Thursday, August 2, 2012

New-stalgia: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

New-stalgia is a brand-new segment gracing us with its presence here at SuperPhillip Central. The concept behind New-stalgia is to highlight recently released (within the past five years or so) games that I consider to be modern classics -- ones that I will look back on in the future with, you guessed it, nostalgia. To kick off this sensational segment, we have New Super Mario Bros. Wii to run and jump its way back into the spotlight.

What I said then:

"Each level of the game's near-eighty levels is brimming with secrets, obstacles, enemies, hazards, and surprises. The fact of the matter is that each level is masterfully designed. Each level is one cohesively enjoyable experience. Super Mario Galaxy had plenty of moments, but they were strung together by small interruptions of standard platforming. Not New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This game packs a punch from beginning to end. It grabs a hold of you in the very first level with new surprises such as rotating pieces of land, and it doesn't stop. It doesn't let go. One level you'll think can't be topped, and then the next single-handily destroys your expectations. It's a phenomenally designed game."

"Old and new are mended together wonderfully in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Remember those spiked pillars that would smash you in Super Mario World? Now they're even larger in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, spinning and churning with rapid rotations. Airships from Super Mario Bros. 3 return with three levels of challenging platforming action. They were always the most impressive and difficult levels in Super Mario Bros. 3, and they're no slouch in this version of the series either. Enemies old and new are ready to get in your way, too, from fire-spitting piranha plants, to punching and pummeling poltergeists, giant, ghostly boos, ball-chucking spikes, plumber-consuming fish, sledge, fire and ice-throwing hammer bros, and many, many more"

"If there was one game that I could call magical [in 2009] and mean it 100%, it'd have to be New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Nearly everything fits together like a nicely-designed jigsaw puzzle. Sure, a piece or two might have been less-than-gently squeezed into place, but the package as a whole is brilliant. The levels are constantly surprising, challenging (especially the later worlds), and the game is a blast to play alone or with friends. One isn't better than the other-- they're just different experiences and ways to play. Without a doubt, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is one of the best games released [in 2009], and perhaps even a greater 2-D Mario than Super Mario Bros. 3, nostalgia goggles off."

What I say now:

Having played through the majority of New Super Mario Bros. Wii once more with a partner over the past few weeks, my thoughts on just how adept the designers of the game truly were when they crafted each level. The game constantly introduces new challenges and obstacles to make the various courses all the more original. There are plenty of callbacks and throwbacks to past 2D Mario games. One of the castles in the game has you racing to outrun large, spiked pillars (as seen in Super Mario World). You must run like Usain Bolt to reach each safe zone in order to avoid getting hit. Those pillars move might fast as they jut out. While another is an auto-scrolling affair akin to the original Super Mario Bros. where there are three paths before you, and you must choose the correct one or you will here a buzzer sound and must redo the section, picking another path to go on the next time.

Then there's the returning airships from Super Mario Bros. 3, three in the game total. Like the aforementioned castle and tradition for these types of levels in 2D, these airships slowly auto-scroll as well. Leaping on screws that spin as you stand on them to stay on top of the tricky platforms, nimbly dodging the fire-spewing exhaust ports which want to cook your goose, and avoiding the projectiles thrown by the irritating Rocky Wrenches all hark back to a simpler time in Mario's long-standing career. Alongside the airships are haunted houses where Boos and other apparitions call their home. These are full of false doors, secret exits, and hidden passageways.

The levels aren't just borrowing concepts from past Mario games completely either. There are myriad of novel and creative ideas implemented to make New Super Mario Bros. Wii feel less like a nostalgia trip meant to cash in on people's fond memories of Mario and more like a game that constantly raises the bar on intuitive level design. Right from the first level you are presented with a grassland level with spinning wheels that hide pipes that can be entered as well as the introduction of the ever-spectacular Propeller Suit. One shake of the Wii remote (what, a quick flick of both wrists is a workout all of a sudden?) sends you soaring high into the air to reach otherwise inaccessible trinkets and areas.

Even the second level, while following the traditional trope of a Mario game by being an underground affair, features something new with crystallized purple platforms that shift left to right or up and down and special walkways that when stepped on, allow you to tilt them with the Wii remote. Following a rendezvous with Yoshi, who appears in a select handful of levels to help, and a swimming stage, world one's castle brings you through a hazardous huge gear-filled obstacle course with a date with lava as your reward for failure. 

You might be thinking, "so what?" Well, that's only the first world. Other worlds present much more interesting ideas and levels. From a koopa coaster that descends into lava at various intervals (making jumping a safe and smart option at each point) to swimming through bubbles that are suspended in the air, to going airborne as you hitch a ride on a pack of skyward manta rays, to using falling icicles as platforms (and not getting crushed by them in the process), to acting like Tarzan and swinging on vines to reach higher elevations, to ascending a vertical fortress where the walls, each lined by spikes, shift left and right, to riding a raft across a deadly river while enemies like Bob-ombs, Piranha Plants, and Goombas fall on your only means of safety, to trying to distance yourself from a pursuing cloud of poisonous purple gas, to staying out of the center of a vertical fortress as you climb your way to the top, avoiding the lunges of a thick and lengthy spiked piston, to one of the most epic encounters with Bowser in series history (seriously)-- phew! I'm out of breath!

Playing the game with friends or family members is by far the best and most fun multiplayer experience I have had this generation, online or off. Working together to reach an out-of-the-way Star Coin, or getting in one another's way, using a friend's head to get some extra height off a jump while they go falling into the bottomless pit below is always a laugh. When you're really working as a cohesive unit, firing on all cylinders, and speed running through levels, that is truly something special. Even beginners can join you and bubble up when they get left behind. (Bubbling up refers to the ability to press a button to have your character float in a bubble, floating around as the other player(s) move through the levels. By shaking the Wii remote, you can float the bubble toward the other player(s) for them to free you from it. This is a tactical move as well in multiplayer as you can make a suicide leap to get to a Star Coin and bubble up to prevent losing a life.)

If I have one complaint towards New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it is that it doesn't do more to wow people with its visuals. They are certainly competent and perform well. The framerate is solid, for that matter. Regardless, everything just feels sterile. I wouldn't call it generic, a word that is thrown about so often nowadays. I would just call it a bit bland compared to something like Rayman Origins. Then again, this art style is a much more neutral and inviting one. It makes judging and seeing where to jump much more manageable than Ubisoft Montpelier's tremendous effort. Plus the collision detection is perfect as well.

As New Super Mario Bros. 2 approaches and the much more anticipated by me New Super Mario Bros. U comes close (the game I consider to be the true sequel to the Wii game), I find myself returning to New Super Mario Bros. Wii quite often. I probably just won't be doing so when a new Mario platformer comes out. No, I'll be coming back to this game whenever and wherever. It is a masterful Mario game that sits on the same shelf as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. The ability to play with up to three other people make this a terrific installment as does the brilliant level design, hidden secrets (such as level exits, Star Coins, and World 9), and that quintessential Mario charm. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a game that many take for granted. It obviously sold fabulously (upwards of 25 million worldwide as of December 2011), but I feel because it doesn't reinvent the wheel or have the production values of a Super Mario Galaxy, it is poo-pooed on much more than it deserves to be. It is a game that is near-perfect, has the right balance of old and new, and delivers one of the best (I'd argue the best) 2D platforming experiences of this generation.


What are your thoughts on New Super Mario Bros. Wii? Did my retrospective look of the game open your eyes some or not at all? What games do you think will be considered modern classics in say, ten years? Let the community know with a comment below.

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