Super Mario Galaxy is an incredibly tough act to follow. You have a game that, for all intents and purposes, rewrote the 3D platformer rules and took the world by storm with its fantastic level design, outstanding soundtrack, and fun-as-hell gameplay. Nintendo was in a tricky spot, then, when they had to figure out the next big release in the Mario franchise for their massively popular console, the Wii. The result was New Super Mario Bros Wii, a decidedly less ambitious title that is nonetheless good, classic Mario fun.
Like the 2006 DS installment before it, New Super Mario Bros Wii did not rewrite very many rules of the Mario playbook. In fact, at a glance, the game is almost too safe with its mechanics and design. You have eight worlds to jump, stomp, and fly through; a variety of power ups that give Mario and Co. different abilities; a simple but fun world map to travel through between levels; some boss fights against the Koopa Kids; some airship levels; and many more elements that we’ve seen many times before.
The ever elusive Star Coins return, now serving more of a purpose then in the previous entry, where they were mostly used to unlock item houses and…that’s about it. Some of the new power ups were pretty fun as well, such as the Ice Flower that lets Mario freeze his enemies, either sending them sliding around, or using them as a makeshift platform. Then there was the Propeller Mushroom, a bizarre power up that would send Mario up into the air, then let him drift slowly toward the ground. Unlike the Power Leaf or Cape from Super Mario World, the propeller suit was less of a skill-based, level-skip item and more of a handicap when it came to the platforming.
The game, although having an almost-too-similar name, was much more challenging than the previous handheld entry. It’s not a crushingly difficult game by any means, but where most people could coast pretty easily through New Super Mario Bros, NSMBW definitely had some teeth, particularly a late game encounter which includes an extremely memorable ride on a bony roller coaster through Bowser’s lava filled kingdom (touching the lava of course, is an instant death). Merely beating the level is an exercise in memorization of level layout coupled with lightning fast reflexes, and getting the Star Coins is a whole other project in and of itself.
Somewhat disappointingly, the game brings back the Koopa Kids for boss fights, echoing Super Mario Bros 3 back on the NES and Super Mario World on the SNES. The only reason I say it’s disappointing is that NSMB at least managed to have some variety when it came to its bosses. Sure, they weren’t mind blowing by any means, but it was nice to see Nintendo not rely so much on the classic characters. Still, the bosses were pure spectacle and fun to fight, particularly the final confrontation with Bowser, which has multiple stages and sees him take up the whole screen.
I like to believe that the Mario franchise is for all ages despite its kid friendly aesthetic. There are some levels in this game that might be too tough for a very young child, so Nintendo added in a never-before-seen feature: cooperative gameplay. The entire game can be played with up to four people for the first time in the series, and it is pure chaos. After deciding who gets to be Mario and Luigi, and who gets saddled with one of two Toads (why they didn’t add in Peach is beyond me), players can trek through the Mushroom Kingdom and try to cooperate, before inevitably competing in a “who can push who into the pit the most” contest.
It’s obvious that the game wasn’t necessarily designed with multiplayer in mind. The above mentioned roller coaster level in World 8 is already a challenge to get through solo, but adding in more than one person, where you constantly bump into each other, must be an absolute nightmare. So basically, entertainment value from this mode depends on your intention. Trying to complete the game and get hidden Star Coins while playing with friends is going to end very poorly, and with some verbal abuse slung about between you and them. But playing it competitively, or jokingly, maybe with some drinks, is a blast and can provide endless belly laughs.
There is a new feature to counter co-op clutter, where players can go in a bubble at any time with the press of a button and auto scroll through the level while someone else plays it. It’s a great way for older, more experienced gamers to help younger gamers through some of the game’s tougher sections if they get too frustrated. It’s a really nice feature, one that shows Nintendo had some foresight when it came to the wonky physics of playing with more than one person. And since it’s totally optional, it doesn’t feel like you’re breaking the game’s challenge by using it.
One final feature NSMBW brought back was the secret world. Similar to Star Road in Super Mario World, there is a ninth world that can be beaten once the main story is finished. The catch is that in order to unlock one of the eight levels, you must obtain all the Star Coins in a given world. For instance, getting all the Star Coins in World 1 will unlock level 9-1. And these levels certainly live up to their hidden nature. They offer the steepest challenges in the game, with some of the later levels throwing screen-filling Banzai Bills the player’s way. It was a great way to incentivize players to search out every nook and cranny, offering tangible, unique rewards for completionists unlike the previous entry.
There isn’t too much more to say about New Super Mario Bros Wii. Much like The Legend of Zelda: Four Swords Adventures, it put a cooperative spin on an other wise fairly standard entry in the beloved franchise. It’s probably not anyone’s favorite, but it pulls off all the tropes of the series well enough that it’s worth a look for fans of the mustached plumber. Honestly, after Super Mario Galaxy, it served as a nice throwback to the classic gameplay that made Mario such a beloved franchise in the first place. To me, it’s nice to have a mixture of old school and innovation in any long running series like this. It gives players options, and can serve as a reminder that sometimes you just want something you know you love.