Hands-on at E3 / New Super Mario Bros. Wii

No matter how awesome Mario is in 3D, and he is awesome in 3D, his roots will always remain in classic 2D platforming. New Super Mario Bros. proved this perfectly, and also showed that 2D platforming can be fun and profitable! It was a massive success so Nintendo brings us more, and we are far from complaining. However, this “more” brings four player co-op (or versus) multiplayer to Mario for the first time.

Obviously we were intrigued. Would classic Mario platforming stand a chance when up to four people were tearing through the level? And has toad learned any new tricks since his last playable foray in Super Mario Bros. 2? The former won’t really be known until the game launches this holiday season, but it’s very clear that Toad isn’t the only one who has learned a thing or two.

What surprised me the most when I got my hands on the game was how well it controlled chaos. Four people tearing through a platformer can get very hectic, especially one where you can be competing for power-ups, coins and other such things, but it works really well. The best thing I can liken it to is Smash Bros., where a whole crap ton of stuff is going on in every direction and everyone is doing something different, but it works. New Super Mario Bros. Wii has that same feeling and it rocks because it’s that same feeling, but in a Mario game which have traditionally been enjoyable only on your lonesome or in turn.

Players will start each level like any traditional Mario game and work their way to the end where they’ll capture the flag. Levels can be played cooperatively or competitively. In co-op mode you can still beat up on your friends and screw them out of power-ups, but the end of each level doesn’t give a high score or a winner. There are coins and other items that are easier to reach when you’re helping each other out too. Levels are definitely designed with multiplayer in mind as you can jump on top of another characters head to grab coins or toss someone in a certain direction to kill an enemy or get to a different location. It’s a big friendly Mario world!

However, if you want to start hurling your friends into goombas and being a jerk you can kick into versus mode where players compete for coins and kills and other things that grab you a high score. You can’t be too cruel though as everyone dying still causes a game over for the level, but can still be a pretty big jerk. Grabbing mushrooms, coins and enemies as players charge around the level gets them points and keeps their opponents from scoring higher, plus when a player dies he reappears in a bubble, which they can’t get out of until someone else pops it. So that means that a person could technically get no points as they are stuck in a bubble the whole time, but the game is so frantic and the bubbles move so unpredictably that it would be very hard for that to happen and most trapped players get out pretty quick. It’s clear that this Mario was designed totally around playing as a team.

The game features eight levels that we got to see along with a few challenges in each level. What was very surprising is that Nintendo was keeping mum on if the game would have online capabilities. Sure if the game was still far out that would make sense, but for a game that was pretty clearly closer to done than it was to started it’s odd they wouldn’t have been discussing it. If Nintendo doesn’t deliver online for the game it will be one of the worst mistakes ever made as it pretty much demands to be played both online and with friends on the couch and is a perfect fit for Wii Speak. I’m just hoping they’re holding off because they’re going to announce the ability to drop in and play at any time or something.

The final thing to note is that despite the multiple player slant of the game it is still classic Mario. The controls were precise, the new moves from New Super Mario Bros. on the DS were still there, along with a bit more spinning (which is triggered with a Wii Remote shake) and classic power-ups were present along with new ones like a penguin and the propeller head that lets you spin your way to higher levels. The couple of levels I played were fast paced and well designed and the game can be challenging, but should also be open to your non-gaming friends jumping in and playing too. Keeping everyone on the screen was never a problem as the camera pulled back. However, the player in the front can eventually squish a slower player out of the screen if they aren’t careful. Hopefully when the game lands it turns out that every level is truly up to Mario snuff.

I can’t shake the feeling that if Nintendo had presented the game better or with a bit more hoopla than they did at their press conference there would be even more great buzz around the game. It’s truly a creative and different take on playing Mario. And if it does get online, it shows at least a little commitment from Nintendo to the world of online gaming.