New Super Mario Bros. Wii Hands-On

We try to play nice with friends in Nintendo's 2D Mario platformer for the Wii.

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When the original Super Mario Bros. came out in the '80s, multiplayer still meant that you had to wait your turn. The wait could have been a long one depending on how good the first player was, but now, you don't have to sit on the sidelines anymore. Nintendo's upcoming New Super Mario Bros. Wii will have four-player cooperative play, as well as free-for-all modes and coin battles to dive into. The idea of playing with friends sounds great at first, but it's going to be a challenge. You'll know that as soon as you jump into the multiplayer action, it takes the traditional 2D platforming experience to a whole new level. We stopped by Nintendo's office in Redwood City today to take a look at some new levels that hadn't been shown before and tried to pry some more information out of the Nintendo representatives.

Hazards include your own teammates.
Hazards include your own teammates.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a lot like Super Mario Bros. 3, minus the tanooki suit, the frog suit, and several other items, but the developers have added a penguin suit and a propeller mushroom, which we saw at the 2009 Electronic Entertainment Expo. Another new item to add to the list is the blue ice flower, which launches ice balls and freezes enemies in its path. Using this, you can create platforms for yourself to reach higher ground. It works particularly well in the water levels, because we were able to freeze cheep-cheeps in various-sized cubes of ice, which then float to the surface. As long as they don't hit anything on the way up, they won't shatter. We saw the propeller suit at E3, but we found out that even when you don't have one on, you can jump and shake the Wii Remote to get a little bit of air.

Familiar enemies return, and there are a few new faces. The Koopalings are back, and we were able to confront the slightly loopy Lemmy Koopa, who was rolling around on a bright green ball--sound familiar? Also familiar are the events on the world map and conveniently placed Toad houses that yield goodies if you stop by. Yoshi is back, and he comes in a variety of colors, including pink. They don't have color-specific abilities anymore, but they can now swallow fireballs and hammers and spit them back. To keep the multiplayer spirit alive, you can steal Yoshi from other players if you ground-pound them.

Before jumping into a level, up to three friends can drop in or out and share power-ups that have been collected in your inventory. Teamwork is essential if you want to get some hard-to-reach items. You can boost off someone else's head, or even have a friend pick you up and toss you around. This is fine when it's executed in a coordinated fashion; however, most of the time you're jumping on someone's head by accident or nudging players off a platform to their death because there just isn't enough space when four players are crammed into one area. This doesn't mean that the game isn't fun; it's a blast to play and hilarious to watch, as long as you're patient and don't mind that a level you can normally breeze through solo in 30 seconds is going to take much, much longer. It's still a group effort, though, so you can bring friends back into the game once they've run out of lives, by collecting coins and giving everyone an extra life. There are unlimited continues: the game just tallies how many you've used to serve as a gentle reminder of how good/bad of a player you are.

Yoshi is back in assorted colors.
Yoshi is back in assorted colors.

When you're not going through the story mode, there are a couple of multiplayer-specific modes to try. Free-for-All lets you select a stage via a simple menu to avoid the time it takes to navigate the world map to get to the level you want to play. It's quick and easy and is meant to be played just for fun with no consequences. There are recommended multiplayer levels as well as favorites to choose from. The other mode is a Coin Battle mode, which we didn't get to check out this time, but we can assume that it has a competitive element to it.

One nice addition is the ability to do a quick save at any time, instead of waiting to beat a mid-world fortress or castle. The overworld map has a similar layout to the New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but you can scroll and scope out the world and see how elaborate the maps have become. Secret areas are included, and there are cannons located on the map to launch you to another area. Entering Toad's house isn't as simple as grabbing a chest and taking off. There are minigames in which you take turns with your friends to select panels on a fence, and once you unveil a match, you get the item. It doesn't matter who gets it though, if you're all sharing. But you can be greedy and hoard it for yourself for when you play through the game solo.

We were able to check out a nice variety of levels during our visit, and we'll have more impressions in the coming weeks when we receive our own build with more areas to play. Keep an eye out for that, as well as our summary on Saturday's episode (October 10) of Today On the Spot. New Super Mario Bros. Wii is set to come out on November 15.

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