Nintendo has given us a near-final build of New Super Mario Bros. Wii to play with, and we've been enjoying every minute of it. We've covered the game at the Electronic Entertainment Expo and also recently when we went down to Nintendo's office in Redwood City, so for those impressions, please read here and here. After spending some time playing it in the office and going through the different worlds, we really think that this is worth checking out regardless of whether or not you grew up with the Italian plumbers.
The Mario games paved the road for what platformers are today, and back when this genre was primarily a single-player experience, New Super Mario Bros. Wii does what the series should have done long ago: it lets you play at the same time with friends. The fun factor definitely increases with the number of people who join, but we've found that the most efficient way of playing is with two people--preferably two people who know what they're doing. Some hard-to-reach coins will require that you buddy up and jump on your friend's head to reach them, but if you have an extra couple of players pushing, shoving, and just getting in the way, you could easily eat up all 20 lives between the four of you that you're given to start with. If you're feeling like you're the weakest link, the new bubble feature will come in handy. Each time you die, you come back into the game in a bubble, which lets you float through the stage without being harmed--at least up until someone bursts your protective shell. But you can hit the A button at any time to float through the stage, which proves to be useful if you know you're not going to make a perilous jump.
The benefit of playing with friends is that when someone loses all their lives, he or she will automatically be given five more with the use of unlimited continues. All the items that have been collected will still be in your inventory, and it's nice because you can use one power-up to share among all four of you. However, if you play on your own, once you run out of lives and use a continue, you'll be bumped back to the last save point and have to start over with five lives and no items. The good news is that all the Toad houses have been reset, so you can jump around the different worlds to stock up on items and extra lives. Now if you're really bad at the game, and die about eight times in the same level, the next time you start, a green exclamation block will appear. Hitting it will activate the Super Guide, and Luigi will jump into the game and play for you. You can watch as he completes the level, or you can take control of Luigi at any time by pressing the plus button. If you happen to bite the dust again, the Super Guide block will still be available when you return. This help system is available only in single-player.
We mentioned before that getting through the main mode with a full party can be challenging and can take much longer. It's definitely more fun with more people, but that also depends on what your goals are. If you want to get through the game, it's best to do it solo if you're really impatient or team up with a well-coordinated friend and try to get through the levels as a duo. If you'd rather just play the game without worrying about completing levels and reaching the next save point, Free-for-All mode lets you do just that by giving you easy access to any stage. The first menu gives you a list of recommended courses to play together, and you can scroll through the other worlds and pick the level you want to play. This saves you time in terms of navigating the world map, and at the end, everyone's score is displayed.
The other mode is Coin Battle, in which there are several specially designed coin-filled stages for you and your friends to compete to snag the most coins. Stages from the main game are included here as well; the only difference it seems is that your coin total is tallied at the end to determine a winner. The coin stages are interesting because there are dotted white outlines of coins throughout the level, and when you pass through them, coins will appear a few seconds later. It's a good idea to hang back and let someone else walk ahead, so you can try to snatch the golden gems as soon as they materialize.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii may follow the same tried-and-true formula as its predecessors, but there are quite a few changes this time to make it worth your while. With a great mix of new enemies and old faces, it will surely bring back pleasant memories of classics such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Grab some friends and look for New Super Mario Bros. Wii when it's released on November 15.