Nintendo surprised everyone with its announcement that Mario was getting two new games on the Wii, one of which would be an old-school platformer but with a multiplayer twist. We went hands-on with New Super Mario Bros Wii at Nintendo's booth to find out more about this game.
So here's pretty much all you need to know: It's Super Mario Brothers with support for up to four people at once. Each player is automatically assigned a character, between Mario, Luigi, a blue Toad, and a yellow Toad. Aside from appearance, there seemed to be no discernible difference between them. After all four players signed in, we were able to choose from one of 10 levels, though the final version will reportedly feature more than 80. Even the controls are nearly identical. With the Wii Remote being held NES-style, you can run, jump, ground-pound, and lift your opponents with a quick shake of the controller.
The first level that we played actually started off with an homage to the first Super Mario Bros, with the first few bricks positioned in the exact same pattern. But it took only a few seconds to realize that having multiple people really makes this game a whole different beast, which my teammate demonstrated by picking me up and throwing me into a goomba...that rascal. New Super Mario Bros Wii is clearly inspired by the GameCube game, Four Swords Adventures. Teamwork is required to complete each level (the game ends if everyone runs out of lives), and yet, the game is also competitive at the same time; it ranks players at the end of each stage based on the amount of coins they've collected. This brilliant mechanic makes for some truly hilarious situations. You'll be helping your first friend defeat an enemy one moment, and then picking him up and throwing him off a cliff the next for taking one of your coins.
We tried our hand at a few other levels, including the requisite lava and snow levels, but one level that really stood out consisted entirely of large rotating blocks, forcing us to keep on the move constantly, lest we tumble off the side. It should be noted that the levels are quite expansive, which the game demonstrates by intelligently zooming out as the players venture away from one another, revealing a massive playing field. We also got the chance to check out some of the new power-ups, such as the helicopter hat, which lets you take to the skies with a flick of the Wii Remote, and the Penguin suit, which gives our plumbers the ability to slide down icy slopes while throwing snowballs. Due to the increased amount of players, most item blocks spit out four items at a time, one for each character, though there's nothing stopping one player from being a jerk and snatching them all up.
The game also includes some great throwbacks to previous Marios, such as the return of the fire flower, hidden underground areas, and common enemies such as goombas and koopa troopas. But something that should really please old-school Mario fans is the return of the Koopa Kids, who haven't been seen in more than a decade (barring a cameo in Mario and Luigi).
New Super Mario Bros Wii is shaping up to be a fantastic multiplayer experience, and we look forward to playing more when it's released this holiday season.