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Old is the New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Marius Goubert
Games reviews, New Super Mario Bros, Nintendo

Old is the New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Platform: Wii

Developer: Nintendo EAD

Publisher: Nintendo

We’ve all been there. That fateful day your Super Nintendo disappeared into the hands of some stranger along with a bucket load of game cartridges – so painstakingly built up over the years – at some crumby car boot sale. Yes, the money was nice, but it never consoled you for long. And as the years passed and those more advanced games grew boring and monotonous, it wasn’t long before you were looking back to the past. Yearning for the good old days when entire summer holidays were spent ducking and weaving your way through the mushroom kingdom. When all you needed for complete videogame bliss was a humble 2D platformer.

Or at least, that’s how it seems looking back years later.

But truthfully, Nintendo’s decision to resurrect the classic Super Mario format and revert back to the series’ 2D origins is just like the time you begged your dad to get the SNES down from the loft (providing you didn’t flog it of course). The idea seemed like pure genius until after the first few hours of gameplay when it suddenly dawns on you how the past, so flawless in your memory, rarely lives up to your expectations. And while Nintendo’s efforts to preserve as much as possible from the classic Super Mario series are undoubtedly one of New Super Mario Brother's greatest strengths. Their fidelity to the old format is, at the same time, one the game’s biggest drawbacks.

Old is the New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Because for all of us weaned on Mario throughout our childhood, who dedicated all those evenings, those weekends, those skived days off school, New Super Mario Brothers appeals because it offers the chance for a nostalgic jaunt back through time. Everything is just how you remember it. The legendary music - which has gone on to become something of a cult phenomenon - is as cute, catchy, and vaguely mocking as ever. That sense of giddiness, panic, and those sharp stabs of adrenaline as you launch between precipices are just as acute now as they were fifteen years ago. About the only real difference is in terms of visuals where, with things like cloud mist that obscures the whole screen, New Super Mario Brothers far exceeds the capabilities of the obsolete SNES.

Suddenly confronted by all these references to their gaming childhood - Yoshi, the flagpoles, Mario’s mushroom munching, the princess-rescuing-storyline etc - the player feels almost like they’ve just walked into their primary school for the first time in a decade. Apart from a new paint job and some new curtains in the assembly hall, everything is just how you remember it. But however much we all like to evoke the past; the truth is New Super Mario Brothers doesn’t have all that much to back up it up when the initial sense of novelty inevitably fades. And after you’ve indulged your nostalgia, it becomes difficult to persevere, especially when the lure of other games start undermining your resolve to continue.

Old is the New Super Mario Brothers Wii

It’s not that Nintendo don’t try to keep you going. New Super Mario Brothers is far more forgiving than its predecessors. In the old days, extra lives were so precious that the sight of one of those green mushrooms would have you practicality hyperventilating. But now extra lives are so abundant that by the end of the game, a good player can bank more than fifty without ever coming close to the ‘Game Over’ screen.

There are also a few new features like the ice flower, which allows you to throw snowballs that encase enemies within blocks of ice, and a penguin suit, which gives you supreme swimming skills. However, by far the most significant is multiplayer, where up to four players can tackle levels simultaneously. But although this is hilarious for about the first hour as you bash, throw and constantly kill one another, it isn’t long before you've had enough, and your excitement gives way to that ‘I am not playing anymore…’ sense of frustration.

Overall, there’s no question New Super Mario Brothers is a worthy revival, and providing some form of innovation without fundamentally changing the format must have been a difficult balancing act for Nintendo. Understandably they chose not to mess with things. The authentic Mario experience has been preserved while any signs of aging have been airbrushed with some stylish digital re-mastering. But for me, the effects of time became only too clear once I was done reminiscing, and by the end, found myself persisting more out of a sense of loyalty to my childhood-videogame-hero than because I was genuinely engrossed. It’s interesting to think how a game like this would go down if stripped of the Super Mario brand, and although this is of course missing the point, New Super Mario Brothers does play on that temptation to overrate anything retro.

For those of us brought up on the classic Mario format, it's a pleasure to see it rejuvenated, but also sad when you find yourself fitting the game in for a bit of light relief between those more modern titles. Deep down I can’t help but wonder if 2D Mario was actually better off  happily confined to my memory where he'd always be untainted and supreme. After all, when it comes to childhood legends, sometimes it's better to remain blissfully ignorant of their flaws.

Old is the New Super Mario Brothers Wii

Add a comment3 comments
Gunn  Jan. 26, 2010 at 14:24

Why are the 3rd and 4th characters just random Toads? Why not allow choice like in Mario kart.

Matt Gardner  Jan. 26, 2010 at 15:42

I've gotta agree with you Marius. I was left slightly disappointed by this, particularly in the wake of Super Mario Galaxy which was fantastic. It's almost like Nintendo realised they might have reached a limit for now, and simply went back to the start.

It's only a matter of time before a spruced Mario 64 I reckon.

Nostalgia 1 - Innovation 0

John McLaggan  Jan. 26, 2010 at 18:25

I assume you didn't actually play through this in the multiplayer mode though? The reason I ask is that your section on lives seems to indicate you only played through in single player which isn't really what the game is aimed at. You mention it very briefly a couple of paragraphs down but it's pretty much stepped over entirely.

My favourite feature of Littlebigplanet was by far and away the four player feature, not for the fairly pointless little sections where you needed multiple players but just the general gameplay. Rather than play co-operatively we used to race through the levels as fast as possible with those who couldn't keep up dying horribly.

So that was obviously the main appeal of the new Super Mario Brothers game and very quickly the characters were being pushed under thwomps, knocked off ledges, thrown into lava and pushed off the back of the screen thanks to someone horsing away in front. Competition for powerups once it was known where they were became rather fierce to say the least...

While the later sections of the game may be easy in single player, they're certainly not in multiplayer as the small moving platforms are pretty tricky with more than one person. Even putting aside the competitive side of the game, the lives counter was dropping rapidly as yet again someone was accidentally nudged off a small platform. Yahtzee in his Zero punctuation review summed this up as trying to do the platforming while in a washing machine with cricket balls bouncing about which is pretty much spot on.

On the other hand though the bubble system works fairly well - when a player dies for whatever reason, if they have a live left they come floating back in as a bubble which can't be harmed. They then rejoin the game once the bubble has been burst by another player. During the level any player can voluntarily put themselves in bubble if they've mucked up a jump or similar and going to die otherwise. To balance the advantage out if all players go into a bubble then it's back to the map screen which prevents players from staying as bubbles for too long unless the main player is manages to avoid all hazards.

I don't see the point in playing any of the game as a single player as it's just a fairly bland platformer whereas in four player there's definitely some promise although much of it has been missed. What I found particularly frustrating is that there's a good selection of co-op mechanics but they're virtually never needed. Players can be picked up and thrown to get to awkward spaces or can jump off each other's heads for a boost as well as simple elements to take advantage of the multiple characters. Virtually nothing in any of the levels uses any of these features though which is a real shame, I didn't like the clunky LBP implementation where the co-op parts were distinctly separate to the main parts of the level which I'd hoped SMB would be better at but it doesn't really do it at all.

With better level design I think SMB for the Wii could have actually been very clever but as it stands it's a missed opportunity. Which is a shame as I loved a lot of the 'fan service' to much of the Mario series, it doesn't push it in your face but instead you have to smile when recognisinga a bit of music or an old enemy. The graphics are also very bland missing the charm LBP had or even the much older Mario World 2.


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