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New Super Mario Bros. Wii: Hard-core/casual fusion Nintendo's been looking for?

Nintendo's big holiday Wii game might be the best thing going for it since Wii Sports.

It's retro right down to the box art. Nintendo

This holiday season, amid an economy that's still in the tank, game companies are stingier with their first-party release schedule. In fact, each of the Big Three (Sony, Microsoft, Nintendo) are only targeting one or two games for their systems before Christmas. Nintendo has one single title that's prominent for the Nintendo Wii, and that's New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

We got a chance to play one or two of the side-scrolling title's multiplayer modes a while back, but we didn't know whether Mario's home console return to 2D platforming would also feature a single-player mode that had as much going for it as old-school favorites like Super Mario World.

After last night's playthrough and a discussion with Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto (translated via Nintendo of America's Bill Trinen), the answer to that question is undoubtedly yes.

Mr. Miyamoto answered questions regarding his new game, in particular why it's a 2D game when Super Mario Galaxy achieved such great success both critically and financially as a 3D Wii title.

According to Miyamoto, who participated in a reporter's roundtable Thursday night in New York City, what makes a Mario game is being "simple to control and easy to understand." The multiplayer modes of New Super Mario Bros. Wii include both four-player competitive Smash Bros.-inspired modes such as Coin Battle, as well as hop-in four-player co-op throughout the entire single-player story mode of the game.

"We wanted the game to appeal to and be accessible to as wide an audience as possible, and because we wanted to make it multiplayer, we felt that the original concept for Mario Bros. was the one best suited to multiplayer gameplay," Miyamoto added. "Multiplayer platforming is much better suited to a 2-D environment versus a 3-D one." He was referring specifically to same-room gaming as opposed to online gaming, raising a point that we've often thought about with the Wii--namely, other than Wii Sports, that there just aren't a great number of multiplayer games for the console.

An old-fashioned overworld. Nintendo

Miyamoto went on to explain how New Super Mario Bros. Wii and next year's upcoming sequel to Super Mario Galaxy were simultaneously co-developed as two separate ways to look at the Mario experience on the Wii. One is a natural evolution of Mario's recent 3D efforts, while New Super Mario Bros. is unabashedly retro, even down to its box design and cover art.

"The game stems from 8-bit Mario," Miyamoto admitted, although he also claims the original Mario was always intended to be a two-player co-op experience. With the DS game New Super Mario Bros., Miyamoto said he "tried a balance of level difficulty that would still satisfy long time Mario fans," but found the balance "hard to do."

The new Mario game allows players to be as proactive or casual as they want, according to Miyamoto and Nintendo. They mean this quite literally: the game triggers a "Super Guide" option after the player dies eight times, which is a video showing exactly how to make it through the level. The player can jump in at any time, or even skip the level entirely. It's a controversial idea to the hard-core, but Miyamoto stressed that it needn't be used, and wouldn't be a great idea in all games. "A lot of people buy strategy guides or go online--we incorporated it within the game itself," Miyamoto explained, adding that the Super Guide "doesn't show secret areas or how to get star coins."

Amusing developer and tester-made "expert" videos were also shown that can also be unlocked by collecting hidden Star Coins, showing off how much extra can be applied to certain levels with a little extra hard-core effort.

Super Guide shows how Luigi would make it to the finish. Nintendo

It seems that Miyamoto's greatest pride is in how this game enables a meeting between hard-core and casual players, and how same-room "living room" multiplayer, as opposed to online play, can be a source of old-fashioned fun. "The more advanced can carry novice gamers through levels," Miyamoto said, and referred to his observations testing the game with focus groups. "What we noticed was when people played alone they had a very serious look on their face and they were working very hard trying to figure out their way through a level...but as soon as we had multiple people playing the game, their expressions changed dramatically, and all of a sudden they had smiles on their faces," noting that "some of the people playing multiplayer can have a really good time without playing much of anything."

New Super Mario Bros. Wii: as hard or as easy as you'd like. Nintendo

While some might fault Nintendo for not making New Super Mario Bros. Wii into WiiWare DLC (for the record, Miyamoto claims he prefers things in boxes), the playtest afterwards confirmed that this game is exactly what an old-school Nintendo fan or a retro-obsessed Mario lover would want--it's a full Mario game through and through. Strangely, it eschews many of the Wii's prime features--it's controlled exclusively using the nunchuck-less Wii-mote turned on its side, and doesn't use Wii MotionPlus--but that could be an appeal for many Wii owners, not a hindrance. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it adds enough tributes and new wrinkles (like an ice flower power-up) to make it worth the visit. Come to think of it, New Super Mario Bros. Wii might be the only Nintendo Wii game besides Wii Sports to successfully blend hardcore gaming, casual appeal, and multiplayer into one package. If Wii owners agree with that sentiment, then Nintendo's destined to be printing money once again this holiday.