New Super Mario Bros. Wii Preview: Classic Mario, Endless Play

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is, despite it's name, a new experience. The game hopes to blend the fun of classic Super Mario Bros. side-scrollers with a new layer of what Shigeru Miyamoto calls competitive coop gameplay.

What Is It?
New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a simultaneous multiplayer a for up to four people. Players run across a familiar side-scrolling landscape as they try to help and thwart one another as Mario, Luigi and two Toads.

What We Saw
I played three of the ten levels being shown on the showroom floor at E3.

How Far Along Is It?
The game is due out this holiday and the levels I played appeared to be completely finished.

What Needs Improvement?
Waggle: Yes, I know, more and more that seems like a dirty word. When it works it's great, when it doesn't it can be frustrating. In this case it's sort of in the middle. You play the game by holding the remote sideway and using the face buttons to navigate the world. When you want to spin your character in the air to float a bit while dropping, you need to shake your remote. You also have to shake the remote, and hold a button, when you want to pick up another player. Both of these work relatively well, but it can feel awkward switching from straight-up button controls to motion in the middle of a run.

What Should Stay The Same?
Classic Design: The game feels so familiar I actually had to check with Shigeru Miyamoto to make sure that the levels were all new and not reimaginings of levels we've seen before over the history of the Mario franchise. Playing Super Mario Bros. Wii is a like a big warm hug from your childhood.

Suits: The game is packed with power-ups, but the two new ones are a propeller suit and a penguin suit. The propeller suit is pretty straight forward, it plops a propeller on your head and lets you sort of drift around the screen after jumps. The penguin suit, though, is classic Miyamoto design. When you pop this bad boy on, Mario waddles instead of walking. He can also shoot across the screen on his belly. Finally, Mario gets the ability to shoot ice balls, which bounce across they screen until they hit something and freeze it into an ice block. Once frozen you can use the block as a stepping stone.

Competitive Coop: This is the heart of this new Super Mario Bros. experience is that the game allows up to four players to make their way through the side-scrolling world. Doubling the total head count from any past Mario experience may sound like a baby step forward, but it really changes the dynamic of the game, turning it at times into a party game. What really makes it work is that there are times when you absolutely are going to need to work together, but the rest of the time it's going to be hard to resist messing with your fellow gamers. How can you resist sucking up a friend using Yoshi and spitting him into a crevice, or picking him up and throwing him into an enemy?

The Little Things: There are a lot of little things that help make this game sing. There are hidden caves, that when you enter them you explore with a flashlight effect. The camera zooms in and out automatically when you play to keep everyone on the screen, but still focusing in on the action as much as possible.

Final Thoughts
This is going to be one of these big games for Nintendo this year. It's got the playability of all of the Super Mario Bros. titles with quite a lot of replayability tacked on thanks to that flawless multiplayer gaming. I think this will end up being the game that most occupies the Wii for quite some time once it hits.