The staggering commercial success the folks at Nintendo have achieved in recent years has made it easy to overlook their more unfortunate habits. For all that everyone applauds their devotion to classic play styles, they've been making essentially the same game for 25 years. And though they've acquired a reputation as the most casual-friendly of video-game companies, their tentpole games are, without fail, controller-chuckingly difficult. Those ironies extend to the name of New Super Mario Bros. Wii: it's the most rudimentary, backward-looking Mario game Nintendo has released in years.
|New Super Mario Bros. Wii | for Wii | Rated E for Everyone | Developed and Published by Nintendo|
Not that there isn't an inherent appeal in revisiting all the old characters, sound effects, and tunes. New SMB most closely resembles the seminal Super Mario Bros. 3, which is now 20 years old. An overworld map bridges the individual levels, offering mildly non-linear routes for Mario to take on his quest to rescue Princess Peach. The levels themselves are sidescrollers of the sort that the Super Mario series perfected, if not outright invented. It's all here: the ice world, the desert world, the forced-scrolling levels. Oh, and the impossible jumps, deadly foes swooping in from off screen, and soaring platforms that are always happy to dump you into the abyss.
Hey, these games have always been difficult. It took me 12 years to beat the first Super Mario Bros. If I forgot that essential truth just because the jingling sound of Mario picking up coins momentarily sent me into a reverie, that's on me. What's different this time is the mandatory Wii emphasis on multi-player modes. Far from making the game easier or more enjoyable, having two to four players on screen at a time turns it into a farce, removing the series's hallmark controlled chaos — in which the game was tough but fair, and dying was always your fault — and replacing it with, well, actual chaos.
Whatever the multi-player mode in New Super Mario Bros. Wii is, it is not cooperative. You can help a fellow player out — say, by letting him bounce off your head, or by flinging him across gaps — but more often you'll accidentally push him into the path of a fireball, or bop him into a chasm. It's alarming to realize how many accidental ways there are to kill your fellow players — or be killed by them.
Nintendo's attempted solution to this problem is to allow you to summon a bubble that will let you float back to the other players unharmed. When it works, it seems like a stroke of genius. Nothing in the game is impassable for a single player, so less skilled participants can simply float past obstacles to join their teammates on the other side. If you get in the habit, the bubble can save you from mistimed jumps and other hazards. More often, though, you'll accidentally spring an enbubbled teammate loose over a pit. Or hit the "A" button with your thumb when everybody else is either in a bubble or dead, sealing yourself in a bubble and sending all of you back out to the map screen to start again. There's an element of chance here that's absolutely bewildering.