New Super Mario Bros. Wii is such a weird game (not to mention winner of Year’s Worst Title). It’s New Super Mario Bros. DS tarted up in the desecrated bones of its ancestors. It raided the burial grounds of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World and draped itself in references to make itself better. Such a crass tactic shouldn’t work. And yet, it does.
Let’s get this out of the way: New Super Mario Bros. DS is terrible. At least for a Mario game. It’s presentation has none of the charm of Mario. The 3D graphics are bland and the music uninspired and insipid. Mario is practically defined by his iconic tunes. New Mario DS’s music is as forgettable as it is dull. The levels suffer from a lack of imagination. There’s very little unique or compelling about them. The power-ups are the game’s largest failing. The fire flower is obscenely over-powered, the koopa shell is hard to control (a huge crime in the world of Mario) and only situationally useful, same goes for the mini-mushroom, and the giant mushroom might as well not even be in the game for all of its necessity. It’s basically a power star that also destroys the level. Good luck finding those secrets when you’ve crushed the pipes and blocks that lead to them.
Playing a Mario game should be like flying through the sun to Queen’s Don’t Stop Me Now. Playing New Mario DS is like getting a sunburn while listening the Jonas Brothers. It’s not a fun experience.
At first glance New Super Mario Bros. Wii seems to be another helping of New Mario DS. It’s got the same 3D graphical style and the same terrible music. But the game does something sneaky. It cribs ideas from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World and assimilates them into itself until we’re left with a strange Mario DS World 3 frankenstein. From Super Mario World there’s Yoshi (and thank god they didn’t include his squeal of a voice. Yoshi’s bearable again!), ridable Lakitu clouds, and switch blocks. From 3 there’s a wealth of enemies and stage templates. New Mario Wii most resembles Mario 3 in it’s level design. And of course there’s the return of the Koopa Kids (too bad Bowser Jr. returns as head kiddy honcho). Kamek from Yoshi’s Island even shows up to give the Koopa Kids a boost.
On one level all this referencing to Mario history bothers me. I don’t know why it should. Super Mario Galaxy referenced Mario 3 as well. I guess it’s cause in Galaxy it was just a reference. A bit of music here, a clever allusion there. What’s happening in New Mario Wii is far beyond simple reference. I’m remind of how I felt when I discovered that The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was a warmed over version of Ocarina of Time. I suppose I expect my Marios to be a new thing each time. Even New Mario DS, as bad as it was, was its own thing. This cribbing from the past just feels… sloppy. And it should result in a terrible game. Mario DS with a Mario 3 hat is still Mario DS.
Except here’s the thing. Somehow Mario DS with a Mario 3 hat IS it’s own thing. Mario Wii ends up being a unique, fun, and worthwhile entry in the Mario cannon. Maybe it’s the joy of playing a real new 2D platformer. Maybe it’s that calling back the Koopa Kids and Yoshi and rideable clouds really does bring all the fun and excitement of those previous games. Maybe it’s that the level design is really solid and the game has quite a few new unique ideas of it’s own (probably this). But for whatever reason New Mario Wii is a blast. I’m remind of those glory days of playing Mario on a Sunday morning all young and innocent. Nostalgia is a powerful weapon and New Mario Wii wields it with laser precession.
Okay so New Mario Wii is out and it’s great. Can we stop talking about it now and get on to caring about Mario Galaxy 2? New Mario Wii has hogged the spotlight ever since E3. And come on. MARIO GALAXY 2! I can’t wait to see what new ideas it brings to the table.