The latest Mario game is practically identical to prior 2D Mario titles. Even the name is similar. Hell, it’s so similar, there are even levels and instances which will remind you of previous games. The whole single player experience, because of this, is so shallow that playing through it is an expression of reminiscing, not of a new gameplay experience.
Nintendo attempted to fix this horrendous lapse of judgment with what should have been available years ago (though clearly their cash-cow business didn’t require it): cooperative gameplay. Cooperative isn’t the correct word though, because unless all players truly want to complete the levels without screwing around, it’ll be competitive. Meaning throwing friends off ledges, jumping on them at inopportune times, and essentially ruining a perfectly reasonable game with unreasonable silliness.
As a Wii game, the addition of extra players in a Mario game is perfect: get one to three friends, put NSMBW in, and have fun getting through just one level. And it will be fun, oodles of it. In fact, chances are the hours will fly by and you won’t notice, because while shooting up friends on Halo or Uncharted 2 is fun in the success, “I killed you” kind of way, Mario is fun in the sadistic, “haha I threw you into lava for the 4th time” way.
Let’s take a second to look at the story. Peach gets captured by Bowser Junior, Mario and friends (Luigi and two Toads) must go save her. Clear enough? There are no cute references, no amazing attention to details, just the occasional Yoshi, a ton of levels to go through, and evil turtles to battle.
What is painfully clear, in each and every level of the game, is that there is clearly minimal thought put into the levels. It is devoid of intelligence of fun. It is creatively bankrupt. As a gamer who’s played enough Mario in his life to get through random levels in a single speed run, I managed to do relentlessly well wasting no time and running through maps. In fact, occasionally I did better. There is little reason, playing alone, to truly explore, look for interesting developer additions, or to have any fun.
The excuse, of course, is now you can play every level with friends, so who the hell cares how the levels are made. For me, that means playing with children who suck at Mario, or adults my age who haven’t played enough to know that Bowser and his minions, for the most part, are turtles. That said, there are clear benefits to playing with friends, mostly because when one player dies, the level doesn’t abruptly end, but instead after a five second delay, the recently-deceased return in a bubble for the living players to extract.
Multiple players help in a few other areas too: jump on their head for a jump boost. Carry them and throw them, though at a 45 degree angle down. Most of the help extra players can give is simply by staying out of the way, by going high when you go low or vice versa, or by having a different powerup to do things you cannot. Rarely does working in concert with another player actually speed up gameplay.
In fact, all it really does, if you’re trying to get from one end of the level to the next is slow things down. You’ll bounce on someone’s head when they’re jumping, knocking them down a bottomless pit or into an enemy. Go too slow and faster players will inevitably make the game kill you because you fell too far behind. Or wait for that anally retentive friend to spend an hour trying to get a star token or find a hidden pathway while you twiddle your fingers.
With eight worlds and at least ten ways to skip half of them, plus one additional world opened for players who collect all the star tokens in each world, New Super Mario Bros Wii isn’t only a long named game that will sell well because Mario is in it, its crap. Nintendo has officially sunken down to the level of 95% of Wii developers: make crappy gameplay that’s fun for 15-30 minutes at a time for players who don’t really care, while leaving out players who actually like to play games. I don’t mean to say Nintendo should make an actual story, but at least make some memorable, exciting levels. Make some unique powerups that don’t just make Mario and his friends look like idiots. And at least make some real multiplayer gametypes and online play so that people outside of your house can play with you.