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New Super Mario Bros. Wii: The Fine Art of Doing it All Over Again

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Adrian Hatwell
Adrian Hatwell

Rumblings in the distant future aside, New Super Mario Bros. Wii was about the only first-party Nintendo title on display at this year’s E3 event that had much of the traditional audience interested. For that stalwart gaggle known as the hardcore it had been a dry season on the Nintendo front, and the bright 2D side-scroller just oozed their particular old-school musk. To the casual onlooker, however, the title looked pretty darn similar to the games coming out a few decades ago.        

On the surface New Super Mario Bros. Wii seems to be a rather tardy sequel to Mario’s last classic console platformer, 1990’s Super Mario World for the Super Nintendo. The fundamentals are unchanged, leaping from platforms, stomping enemies, smashing blocks, collecting coins; between then and now it’s the same as it ever was. As far as progress goes it appears that the only step forward Nintendo have managed in that cavernous time gap is the addition of a simultaneous multiplayer option.     

While accurate enough, such a checklist summary completely overlooks the subtle, sneaky design brilliance that underlies this slyly addictive game. It’s true that other than a fairly simplistic addition to the formula the game hasn’t changed drastically from its 80s origins, but perhaps a more appropriate approach is to say New Super Mario Bros. Wii recaptures the essence of those beloved old titles so authentically that without proper scrutiny it just seems contrived, lazy even.

The endless reiteration of stagnant ideas is generally thought of as one of the more grievous blights on the gaming industry today, but from the father of Mario, Shigeru Miyamoto, such repetition is not just expected but positively worshiped. We are happy to put up with the unending parade of cartoon plumber games from Shiggy, practically giddy at their release, solely because almost without exception these games are some kind of wonderful. 

Laying the foundations for countless addictions to come with Mario Bros. in 1985, the reason that New Super Mario Bros. Wii can get away without messing with the fundamentals is because they worked back then, and they damn sure work now. It takes mere seconds beyond the menu screen before anyone that whiled away their youth in front of an NES gets welcome shivers of nostalgia as they send the rotund plumber hurtling towards his flagpole once more.

In both its past and present iterations the Mario series is at once simple and devilishly difficult, fun and unendingly frustrating, basic and ridiculously tricky to master. It’s the mess of contradicting pains and pleasures that lies at the weird and troubled core of all mildly addicted gaming enthusiasts. But just because that solid crux hasn’t changed throughout the years it doesn’t mean the new iteration is guilty of complacency; innovation takes many forms and – to borrow a phrase from Futurama – when done right people might not know you’ve done anything at all.

Without having to mess around with anything hallowed, in New Super Mario Bros. Wii Nintendo have managed to once again bring together gaming audiences that are usually incompatible. By appealing to the hardcore contingent’s Slytherin-like lust for purity the game upholds its proud geeky linage with style, but in making a few inbuilt concessions to newcomers the title also pulls in those that might have missed the Mario train on its first hundred or so laps of the station.   

Whereas any game can offer a range of difficulties to choose from, New Super Mario Bros. Wii has instead grown these varying difficulties directly into the genetic makeup of the game. One doesn’t chose how hard the game will be, it is as it is, but should certain elements begin to prove too difficult the game courteously offers a hand.

Should you choose to view them, there are in-game hint movie available, if you continually fail at a certain hurdle Luigi will turn up and show you how its done, and if you’ve hit that impassable wall which would usually signal quitting, the novice gamer can simply ask New Super Mario Bros. Wii to play that section for them.  

Catching wind of these junior league options set to besmirch the proud memory of the revered Mario series, many fans were outraged. I would be surprised, however, if that outrage persisted after any amount of time actually playing the game; veterans need not worry, if you don’t need the leg up then they never intrude upon the gameplay, its just as though they don’t exist.

For those that do need a little assistance, however, these pointers and shortcuts open the game right up in a way that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. It makes the single-player portion of the title fun for absolutely anyone, regardless of skill, but the real coup comes in the amazing species of multiplayer game that emerges as a result.

Again bypassing the traditional menu-dictated route, multiplayer grows organically out of the game’s structure. It’s not an addition to a storyline campaign or a tacked on extra, both single-player and multiplayer exist as one. The clever design decisions that allow less-skilled players to enjoy their struggle through single-player allows those same players to simultaneously play with an expert without either’s experience being tainted or ruined by the other. If you have ever tried to introduce a hopeless beginner to a game you are passionate about you’ll know that achieving something like this is a feat of sheer magic. 

A co-operative, competitive, or simply concurrent undertaking, multiplayer gaming in New Super Mario Bros. Wii is an irresistible and singular experience. How any particular group wants to play it can and will change from level to level, minute to minute, and it’s the great achievement of the game’s robust deign that no matter how the gamers’ choose to act the levels can facilitate and accentuate the vibe. Race through without regard for anyone else, greedily hog power-ups and trip up allies, or band together to access tricky bonuses; whichever route you take at any given time the game has you covered.  

Miyamoto has said that this is the way he always intended the Mario games to be but earlier technology couldn’t keep pace with the idea. It’s a nice marketing sound bite, to be sure, but if you pay close attention to the game’s transparent decisions its hard not to believe the statement true. New Super Mario Bros. Wii offers a multitude of ways of playing, facilitating as diverse an array of gamer as possible, all at the same time, on the same screen, together at once.   

The fragmenting of the gaming audience into so-called ‘casual’ and ‘hardcore’ markets, each with their own types of games, has become a reductive and problematic approach when thinking about the medium. It seems Nintendo couldn’t be bothered with that nonsense, deciding instead to just develop a game that’s for absolutely everyone. Decades in the making, well worth the wait.

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