E3: New Super Mario Bros. Wii initial hands-on impressions

I was pleased to see Mario return to his side-scrolling platform roots once more in New Super Mario Bros. for Wii.  Similar to it’s DS predecessor, New Super Mario Bros. Wii puts our hero in his original element – traversing the mushroom kingdom in a very linear and direct fashion – but the simplicity of the level design and gameplay demo presented at Nintendo’s E3 media briefing had me concerned.  The worst face that can befall a well designed platform game is uninspired, boring level design. Was this game going to be too easy? Would I simply breeze through it, as I did with the DS version?

Thankfully, no.  Although a fair number of the stages on demo on the showroom floor were simple, a few levels offered more than enough challenge to keep me interested – featuring death defying leaps of faith, precise turtle shell jump launches, and playing tricks on  your team mates – just like the old days! …well, sort of.  New Super Mario Bros. for Wii sets itself apart from previous Mario games by adding a co-op multiplayer element.  That is, up to four players can play in the same level at the same time, playing cooperatively, or abusing each others position to reach a ledge or grab a power up.

The confusion of multiple players on screen led to some fun and exciting hijinks, and added to the challenge of navigating some of the more complicated obstacles in our path.  It feels like a wonderful mix between the old “Mario Bros.” competitive arcade game, and all of the “Super” platforming classics.  I could easily see New Super Mario Bros. rising to the top of my “party game” list, as well as becoming one of my single-player favorites.

The title is not without it’s quirks though – spin attacks are executed by shaking the Wii Remote up and down , a gesture that does not always feel natural can feel a bit off.  Also, when any player dies in multiplayer, the screen freezes for all four possible participants as the doomed character falls off screen.  Staff on hand told me that it was designed to freeze the action in the same way the original Super Mario games did when the player died, but this nostalgic touch halts the action in multiplayer mode, and feels more like a glitch than a homage.

Although it’s hard to judge a game based off of a ten minute demo of a few levels, New Super Mario Bros. has all the elements that count: fun, challenge, and a great multiplayer experience.  With a little fine tuning, this will be a fun and memorable, but perhaps not groundbreaking addition to your Wii library.