PAX impressions / New Super Mario Bros. Wii

I got my perception rocked when attending a fantastic panel at PAX on games journalism. Apparently, and I don’t know why I didn’t figure this out myself before hand, game reviews aren’t usually the driving force for purchasing a game. Most gamers will read a preview, play the demo or even just go off of what the clerk in the store tells them. Rarely does a buying decision come out of hearing that Batman: Arkham Asylum has a 93 on Metacritic. I already knww I wanted to buy it when someone said the word Batman.

When trying to talk about New Super Mario Bros. Wii I found myself in a similar dilemma. Who was I writing for? Fans of the series are already buying this game. Hell, anyone who owns a Wii is more likely going to buy this game. There’s aren’t any surprises here, it plays like an old school Mario game. If you don’t know if you want to play a new Mario game and are open to a review/preview changing your mind I have bad news for you. You’re a fictitious person. We could count of the entire population of the world and ask them if they would buy any new 2D Mario game on the Wii and the answer would be essentially the same as in-depth study of this Mario game.

Stuff fans already paid enough attention to already know — NSMBW features 4 player co-op. Every individual player has a set number of lives. If all but one player lose all their lives and then the final player dies, even if they still have 5 lives left, and everyone loses the level. Dead players are resurrected in bubbles floating through the stage that other living players have to pop. The soundtrack, level selection and power-ups are all revamped and upgraded while staying familiar. A new power-up, the helicopter suit, is activated by shaking the Wiimote.

Can I sigh now and say “meh” without fans getting up in arms? Here’s the question I had on my mind while playing the game on the show floor. Why do we need 4-player in Mario? I already know how to play Mario with 3 of my friends, I’ve been doing it since I was 5. Step one, everyone sit on the couch together with one person playing. Step two, then the person with the controller dies or finishes a level they hand the remote to the person to their left. Done. Do we need something better?

So what does a co-op challenge do to gameplay? First off is it makes the game much more competitive. power-ups and coins become commodities. Using that previously mentioned spin move will pick up a friend, leaving them defenseless and you chuck them down a bottomless pit. Then it’s just a matter of waiting for their bubble to float over a hole and jumping on top, popping him and sending him once again to his doom. 4 minutes and an experienced player, who isn’t experienced in Mario games, could effectively dismantle his team. At the end of every level players were awarded a ranking based on the number of points they earned.

Points? Really? This is where my mind can’t seem to make the mental leap to understand the audience. Let me explain, they already have the audience in the Wii’s installed base, what I mean to say is “who is this game actually for?” The gameplay and mechanics are lifted straight out of the 16-bit era, obviously intentionally, but with little interest in what could actually be achieved. The one use of the current generation technology, aside from serviceable visuals, was the substitution of shaking the controller instead of use of the “Y” button.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii comes out the end of this year. Anyone reading this knows if they’d like to get it or not and has since it’s been announced. I am pretty sure upon reflection that this is one of the laziest and confusing releases I’ve seen in a while from Nintendo.