New Super Mario Bros. Wii and “Hardcore” Gaming

I was going to write a post like this a few weeks ago, after Yahtzee posted his review of New Super Mario Bros, but I didn’t want to write about the game before I spent a lot of time playing it. If you haven’t seen the review, it’s worth watching before reading on. It’s here. I’ll wait.

Done? Great! If you didn’t bother to watch it, he spends half of his review complaining about the very idea that Nintendo even made this game. In his classic style, he rips the game for being a “remake of Mario 3” and representing the worst of the Video Game industry wringing dollars out of poor gamers who just want – nay deserve! – something new, but are too stupid to avoid the latest franchise game. Now, it should be pretty obvious that I am a fan of Zero Punctuation, since I namedrop like a congressman without a reservation at a restaurant. But I have to say, he is dead wrong on all counts.

I knew the review would be bad when it was sandwiched in with Left 4 Dead 2. I understand it’s tough to play a game every week and then write, record, and animate a review for it. So why on Earth would anyone think doing two would be best? And sure enough, from the word go it becomes pretty apparent that Yahtzee did not spend a lot of time playing Mario. He barely mentions the gameplay at all, outside the multiplayer. And this is a major problem because New Super Mario is all gameplay. Yep, the story, if you can call it that, is the same as always. Yep, 8 Worlds, end bosses, powerups, Yoshi and all the rest. It’s Mario. We know what we’re getting. So yes, if you are, like Yahtzee, completely opposed to franchises and sequels, then maybe this isn’t a game for you. If you think games need to be more cinematic and visual, or have moving stories and character development, then yeah, you’re shit out of luck. But if you like playing video games, maybe you should stick around and give it a chance.

My problem with the review, and with most kneejerk anti-Mario people, is that it basically assumes that yes, this is the same as other Mario games, which if you play for three levels it becomes clear this is absolutely not the case. It’s incredibly presumptuous and more than a little stuck up, because if you hold this attitude without playing it, then that means you cannot consider 2-D platformers real video games. Why is that, exactly? Since when do all video games have to be in 3-D? So you, Yahtzee and others upset by the plague of Halos and Tomb Raiders and brown, gritty first person shooters with lots of cleavage and terrible camera work, are totally willing to say to game designers, “stop making this entire sub-genre! You made games like that in the late-80s!” It’s hypocritical, but more importantly, it’s arbitrary and wrong.

I think part of the problem is that Mario owns 2-D platformers. With the possible exception of Mega Man 2, no one does a platformer like Mario. Nobody makes them any more because they’ll never be as good as Nintendo. They made a platformer in 1983 so good it single-handedly saved the home console market, and now, 17 years later, they made another one good enough to brighten the day of even the most jaded, bitter gamer.

Calling this game the same as Mario 3 is lazy. For one, the powerups are completely different. And for the first time since Mario 1, they are actually balanced. The Ice Flower is interesting because it can be used to kill otherwise indestructible bad guys, but it’s slow and only bounces twice. The Penguin Suit is a blast. The Spinny Hat thing is great because they finally made a flying powerup that doesn’t break the game.* Yoshi is back, but he doesn’t travel with you from level to level, he doesn’t lay or throw eggs, and he can hover, but only for a second. They make you think on your feet about which one to grab.

*Seriously, did anyone ever pick a fire flower when they had a chance to have a raccoon  tail or cape instead? The worst offender was the bunny ears in Six Golden Coins. You could basically stop playing the game after you got your first carrot, because you wouldn’t see much of the rest of it as you hovered from start to finish.

Not to be a killjoy by reviewing the “game” part of the game, but it’s actually really frickin’ good. The levels are a blast, with all sorts of traps and toys, new and old. It has an old-fashioned difficulty curve, and by the time you’re up to World 6 or 7, the levels can be controller-immolatingly difficult. Apparently, if you die a certain number of times trying to beat a level, they give you the option of having a computer controlled Luigi jump in and beat it for you. So you won’t get stuck, but you will be forced to sit there and stew as the computer takes its sweet-ass time showing you how it’s done.

The level design is actually outstanding. There are fun levels with giant Wigglers or a boat that only moves with fewer than five bad guys on it or blocks that move along a track and rotate at the same time. And of course, there are good old-fashioned run and jump and don’t die levels too. One of the most frustrating (in a good way) things about it is that the level designers seemed determined not to let you find a groove. In old Mario games, you could hit a rhythm with a leaf or something and beat a bunch of levels without dying. Here, the next level you play is loaded with unknowns. It makes for a varied experience. Unlike, say, Grand Theft Auto 4’s “drive here and kill them, then drive here and don’t let him die, then kill this other guy and watch a 10 minute cutscene” missions.

The boss battles with the Koopa Kids are usually sort of standard in the halfway castle, but fun and kooky in the end castle. This is the biggest departure from the old Mario games. Those boss battles were very samey, while these provide new and interesting challenges at every turn. Sure it’s annoying having to go back to the halfway point after losing one, but it really makes for some tense times. Exactly what a boss battle should be.

I have a few minor quibbles, of course. The item game takes entirely too long to play with one person, while the frequency of items, especially mushrooms, sort of cheapens them. It’s not hard to get to a point where you can use a mushroom before literally every level you play if you need too. The annoying on-map bad guys (where you have to grab 8 Toad balls without dying or turning gay) respawn, and you can beat them again for a limitless supply. Some of the big coins are in absurd places. It’s not a perfect game.

I haven’t even started on the Multiplayer yet. I don’t know how anyone who claims to be a fan of the original Mario can not like playing simultaneously with friends. It keeps everyone involved more than alternating. Plus, because of the bubble option and the separate lives/unlimited continues, you can play with people who aren’t as good and still have fun. When I first played, I spent a good portion of the game hammering the A button to not die. Sure, it can cause a little tension, since you all bounce off each other and the item boxes can dump items in a, to be generous, annoying way. But when you get in a grove, and the whole team is moving together and jumping and bouncing off each other, it looks a little like poetry in motion. For a veteran of those days, it’s fun to think about what your 8-year old self would have said about being able to play Mario 2 at a time. It’s almost like the Platonic Ideal of Mario 1. The 2-D platformer emerging from the cave and seeing what made all those shadows we remember so fondly. My only problem is the lack of a racing mode, first to the flag wins the level. That would have been a blast.

I sort of understand some of the hatred, actually. I mean, Nintendo has billions of dollars and could spend it trying to create something new. We have seen games like this before. And just like I happen to enjoy 2-D platformers, I appreciate that others just don’t. Even a game this good won’t sway them. But where I do have a problem is when the self-proclaimed “hardcore gamers” take a whack at it for not suiting their tastes. In the early days of video games, there was no distinction between hardcore and normal gamers. We all played the same games. Some people were just better than others. And then, as we got older and found new interests, we started to split into these ridiculous camps. But without Mario, without Zelda, without Donkey Kong, there wouldn’t be any hardcore gamers. A hardcore gamer shouldn’t be someone who spends a lot of money on games or outfits their PC with ridiculous video cards or only plays games with blood and boobs. A hardcore gamer should be someone who loves Video Games for what they are, from the games with great stories and complicated controls to the games with simple controls and fun levels. You can’t diss a game for not aligning with your tastes without trying to enjoy it. Otherwise, you’re the same as people who say video games are for kids or game x is too violent.

New Super Mario is a relic, sure. You can pick up the controller and play. No tutorial levels. No epic cutscenes to get you acquainted. Just plug in, pick up, and play. Isn’t that what a hardcore game should be? Easy to learn, tough to master? A Video Game, pure and simple. Somewhere, right now, some 8 year old is glued to the TV playing New Super Mario and getting frustrated at that one hammer brother in that one level and saving all his items because he might need them later. And 10 years from now, when Nintendo introduces another Mario game for the Nintendo Room, he can sniffle about how things were better in his day, and how all the damn kids should just play his game if they want to see a real Mario game. So blast poor Mario if you like. But without him, video game history would be bleak, and the future might be even bleaker.

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6 Responses to “New Super Mario Bros. Wii and “Hardcore” Gaming”

  1. Michael Lynch Says:

    “But if you like playing video games, maybe you should stick around and give it a chance”

    haha awesome. I’m reading this on my phone, so can’t see the review, but am I to understand that the game is in 2d? Lame! I know that’s sort of your whole argument, but start from Mario 64 and make that cooler, not the sidescrollers!

    • fieldingmellish Says:

      But that’s the thing. They already have made a better Mario 64. Mario Galaxy is almost perfect as a 3-D platformer, and Mario Galaxy 2 will probably be even better. So if it’s OK for Mario to jump around from planet to planet in 3-D, if it’s OK to go Go-Karting with his friends and enemies, if it’s OK for him to fuck around with turn-based RPG combat, why is it not OK for him to do what he does best? A lot of games from that generation are stupidly fun. So why give up on the styles just because technology has improved?

      I can honestly say that if Acclaim came out with a new side-scrolling beat-em-up game, a la Turtles in Time or Double Dragon or River City Ransom, I would absolutely buy it and enjoy it heartily.

  2. sara rose Says:

    i could not agree more. wii mario is a blast. will and i still play at least a couple times a week despite having beaten the game months ago. i hated the multiplayer at first but once you adjust, its spectacular. like in the nintendo ninja turtle games when you forgot the code so when you were button mashing you killed your partner three times per level. anywhoo, i think that anyone who thinks the game is lazy or boring just doesnt appreciate mario like true nintendo geeks do. i sense hours of multiplayer fun in brighton soon! maybe monty can join in too.

  3. This is what the Wii is about! Its fun, it’s interactive, it’s a great party game and a whole lot of fun when four people are playing.

    Smart Shopper

  4. I like super mario all version, from the first to the last one.
    nice post

  5. i love his musc

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