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TVG goes toe-to-toe with the co-op play in Nintendo's New Super Mario Bros. Wii...
Undoubtedly the diamond encrusted jewel in Princess Peach's E3 crown, New Super Mario Bros. Wii stole the show at Nintendo's demo in LA this year. It'll be the first pure Mario experience to launch on the Wii as well, what with all the frolicking between spatial dimensions (i.e. Super Paper Mario) and inter-planetary space travel (Super Mario Galaxy) that Mario has indulged in on the console so far.
Without a doubt, this latest Mario adventure is pure and unfettered. It rarely goes beyond the classic Super Mario Bros. experience that classically trained gamers will remember from the 80s and 90s. Whether you're riding Yoshi, spewing fireballs from a flower-powered Mario, or simply stomping Goombas and kicking Koopa Troopa shells, New Super Mario Bros. Wii's main goal is to take you back to the good old days. It's scrupulously loyal to its heritage even at the genre's simplest principles of enemies, obstacles, and platforming. At the same time, however, it also feels fresh enough to stand alongside any other new game in the pipeline.
Fresh As A Daisy
Co-op play is almost certainly the reason for this freshness - it's the dash of characteristically seventh-generation gameplay in a game that's otherwise steeped in third-generation nostalgia. And before you all get clever with your "Actually, co-op play was first seen in third-generation games like Double Dragon II" remarks, we're merely making the point that the current generation of consoles is the first where co-op gameplay has become something of a standard (particularly with the rise of online gaming on the home consoles).
Nintendo isn't making a big song and dance about New Super Mario Bros. Wii's co-op play. Instead, it's made things as simple as letting four players run through a level at the same time, playing as Mario, Luigi, or one of two Toads. There are very few fancy co-op features like helping another player up onto a ledge. As far as these kinds of dynamics are concerned, the most co-operation we saw was one character riding Yoshi and swallowing up another player before spitting them out at enemies. Apart from this, Nintendo simply serves up the platforming and lets gamers decide whether they want to co-operate or turn against their friends.
When somebody dies, for example, they'll reappear as a bubble and float around the game world until another player pops the bubble and lets them loose again. Likewise, you can either take that 1up mushroom for yourself or leave it for a teammate who's lower on lives. Will you Hoover up all the coins for yourself or leave some for player 2? New Super Mario Bros. Wii comes up trumps simply by adding extra players to the mix, which has the upshot of retaining balance by not tinkering with the game's traditional styling too much.
That said, it's not as if the game is entirely void of new ideas. No new Super Mario game would be complete without a couple of new power-ups and, on that point, Nintendo is happy to oblige. The racoon tails and rabbit ears that have allowed Mario to get airborne in his previous adventures have been replaced by a helicopter hat this time around. Successfully powering-up with one sends Mario into a vertical spin, offering quite a bit more airtime and height than the gliding mechanics of old. Additionally, a new penguin suit gives players a bit more stability across the slippery surfaces of the game's ice-themed levels, while ice pellets that freeze enemies can also be used with the new attire.
Nintendo may be hiding some of the other power-ups at this stage but, if our hands on so far is anything to go by, then there's definitely a more restrained feel to New Super Mario Bros. Wii than its counterpart on the DS. The super-sized Mario is nowhere to be seen in the builds that Nintendo has shown-off so far, and likewise for the super-tiny Mario and blue Koopa shell. While these power-ups were certainly a lot of fun on the DS, they also attracted criticism for making the gameplay unbalanced (particularly in super-sized Mario's case) and being a bit gimmicky. Whatever the case, they may not have worked that well in co-op play anyway, as all three power-ups focus on excessive single-player powers that would effectively eliminate other players from play.
There is certainly enough variation in the 10-odd levels that Nintendo has exhibited so far, all of which appear to come from vastly different 'worlds' utilising familiar Mario themes: desert levels with erupting sand geysers, sky levels with what appear to be huge, flying Manta rays, dungeon levels with massive revolving cogs, and vertically designed levels with swinging platforms and Skeleton Troopas (a.k.a Dry Bones). It's veritably Mario and it's never dull - who can argue with that?
From what we've played of New Super Mario Bros. Wii so far, it's a classic Mario experience and it's just as fun as it always was. It looks like the delicate addition of co-op won't undermine Mario's much-loved formula, while the experience of actually playing with three other people is so good, we can't understand why it's taken Nintendo this long to actually do it.
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