E3 2009: New Super Mario Bros. hands-on
New Super Mario Bros. on the DS is arguably one of the best games on the system. The game harkens back to an era where Mario was little more than a sprite hopping about the screen, stomping Goombas, dodging Piranha Plants and running away from Dry Bones. Combining gameplay and level design from almost every entry of the storied franchise’s history with a fresh graphical update, New Super Mario Bros. on the DS has been a perennial bestseller. Since Nintendo is in the business of making money, they’ve decided to capitalize on their success by producing New Super Mario Bros. Wii, set for release this fall.
I had the opportunity today to spend 20 minutes on the show floor playing the game and it’s obvious that this is set for success. Played by holding your Wiimote sideways, the game felt much like the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES. The controls get slightly more complicated by requiring the player to shake the controller to do a spin jump, but the simple control scheme should help newcomers become quickly acclimated to the game.
I was able to play through five different levels during my demo alongside three others. Our Nintendo rep was tight-lipped about how many levels would be included in the final product, but most of the level design seems similar to past entries. Our first level took us through a classic Mario experience reminiscent of the opening level of Super Mario Bros. In almost no time, all of us were hopping about the level, collecting power-ups and doing quite a bit of trash talking. I had a bit of a rivalry going on with a guy playing as Luigi and we spent the better part of our experience trying to pick each other up to throw into pits and enemies.
After our team quickly conquered the first level, it was suggested that we try the hardest level the team had on display. The level took obvious inspiration from the desert levels of the second world of Super Mario Bros. 3 and featured giant sand plumes that, when hopped on, carry you high enough to reach platforms. The only problem was, these sand plumes would come and go and if you lingered on them, you fell into the abyss at the bottom of the screen as most of the level had no actual ground to speak of. While our crew was able to get close enough to see the flag pole at the end, all of us perished before any of us could hop on and bring the flag down.
It was on to a castle stage next, where one of Bowser’s minions stood poised to take us out. But before we could take out one of Bowser’s underlings, we had to fight our way through his fortress. The level brought back a lot of memories from Super Mario World , featuring a lot of the fast-paced challenges that those levels were known for, including segments were you have to carefully time your jumps as you climb on blocks that slide in and out of the walls and threaten to crush you or drop you to doom if you’re too slow.
It was on this level that the “fall behind, lose a life” mechanic of the co-op game was really demonstrated, as two in our group failed to keep up and repeatedly died because of it. While it sounds unfair, this mechanic is actually pretty helpful, since it keeps the action moving. When players do die, they float around the level until someone rescues them, which is usually past the part that they were stuck on. It’s actually a feature that should make the game more accessible, since you can progress even if you’re stuck.
Despite the similarities, there were some new elements. A new suit allows players to easily take to the skies to collect coins. In addition to the flying suit, there’s also an ice power-up that puts your enemies in huge blocks of ice for easy dispatch on the ice-themed levels of the game. Yoshi also makes a welcome return and I couldn’t help but smile when I saw three of us hopping around a level on the back of Nintendo’s favorite dinosaur.
My experience with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, though brief, was a lot of fun. Nintendo has made a great deal of effort to add enough references to the franchise’s past to appeal to hardcore fans, but also cleverly designed the game to make it extremely accessible to newcomers. I thought the controller shaking mechanic was a little difficult to pull off while playing, I’m sure that with a little more time it will become natural. This is a game that hardcore gamers who’ve turned off their Wiis in recent months will definitely want to give a shot when it’s released this fall.