This article was originally published at Kombo.com on November 24, 2009.
When Bowser Jr. and the Koopalings spring a booby-trapped birthday cake on Princess Peach, Mario, Luigi, and two mushroom retainer Toads chase their escaping airship across the Mushroom Kingdom through a healthy dose of traditional side-scrolling platforming action for up to four players in New Super Mario Bros. Wii for the Nintendo Wii. Expect to make full use of Mario's signature power-ups such as the Super Mushroom and Fire Flower along with new aids like the Ice Flower that freezes enemies in throwable ice blocks, the Penguin Suit that combines the power of the Ice Flower with enhanced mobility in the water and on frozen ground, and the Propeller Suit that allows for a quick on-demand flight through an adventure suited for mushroom power pros and cautious casual gamers alike.
Above all else, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a prime classic-style Super Mario Bros. game given a new coat of paint and firing on all cylinders. There's running and jumping challenges that require a built-up muscle memory and trained reflexes, and anyone who has enjoyed one of the many Mario adventures over the years will find plenty of pleasingly familiar territory. Watch for heavy doses of nostalgia on top of the new elements, such as remixed music, rideable Yoshi, the return of the Koopalings, interference from Kamek the sorcerer, attack of the familiar Koopa Clown Car, and other such things spanning from the original Nintendo Entertainment System title up through the original New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. Longtime fans of the series will find plenty of referential humor to enjoy, too. I spent most of the entire game with a big grin on my face. It's unavoidable!
Nostalgia aside, strip away the "Hey! It's _________!" moments from the game and one will find that there's still a solid adventure underneath. While the worst part of a Super Mario Bros. game is that it has to end eventually, here we have an example of a game that lasts just long enough to provide a solid challenge without wearing out its welcome. Moreover, the difficulty level really ramps up near the end of the game, giving us the most challenging Super Mario game in years. Perhaps it's the overabundance of extra lives and the new Super Guide system that aids struggling players in getting to the goal with real-time guidance gave Nintendo's creative time license to pull out all the stops. Even after the game seemingly ends, new challenges are unlocked, so while kicking the Koopas can be done in just a few days, there's enough to do in the post-endgame experience that will keep seasoned players busy (and frustrated in a good way) for a while.
Despite all of its strengths, there are a few little quirks that leave a bit to be desired. The only playable character in single-player mode is Mario, meaning that playing as Luigi or the two Toads is restricted to multiplayer mode. Speaking of the two Toads, featuring two playable Toads feels lazy when there are a whole stable of beloved playable characters such as Wario, Waluigi, and Princess Daisy available for action. Then there's the handful of abilities that require shaking the Wii remote that in most cases would be better suited to button commands (e.g., picking up items). Finally, while the final end boss encounter is suitably epic, I was hoping to be able to unleash a comparatively more physical offensive attack than what is required. These are little nits centered more around what the game doesn't do rather than what it does but are still worth a mention.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the latest in a long line of grade-A Nintendo side-scrolling platformers. Loads of warm nostalgia mixes with fresh level design to form the most fun you'll have with the Wii this year (and probably well into 2010, too). The funny thing is, while all of the returning elements strengthen the game in the eyes of long-time players, casual players will not miss anything by failing to recognize that, say, the sound of a warp cannon swinging into position uses the exact same sound effect of the cannon in Super Mario 64 preparing to fire. Both the core and casual audiences will enjoy this game, but as the old pretension goes, they'll never love it on as many levels as we will.
For more on New Super Mario Bros. Wii, be sure to listen to Joey Davidson and I discuss the adventure in Episode 52 of the Kombo Breaker podcast.