Late To The Party: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

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My quest to no longer suck at 2D Mario platformers continues as I’ve just completed New Super Mario Bros. Wii. This is only the second entry in the “New” brand of the games I’ve played or finished, the original New Super Mario Bros. actually being the first Mario side-scroller I ever beat. From what I hear the games are divisive and I’ve been trying to figure out what exactly their strengths and weaknesses are compared to the classics.

Circa 2006 I remember people calling the original DS NSMB game sort of bland or just average for a Mario platformer. Back then I just remember trying it and feeling the traditional Mario brand of fun with some of Mario’s moves from Super Mario 64 adapted to 2D levels. Come to think of it, the levels and new powerups in that game didn’t really stand out to me and I can’t remember much about them today. Maybe the whole game just got off on being the first genuine new Mario side-scroller in around 20 years. Whatever the case, NSMBWii is most certainly the superior game and earns its praises in its own right.

I still wouldn’t put it up against Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3, but NSMBWii has a very similar caliber of ingenuity in its level designs, with a difficulty somewhere ibetween World and SMB3 if you ask me. Maybe a bit below World depending on your opinion.

Two of the power-ups actually feel really useful and enhance the game in immediately noticeable ways too. It’s cool how the ice flower (if I’m correct this is the item’s 2D Mario debut) turns any small enemy, like a goomba, into a potential projectile or platform. The change it brings feels similar to the impact of when SMB3 added the ability to throw objects in the first place. The slide mechanic of the penguin suit is also really fun. In general I feel like NSMBWii came up with a lot of really nice small new gimmicks, though nothing that makes the game itself as groundbreaking as the NES and SNES classics were.

In general, it feels like a really nice iteration on SMB3 and World. Maybe some hardcore Nintendo fans are asking for another quantum leap in Mario game design. There hasn’t really been one since Mario 64 changed Nintendo’s primary focus for Mario games to 3D. Even 3D Land and 3D World really just feel like sideways innovations — alternate ideas of what 3D Mario can be. Since the 90’s we’ve never seen anything in the side-scrolling world like the jump from the original Super Mario Bros. to SMB3 or to World. I think one of the main issues is the world map system in recent Mario games.

As I was finishing SMB3 and World for the first time last year, I found the way you progressed through levels to be arguably the biggest outward difference between them. Compared to the original game SMB3 turned the progression of levels into a board game in itself. World turned it into more of an adventure game. The recent Mario games I’ve played that use this system (all the ones up to NSMBWii in case you’re wondering) have kind of just put it there without doing anything really new.

The only thing I remember about the map in NSMBDS is that it had some secret levels and paths which is standard for the course. In Super Mario Galaxy 2 you pretty much just select the levels on a chart with some optional paths. NSMBWii’s world map feels more dynamic in how it brings back some of SMB3’s elements like the minigames or shortcuts, but again, that’s about all it does. We haven’t seen a Mario platfrormer that completely shakes up that aspect of the game… unless New Super Mairo Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros. U do and they’re about to blow my mind whenever I get around to them.

Anyway, one last point of criticism I keep hearing about is the art direction of the “New” series. I hear it’s lazy and I somewhat agree. Better yet, I think I understand why: The recent 2D Mario games employ a very uneven combination of 2D and 3D graphics.

The classics were of course completely comprised of 2D sprites which, looking back, gives each one a uniform appearance. The same goes for the 3D Mario games, especially the more recent Galaxy games and 3D series. Those games look like they’re inching closer and closer to what Nintendo’s CG renders look like. Meanwhile, the “New” side-scrollers use 3D models on top of 2D backgrounds which makes each one stick out from the other. The 2D backgrounds look kind of bland and the imperfect 3D models in NSMBDS and NSMBWii break the uniformity of the art. The models in NSMBU look much better but the complete image in that game still looks uneven.

The graphics in Mario side-scrollers need to be either all one way or all the other way. Nintendo’s own more recent Wii U side-scrollers are perfect examples. Kirby And The Rainbow Curse goes all the way with the claymation look and nails it. Yoshi’s Wooly World achieves similar success with its yarn look.

Ever since thinking about this, I’ve decided Cuphead is probably what I would want a modern 2D Mario game to look like. Looking at it reminds me of the concept art and production art of all the 80’s and 90’s Mairo games but in playable form, as if Cuphead is what Nintendo was imagining when displaying Mario on the NES and SNES. Of course I also think the results would be great if Nintendo just used the entire visual style of 3D World for a side-scroller.

I don’t think anyone questions Nintendo’s game design talent after all these years. I think everyone (Nintendo included) is just wondering where it can go from here with some of its game ideas. In my opinion the “New” Mario games are a visual anomaly, as all Nintendo’s other Wii U games look fantastic artistically.

BULLETS:

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One thought on “Late To The Party: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

  1. Matt says:

    The New Super Mario Bros. series is uneven. The first one, as you have correctly pointed out, is bland and uninspired. Personally, I also thought it was way too easy. New Super Mario Bros. 2 is more fun than people give it credit for, but it is still below average when it comes to Mario sidescrollers.

    The Wii and Wii U games, on the other hand, are spectacular. It might not be a popular opinion, but I rank New Super Mario Bros. U up there with the likes of Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3.

    With that being said, I agree with the complaints about the art style. It feels to me like Mario-by-the-books; there is nothing special or different about it. The same applies to the art of A Link Between Worlds, which I thought to be really lacking… if a fan with no artistic skills decided to create a 2-D Zelda title, that would be what would come out. Still, the game is pretty awesome!

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