recognizable for anyone who had been following the series up until now. Holding down the “1” button allows Mario to begin running while pressing the “2” button causes him to jump. Mario has retained many of the maneuvers he picked up in the 3D installments such as the Wall Jump and Triple Jump, and they are performed in the exact same manner.
This game also reintroduces a technique that had been absent since Super Mario Land 2 – the Spin Jump. One could perform the technique in some capacity in the original New Super Mario Bros., but only by using a Spin Block. New Super Mario Bros. Wii, on the other hand, allows players to utilize it at any time. Rather than being assigned to a specific button, one must shake the Wii Remote to use it. Unlike its original form, the Spin Jump cannot be used to stomp on spiked or fiery enemies. It instead extends your character’s hang time by a brief second, which could be exactly what you need to make a jump. If you’re in an area covered by dense fog, it can also be used to clear it.
While this doesn’t sound quite as useful as being able to circumvent an enemy’s natural defense mechanism or break blocks from above, the presence of the Ground Pound would have made it largely redundant. Instead, the Spin Jump as it appears in New Super Mario Bros. Wii serves to supplement a new power-up.
New Super Mario Bros. took things back to basics with its power-up system. Mario’s size would increase upon collecting a Super Mushroom. From there, he could collect a Fire Flower to become Fire Mario. This was the system players dealt with for most of the experience. While there were alternate power-ups such as the Mini Mushroom or the Blue Shell, neither served as a true substitute for the Fire Flower due to their situational applications. The former was used to access areas even Mario’s default small form could not while the latter barely saw any practicable use as a direct result of its scarcity. This means, for most of one’s playthrough, one had the exact same power-up system that served players well in 1985 with Super Mario Bros. as they did in New Super Mario Bros.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii, on the other hand, brings back a concept its predecessor abandoned; the mobility power-up. By grabbing a Propeller Mushroom, Mario dons a jumpsuit and helmet with a propeller affixed to it. Despite its admittedly silly-looking appearance, this power-up successfully follows in the footsteps of Raccoon Mario, Cape Mario, and Bunny Mario by immensely helping the player traverse large expanses. The propeller is intuitively activated by performing a spin jump. When it is activated, Mario spins upwards into the air. After that, he floats gently to the ground. His descent can be slowed even more by shaking the remote as he falls. It may not be as flashy as Raccoon Mario or Cape Mario due to disallowing temporary flight, but Propeller Mario is a welcome power-up – especially after New Super Mario Bros. lacked any kind of equivalent.
Despite being a return to form, New Super Mario Bros. also brought back the ability to dispense power-ups from Super Mario World. New Super Mario Bros. Wii eschews that mechanic entirely in favor of bringing back the ability to stock power-ups as inventory items in a manner not unlike Super Mario Bros. 3. You can hold up to ninety-nine of each item and can use them at any time when on the world map.
There are seven different power-ups that can be stored. Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers, and Super Stars, as series mainstays, make a comeback in addition to the new Propeller Mushrooms and the Mini Mushrooms from New Super Mario Bros. Making their appearance for the first time in a side-scrolling installment are Ice Flowers. As their name and appearance would suggest, collecting them allows the title character to become Ice Mario. Ice balls freeze enemies in place. You can then pick up the frozen enemies and throw them at their comrades. Although this sounds like a more cumbersome process than defeating enemies outright, the ice balls are perfect for taking down Buzzy Beetles and Dry Bones, which are famously immune to fire. The final power-up, the penguin suit, allows Mario to slide forward on his stomach. As an added bonus, he can shoot ice balls while donning the suit.
Because power-ups are normally consumed as soon as you get them, the ones stored in your inventory are obtained through other means. Within the various worlds you get to explore are Toad Houses, which come in three different colors: red, green, and yellow. Red houses allow Mario to play Power-up Panels. There are 12 panels on a gate and punching them may reveal a helpful item. There are also two images of Bowser and Bowser Jr., and if they’re both revealed, the minigame ends. Green houses allows Mario to play 1-up Blast wherein he can launch himself out of a cannon to collect extra life cards. Finally, yellow Toad Houses will always award Mario a Super Star upon entering them. You no longer need to collect Star Coins to access these houses, and they can be spawned on the starting circle depending on the last two digits of the time limit when Mario touches the flagpole at the end of a stage.
Furthermore, New Super Mario Bros. Wii retools another concept that had been missing since Super Mario Bros. 3: fixed enemy encounters. In Super Mario Bros. 3, completing a stage with Hammer Bros on the world map caused them to randomly advance a certain number of spaces. Moving Mario onto a spot occupied by one then forced an encounter with the Hammer Bro in question. Normally doing so would be a waste of time, but they left treasure boxes behind, which often contained power-ups one couldn’t find by visiting Toad Houses.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii brings the idea back but makes it a little more dynamic. Certain routes are often guarded by enemies – and not just Hammer Bros this time. Many of them move in real time, meaning that through good timing, you can avoid encountering them. However, if you do find yourself in an encounter, you are rewarded with three Super Mushrooms from a grateful Toad held captive by Bowser’s forces. Although the turn-based element of these encounters was a nice touch, I like how the world map goes beyond a glorified point-and-click interface for stage selection. Now, you actually have to weigh your options to some degree. Do you take the enemies head on or do you make a beeline for the next stage? Fortunately, the encounters are so short that even if you run into one by accident, they can be resolved quickly enough.
The single most notable innovation New Super Mario Bros. Wii brings to the table concerns its multiplayer. The fact that four different characters rush off to Peach’s aid implies exactly what you would think. The first player takes control of Mario and acts as the leader. They are the one who navigates the world map and manages the party’s resources. Three additional players can take control of Luigi, Blue Toad, and Yellow Toad on this adventure. Having four players navigate these stages at the same time leads to some interesting changes to the gameplay. The basic premise of reaching the flagpole or boss fight at the end is the same, but there are slight modifications to account for extra people. Most notably, striking most question mark blocks will dispense multiple power-ups at the same time. This circumvents the need to find one power-up per player – assuming your friends are kind enough not to consume unnecessary power-ups, that is. Relatedly, one inventory item affects the whole team, so you don’t have to worry about divvying them up properly.
With multiple characters going through a stage at the same time, there are safeguards in place to ensure that the proceedings don’t become too chaotic. Obviously, if one player loses a life, the party is not necessarily sent back to the world map. As long as at least one character is in play, the team can continue on. If a player who loses a life still has at least one in reserve, their character will reappear in a bubble. The bubbles can, in turn, be popped by an active player, allowing the defeated character to rejoin the game. Players can home in on active players by shaking the Wii Remote, allowing them to rejoin faster. Enemies and other hazards do not affect player characters while they’re in a bubble, and they are given the standard post-hit invincibility upon returning. One can also voluntarily enter a bubble by pressing the “A” button. This comes in handy should you find yourself unable to catch up with the other players because it can prevent you from losing lives unnecessarily. Granted, in multiplayer sessions, losing all your lives does not have a lasting consequence outside of being unable to immediately rejoin the current attempt.
Mr. Miyamoto had always wanted an installment to incorporate multiplayer gameplay throughout the series’ history. He accomplished this goal as early as the 1983 arcade game Mario Bros., but once he redefined the platforming rules with Super Mario Bros., the simple idea became much more difficult to implement. A game as ambitious as Super Mario Bros. couldn’t feasibly allow two players to cooperate given the Famicom’s (NES’s) technical limitations. As a result, multiplayer sessions throughout the series were handled in different ways. Super Mario Bros. merely allowed players to take turns playing the same single-player campaign. Meanwhile, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World treated multiplayer sessions like a board game. A player would have an attempt to complete a stage and whether they succeeded or not, control was then relinquished to their friend. This allowed gamers to play the same campaign with each success getting them closer to their goal. Even as late as Super Mario 64, Mr. Miyamoto attempted to allow for simultaneous, cooperative gameplay, but it wouldn’t be until New Super Mario Bros. Wii that his goal was finally realized.
One incontestable point in this game’s favor is that the level design its significantly improved from New Super Mario Bros. Although pleased with it, Mr. Miyamoto felt in hindsight that New Super Mario Bros. wasn’t difficult enough. The design team led by Shigeyuki Asuke doubtlessly succeeded in making New Super Mario Bros. Wii more challenging. While I found myself blazing through the original game without putting much thought into it, New Super Mario Bros. Wii becomes significantly more difficult around World 5 and does not let up. This culminates in World 8, whose first stage involves outrunning a plume of smoke while jumping on platforms above pits of lava. Touching either instantly kills your character regardless of how many power-ups they have. It succeeds in being incredibly tough, signposting to players that they cannot afford to ever get complacent. As if the designers wanted to empathize their point, this stage is one of the few that cannot be skipped at all – regardless of how you reached it.
Indeed, what especially helps the level design stand out more is the greater number of gimmicks the individual stages have to offer. New Super Mario Bros. was, to a fault, a return to basics. While this did result in the creation of a pure game, it came at the expense of generic stage design. Worst of all, stages would often reuse gimmicks without any significant tweaks. It became repetitive going through several coastal stages long after leaving the seaside world, for instance.
Meanwhile, New Super Mario Bros. Wii often has stages with entirely unique set pieces. Depending on how you go through the game, you may find yourself riding a skeletal dragon roller coaster, bouncing on clouds while avoiding Bullet Bills, or navigating dark caves with the only lighting provided by enemies spewing fireballs. This game also avoids falling into the same trap as its predecessor by placing interesting spins on its reoccurring gimmicks. The most notable one involves a platform that the player can control. You do so by tilting the remote in the appropriate direction. It shows up in a handful of stages, but the additional obstacles are slightly different each time. The first time it appears, you merely use it to access high ground, but in a later stage, you will guide it along a rail above a pit of lava. All of these little touches successfully capture the series’ primary strength – simple gameplay applied to increasingly complex permutations the closer you get to Bowser’s castle.
Even better, the world progression returns to a familiar, linear order. This means you no longer have to defeat any bosses with Mini Mushrooms to access certain worlds. I especially appreciate this development because the boss fights in New Super Mario Bros. Wii are quite a bit more difficult than those of its direct predecessor. While that game settled for enlarging normal enemies and pitting the player against Bowser Jr. multiple times, this one sees fit to have the Koopalings make a triumphant return.
It was easy to take for granted given the age of the series by 2009, but compared to Nintendo’s biggest franchises at the time, Mario typically lagged behind in terms of boss fights. This was especially apparent after 3D became the industry standard. While The Legend of Zelda and Metroid would give their respective series some of the most memorable boss fights, Mario conformed to a model that continued to place a greater emphasis on platforming. On some level, this made sense. The Legend of Zelda and Metroid involved their respective protagonists gaining new abilities. The mechanics of these abilities would then naturally lend themselves to unique applications for potential boss fights. However, mainline Mario installments historically taught players everything they need to know within the first few minutes of gameplay, Because Mario typically had a limited skillset compared to Link or Samus, his boss fights were comparatively simplistic. This isn’t to say the series never had good boss fights – the final encounter against Bowser in Super Mario 64 being proof of that – but, by contrast to other Nintendo franchises, they were seldom a high priority.
Conversely, the amount of care that went into the boss fights in this game is truly remarkable. Anyone who thinks the Koopalings can be defeated in the exact same way as Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World is in for a rude awakening. Wendy can still fire her trademark energy rings, and Roy retains his ability to send shockwaves through the ground upon landing his jumps. However, you also must deal with water and quicksand filling the respective arenas for these fights this time around. With a little help from Bowser’s right-hand sorcerer, Kamek, all of the Koopalings make extensive use of their enchanted arenas that the players must circumvent in order to win. It is also worth noting that, unlike their previous appearances, no two Koopalings are fought in the exact same way. All of these factors combined result in some of the most varied boss fights of any side-scrolling Mario game to date.
Despite being an overall improvement from New Super Mario Bros., this game does have its own share of flaws. Anyone critiquing this game in relation to its predecessor is going to notice several striking similarities between the two. Not only do the games share many musical tracks, they even go as far as recycling the worlds’ identities. The grassland, the desert, the snowfield, the coastline, the jungle, the mountain, the sky, and Bowser’s domain all make a reappearance – in the exact same order, no less.
Even if the level design is markedly improved, Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World were such standout experiences because you never knew exactly what to expect. The former had worlds that committed to surprisingly esoteric themes whereas the latter opted for a more homogenous design, lending the adventure a grand sense of scale. Sure, you could look in the instruction manuals to see Mario’s itinerary, but hearing about it was far different than playing it for yourself. This isn’t so with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Anyone familiar with its predecessor knows exactly where the journey will head. Even those who aren’t may be a little disappointed to discover that the worlds in New Super Mario Bros. Wii run the gamut of stock video game settings.
One could consider the primary theme of New Super Mario Bros. Wii to be the revival of the series’ most interesting ideas. While most of these ideas are implemented well with some even improved, there is one significant exception. In Super Mario World, certain stages had multiple exits. Finding these hidden exits would open secondary paths, leading to entirely new levels existing off the beaten path. Theoretically, there was a default path leading through Dinosaur Land, but in practice, one needed to access at least two secret exits to complete the game. This emphasized the importance of finding secret exits, upgrading it from a bonus feature to an essential part of the experience.
The idea made a return in New Super Mario Bros., but in a much more subdued form. If you were perceptive enough, you may have ended up guiding Mario to a goal bearing a red flag. Finding them would open up an entirely new path, but they were typically limited to shortcuts and warp cannons. Disappointingly, the same holds true for this installment as well. Once again, the biggest problem I have with them is it isn’t made clear whether a stage has a hidden exit or not. In Super Mario World, stages that had hidden exits were marked by a red dot. If a stage only had one exit, it was marked with a yellow dot.
Many of these secret exits allow access to new levels, which have their own set of Star Coins. This means in order to go for 100% completion, you need to scour each stage from top to bottom in search of an alternate exit. This becomes tedious very quickly – especially without the foreknowledge of which stages contain secret exits. What allowed them to work in Super Mario World is that the game never actively hid them from you. You could discover them easily enough as long as you were observant. Owing to the amount of trouble you must go through to find just one red flagpole in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you could go an entire playthrough without knowing they even exist.
It’s also entirely possible to stumble upon one by accident and potentially skip a significant portion of the experience as a direct result. The ability to warp has been a mainstay feature since the series’ inception, but later installments made the task much more difficult. While Warp Zones could be easily accessed in the original Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced Warp Whistles, which were remarkably rare – to the point where you would be very unlikely to obtain even one without a guide. Super Mario World then took this to its logical extreme by having no method of warping at all. While one could still complete the game in as few as twelve stages, pulling off such a feat was highly dependent on skill and deep knowledge of the underlying mechanics. In other words, it is extremely unlikely anyone playing the game blind could complete it in such a fashion.
Moreover, in the games leading up to Super Mario World, the ability to skip entire worlds complemented the notable inability to save. Because Super Mario World itself was a console experience first and foremost, it no longer made any sense to keep the sensibilities the developers had retained from the arcade days. Retaining the ability to skip worlds in the New Super Mario Bros. subseries renders the experience somewhat hollow. It’s a little more justifiable for New Super Mario Bros. Wii with its multiplayer gameplay. Because games like this can be difficult to arrange, warping is a great way to convey a complete experience without having to divide the campaign into too many sessions. Nonetheless, it does make one wonder what the point is in completing the game normally when Warp Cannons can render much of it pointless.
Finally, what I feel to be the game’s biggest problem lies in its controls. With Nintendo having been the single most exemplary developer in the field of video game controls, one might wonder how this installment could possibly suffer in that regard. Oddly enough, it is somewhat related to the inventory screen from the first New Super Mario Bros. installment. In a game that relied primarily on its traditional controls, forcing players to use the touch screen in order to access the item in reserve was highly cumbersome – particularly because, unlike in Super Mario World, they did not automatically dispense themselves if Mario took damage. This bad mechanic came about due to the developers unnecessarily shoehorning in the console’s primary feature when it wasn’t necessary. In general, touch controls only worked when the game in question was wholly dependent on them. Switching back and forth between them could prove costly if you needed to do so during an action sequence.
That desire to show off the console’s capabilities led to the most annoying mechanic in New Super Mario Bros. Wii as well. When the console launched in 2006, it prided itself in its motion controls. Among other things, you could select options by pointing the Wii Remote at the screen and control specific character actions by waving it around. Like the DS’s touch controls, the Wii’s motion controls worked best in games specifically optimized to handle them. New Super Mario Bros. Wii, by virtue of boasting gameplay that predates the beginning of the seventh console generation by nearly two decades, does not fall under this category. To be fair, blending motion controls with standard ones was usually far more naturalistic than the common problem plaguing various DS games. Whether or not they melded together well depended on one simple factor: how the player normally holds the Wii Remote. Games in which players held the Wii Remote like an NES controller were usually less conducive to handling motion controls than ones that required players to point it at the screen the entire time.
So, how does any of this relate back to New Super Mario Bros. Wii? The answer lies in the common action of performing the spin jump. Rather than having the action carried out with the push of a button, one needs to shake the remote. Performing this motion takes a bit more time than pushing a button. Although it doesn’t sound too bad, you don’t want any input delays when playing a game that relies on having quick reflexes. That split-second difference can easily result in several cheap deaths. Considering how many actions require the spin jump – whether it’s picking up objects or dismounting from Yoshi – this quickly overstays its welcome. It goes worse the game leaves the “B” button unused, meaning there was no reason to impose this annoying limitation on players.
Fortunately, if you’re able to accept game’s faults, you will be rewarded with a worthwhile platforming experience. As alluded to before, the game sticks the landing in the best way possible, featuring an incarnation of Bowser’s kingdom that rivals its Super Mario Bros. 3 counterpart in terms of sheer difficulty. This culminates in a memorable encounter with Bowser wherein his second-in-command, Kamek, turns him into a kaiju, prompting Mario and company to run away until they find a switch that ends the battle immediately. If that sounds anticlimactic, trust me when I say the sequence is much better than it sounds.
Best of all, completing the game unlocks a ninth world. It features eight stages, and they can only be unlocked by collecting all of the Star Coins from the previous worlds. Considering the trials you must complete in order to earn the privilege of playing these stages, they are appropriately difficult. Special mention goes to the stage that involves precariously navigating blocks of ice in a frozen jungle rapidly being melted by fireball-spewing Piranha Plants. It may be frustrating to play, but it is followed up with a cloud trampoline extravaganza if you’re playing the stages in order, so I say it balances out.
Drawing a Conclusion
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is, at the end of the day, a token sequel. Usually, this is a bad thing because it denotes a marked lack of ambition on the creator’s part. However, I find myself likening New Super Mario Bros. Wii to Naughty Dog’s Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, the latter of which was also released in 2009. Both had a concept with a lot of potential, yet, for various reasons, weren’t fully realized by their respective teams. As a result, they came across as prototypes to their immediate successors in hindsight. They were fully functional, but they lacked a certain something to make playing them worthwhile. In the end, both studios were able to deliver an experience improved in all the correct fields.
However, I must remark that between the two games, Uncharted 2 is the superior effort. Why? It’s because going into 2009, the goodwill of the Uncharted series was limited to the original game. Considering how flawed the original game managed to be, it was remarkable that the team took the criticisms to heart when conceiving its sequel. Meanwhile, the Mario franchise was synonymous with the medium itself. The series had such an extensive history to the point where, even if it is an improvement over its direct predecessor, New Super Mario Bros. Wii plays like the video-game equivalent of a “Greatest Hits” album. That is, it has so many excellent ideas, but a majority of them can be traced back to older games. One could make a fairly strong case that, as a game, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is better than Uncharted 2, but it’s difficult to be excited for it when you realize Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World manage to boast just as much creative energy – if not, more – despite predating it by twenty-one and nineteen years respectively.
Because of this, I’m slightly ambivalent when it comes to recommending New Super Mario Bros. Wii. By 2009, it became clear that a majority of the innovation within the series would be in the fully 3D installments. This is especially observable to those who play New Super Mario Bros. Wii immediately after Super Mario Galaxy. It’s also a little difficult to recommend it as a multiplayer experience because the level design doesn’t fully complement having four people running around at once. Depending on who you play with, sessions can become more frustrating than fun. At the same time, and unlike the first New Super Mario Bros., I can easily recommend it to newcomers because it provides a very balanced experience that properly explains what the franchise is all about. New Super Mario Bros. Wii relies a little too heavily on the franchise’s goodwill, but not quite to the point where it shamelessly wallows in it. By virtue of knowing which ideas to bring back, it lent a sense of relevance to many good old-school design choices that had been abandoned after the medium made its historic leap to three dimensions in 1996.
Final Score: 6/10