Hands on with New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Mario and friends go back to the future on an old-fashioned coin-gathering adventure on the Wii, and Nintendo just may have found a way to kick-start sales back up.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Scott Stein
Jeff Bakalar
Dan Ackerman
5 min read
Watch this: Game trailer: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Sales of the Nintendo Wii have been flagging lately, and the number of quality titles coming out for this generation's best-selling system seems to be getting thinner every month. What better to fix everything than Mario? New Super Mario Bros. sold over 19 million copies for the DS, and now the Wii sequel has arrived just in time to give a breath of life into the little white box. We've been quite bullish about this new game after multiplayer hands-on and single-player sessions earlier this year. Now, after playing the final boxed version all weekend, did it live up to our lofty expectations? Our takes are below.

Nintendo wisely chose to make its headlining release this holiday a marquee game for its most popular mascot. The surprising part was putting the whole game in 2D.

After the success of 3D Mario games, including Super Mario Galaxy, dating back to 1996, the decision to make New Super Mario Bros. Wii a 2D game could be considered baffling. But it's actually a somewhat brilliant move: for all of Galaxy's incredible visuals, it's not instantly accessible to older casual gamers. SNES-era Super Mario is, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a better-rendered, 16x9 wide-screen retro-update to the classic series that effectively ended with Super Mario World. The game's all-new levels and clever updates to the game mechanics make this an excellent sequel for the Mario ultrafans.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii--photos

See all photos

Much like the DS game New Super Mario Bros., Mario and much of his environment are composed of 3D graphics moving in 2D, lending a much smoother look than sprite-based retro gaming. For single-player fans, the eight-plus worlds and many secrets are actually pretty difficult, and offer plenty of value. Throwing in four-player co-op through the whole game transforms Mario into an experience more like Super Smash Bros. as players compete for power-ups in ways that are often downright mean.

Two other multiplayer modes offer different ways to play the single-player courses, and, sadly, none of the multiplayer is online. Still, the 2D arena offers some of the best multiplayer play that the Wii has ever seen, and that, combined with the mainstream family-friendly feel, could catapult New Super Mario Bros. Wii to the very top of the Wii's best-sellers' list.

While New Super Mario Bros. Wii could have been DLC in the way Shadow Complex for Xbox Live Arcade was, it's a smarter strategy for Nintendo to leave the Virtual Console behind and update the classic hits to shinier, gleaming disc form. We'd love to see a new Super Mario All-Stars, or even a new 2D Metroid. Why not? This could be the beginning of a beautiful retro friendship for Nintendo. It may not have incredible online multiplayer fragging, but New Super Mario Bros. succeeds in a kinder, gentler, more old-fashioned sort of way. And by catering head-on to the loving memories of yesteryear, Nintendo has shot straight for the Wii's wheelhouse. Let's face it: the Wii has little else in the pipeline lately, so NSMB Wii is a must-buy by default. You won't regret getting it if you at all like Nintendo games.

It's back to the future for the Nintendo Wii: New Super Mario Bros. Nintendo

The second you pop in New Super Mario Bros. Wii you're instantly teleported back to 1990. The game borrows the same world-map-based stage selection interface that Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced almost 20 years ago. Like the classic third game in the franchise, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is littered with special stages that offer 1UPs and power-ups that can be cashed in any time you're in the stage select map.

While the single-player mode does resemble that of the 2006 DS game of the same name, seeing a 2D Mario game for the first time in 480p wide screen is an eye-opening experience. Not only is the game gorgeous, but the attention to detail in each world makes this one of the best-looking Wii games around.

Fans of Super Mario Galaxy may be in for a bit of a shock as New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a far more difficult play through. The title harkens back to the classic 2D NES Mario games, which, if you remember, at times could be outright brutal. In an effort to alleviate some of that pain, Nintendo has introduced a new autopilot mode (dubbed "Super Guide") for such situations. While it may sound a bit like cheating, we wish it had been present in past Mario titles.

Nintendo is pushing New Super Mario Bros. Wii for its unique four-player multiplayer mode, but during our sessions with it, we found it to be a bit frustrating. It can't be reinforced enough that this mode quickly becomes a competition and with four-players on the screen at once, the action becomes occasionally overwhelming. Playtime is briefly paused with every mushroom and flower power-up in addition to when someone loses a life. While brief, that quick pause may be enough to lose track of your character's movement.

Also, if you're progressing through a level where your co-players can't keep up, they'll die as soon as they travel off-screen. It's safe to say that if you're playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii with an hardened Mario gamer, you may find yourself using up continues rapidly. When all was said and done, we were having more fun playing the game alone than with friends.

Overall, New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the 2D Mario game you've been waiting for. The introduction of flower ice, propeller, and penguin Mario are welcome additions to the game. These new power-ups combined with the as-usual superb level design once again make a winning combination.

Lights out: some of NSMB's levels throw you into darkness. Nintendo

If Nintendo does one thing exceptionally well, it's playing to the nostalgic impulses of grown-up Gen-Xers. For all the groundbreaking genius behind the Wii and its motion-control interface, the backbone of the brand remains familiar faces, from Mario and Luigi to Link to Samus.

It's no surprise, then, that New Super Mario Brothers Wii feels like a bit of a throwback--capturing the look and feel of that original Super Mario Brothers game that was seemingly glued into the cartridge slots of so many original NES systems 20-plus years ago.

But like a remake of a classic TV show or film, a tribute can be too reverential. Our first moments with the game felt awkward:the controls were not nearly as responsive as one would expect from a modern game (but largely faithful to the original). While more recent entries, such as Super Mario Galaxy and Super Paper Mario, have played with the conventions of the platforming genre, the basic DNA of this game is firmly planted in the 2D era.

The biggest new feature is the capability to put up to four players on the screen at once. In a sense, gameplay is supposed to be cooperative--all four players working together to get through the level. But in practice, it's nearly impossible to not accidentally knock someone off a cliff or steal a power-up from them. These multiplayer games quickly devolve into competitive battles, with players fighting the on-screen bad guys, and each other.

It was when we hit this point that we were able to relax and go with the flow. Instead of focusing on recycled ideas, we hgve ourselves over to the Proustian joys of fireball-spitting turtles, green plumbing pipes, and treasure-filled question-mark boxes. Super Mario Brothers Wii may have one foot too firmly planted in the past, but we're still appreciative of the weekend in the wayback machine it provided.