I probably shouldn't be writing this yet - I rented "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" less than 24 hours ago and mostly played it in a stupor of being awake for far more than 24 hours. I've also only completed World 3, and played mostly solo, so I'll try to keep these impressions as humble as I can.
This game pisses me off.
This is a game that, at least in the first three worlds, cannot seem to decide what it wants to be. It has distinctive elements of Super Mario 1, 3, and World; it has appearances by Kamek from Yoshi's Island; it has music from Mario 64; it has the overarching feel of New Super Mario Bros. DS - which is to say, it rips from all of these games without having a unique soul of its own, and expects that the player will find it a masterpiece greater than the sum of its parts.
Yet I find it's "homages" little more than "anti-creativity". Of course I would expect goombas, koopa-troopas, bullet bills, piranha plants, and the usual cast of characters. But the Nintendo of Old wouldn't have been content without expanding that army. Mario 3 introduced Dry-Bones, Boom-Booms, Bob-ombs, Boos, Thwomps, and Lakitus. Super Mario World had tons of new dinosaur enemies. It had koopas that popped out of their shells. It had goombas that got knocked out and could be picked up. It featured again the Koopa Kids as bosses, but their environments were varied and made each fight quite different.
So far I have not found one single "new" enemy in NSMBW, unless you count penguins - which were in Mario 64, anyway.
Mario 3's world map was a revelation at the time, each with an overarching theme, with different available paths, roaming monsters, roaming monsters, barriers that could be destroyed, hidden areas, mushroom houses and mini-games, bridges that would open or close, and an airship that moved if you didn't beat the boss the first time (sometimes forcing you to play levels to access it again, if you skipped on them originally). Mario World ditched the roaming enemies, but unified every "world" into a flowing whole; if the level looked like it took place in a small lake, it was likely a water level; when Mario goes into the base of a mountain for World 3, it makes sense that they are underground, cavernous areas. It actually felt like a Super Mario "World."
And again NSMBW can't decide what direction it wants to go in. Each World is a distinct entity here - no logical links between them. So it's Mario 3-esque, and I don't inherently have a problem with that - it could be argued Mario 3's worlds are at least as interesting as World's. The problem is that none of these worlds - or, at least, the first three - are as good as ANYTHING we've seen before. There are some roaming enemies, but there aren't any destroyable barriers; there are no items that can be used to affect the map. I ran into a Red Switch Palace, except it wasn't a palace at all, and could be switched off, too, so I don't know if it will have an effect on any other future levels - it quite clearly changed something in the level I just completed, and obviously I had to play it again to find the now-accessible exit. Gee, I really had to use my thinking cap there.
Let's talk Power-Ups. I understand that there is less emphasis on "flying" powers - no cape, no raccoon tail - because it would be hard to keep up to four players on screen at once. Sadly, that feeling of building momentum and just lifting off and flying away and not being sure of where you'll be able to land is nowhere to be found. The Propeller power-up sort-of replaces those, allowing for some quick upward blasts. It's better than nothing, but feels just like the launching from stationary platforms in NSMB-DS. (Why couldn't we see the return of the Bee Suit from Galaxy?) The Ice Flower is quite powerful - maybe too powerful - it can even freeze and destroy Dry-Bones. It's a good addition, though, as the ice blocks can be manipulated or used as platforms, which is cool. The Penguin suit is new and pretty cool, too; not only can you shoot ice balls, ice is far less slippery, and you can move into a belly-flop position to slide all over the place and knock out enemies. (It's much less reckless than the Turtle Shell powerup from the DS game, thank god.) And there's one more power-up I haven't come across yet, but it looks like the tiny mushroom from the DS game that shrinks you and makes control weird and floaty as hell.
The power-up selection could be worse, but I feel it's missing that spark of originality that Mario 3 had and the feeling of balance that World had.
The actual gameplay engine is cool. Like the DS game, you can kick off of pretty much any wall, which is awesome. There are lots of rotating platforms, and you can stand on some pletty slanted slopes. There are lots of slopes everywhere, which is fun for butt-sliding and penguin suit usage. Overall control feels tight and responsive.
As for the level design, I've so far found it less than memorable. The general idea seems to be "familiarity" - and boy, they sure succeeded there. I've run into a couple of tricky spots, and one level had a darkness gimmick with light around Mario (and his fireballs). Everything else feels like a blur.
Yoshi is here, and about as powerful as he was in Mario World; he has a bit of a flutter jump for extended air-time, but doesn't poop or throw eggs.
The bosses seem like a joke to me so far. Once again, they are the Koopa Kids, and so far, I've bonked each one on the head three times and then waited for them to spin around in their shells. I guess one did pull a "Wendy Koopa" and kept popping out of pipes like a Whack-a-Mole, and Iggy threw some bouncing balls around, but so far, they just feel boring.
And that's why I'm writing this now. I've only completed World 3, and I'm downright bored. I can pretty much count the number of things that are actually "new" about this game, and the rest has been a bizarre mish-mash of previously-seen Mario elements. It's just unfortunate because none of it seems to be even as good as when it originally appeared.
To state another example, whenever you beat the Koopa Kids, a key falls from the ceiling. In Mario 3, it was a wand, and if you let it hit the ground it bounced, and you could jump right into it - at which point Mario would freeze in mid-air, the background would dissipate, and Mario would begin falling past clouds, eventually landing in the now-human-again king's palace and returning his wand to him. Here, you touch the key and a sliding door opens on the right side of the screen.
It's just shit like that that pisses me off about this game. Where is the creativity of Mario games' past? WHERE IS IT????
I could really go on and on. Each level has three big coins to find. (The definition of filler content, in my mind.) There are some spots where eight red coins appear for a short time; this was done in the DS game. There are lots of "secret" areas accessible via pipe, but they're no different from the myriad areas like this in Mario games' past. The level goal is the flag, exactly like Mario 1 - nothing new like a moving point-scale in World, or the distinctive monochrome zig-zag transition in Mario 3 with a bonus item.
I personally find the graphics less than impressive. The 3D animation is decent, but at times downright bad: jumping off of the finish flag looks awkward and wrong. The backgrounds have little of interest and the foregrounds look like repeated patterns, over and over. I'm still waiting for a new sprite-based 2D Mario.
The music isn't just less than impressive, I find it so awful it's mute-worthy. The memorable melodies from Marios gone by are rearranged here with boring tonality and tons of vocal "bups" and "ba's" to promote some kind of cheery atmosphere that I find just plain annoying. The sound effects sound stale, and the end-level jingle doesn't promote satisfaction like I want it to. The best part, really, is the death sound, because it's ripped directly from Mario 1.
I know it can't all be bad; New Super Mario DS had at least one extremely memorable level (walking on a giant caterpillar!) and hearing that the game becomes quite challenging makes me hopeful. I know writing paragraphs upon paragraphs before completing half of the game might seem rash, but this is really how I feel about it at this point.
Granted, the multiplayer mode, from what I've played of it so far, is probably the game's saving grace, as it puts an entirely different spin on these levels that are so "merely adequate" when playing solo. I'm sure I'll have fun playing like that: accidentally (or not) killing friends, bouncing upon one another's heads, and so on. It's just majorly disappointing when the game, played alone, is not nearly as enticing.
One last thing, and it concerns this game's title. It was bad enough when "New Super Mario Bros" came out for the DS. What kind of a name is that, really? The game isn't going to be "new" at all in a few years' time, but at least it serves as a functional name. Now there's a new 2D Mario, and they call it "New Super Mario Bros. Wii"? Is this "New" thing a franchise now? Is it secretly an oxymoron, because there is in fact very little "new" about it? Is putting "Wii" in the title of your game any better than "64"? Couldn't they come up with something that isn't absolutely cringe-worthy to say in conversation?
I'll leave it at this: When I called Blockbuster to ask if they had the game, it went something like this:
"Um, I was wondering if you guys were carrying this New Super Mario Bros for Wii?"
"Uh, ... [pause] What's the name of the game?"
"Um, it's actually literally called New Super Mario Brothers... Wii."
"Oh. Yeah. We have four copies."
Whoa!! A new enemy? I guess I better finish the game.