New Super Mario Bros. Wii Hands-on Preview
Mario bounces back for a second shot at 2.5D platforming - can Nintendo get it perfect once again?
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Talk about strings to your bow. In the course of a career which spans three decades and over 200 games, Mario has posed as a medical practitioner, competed in the Olympics, tried his hand as a crafter of clockwork soldiers, pulled tricks at the race track, even wielded a hammer in turn-based RPG combat. He's played golf, baseball, football (or "soccer", as those silly ex-colonials would have it), pinball, picross - and all this whilst holding down a plumbing job, babysitting the kidnap-prone regional royalty and staying on top of a severe mushroom addiction. Not bad for a dude whose first gig was a game named after a barrel-throwing gorilla.
Yet somehow, despite his many ventures beyond the genre he helped define, Mario's never better company than when he's running from one side of a screen to another, leaping to head-butt coin-stuffed question marks, dodge carnivorous plants or flatten irritable marshmallows. The advent of New Super Mario Bros. on DS in 2006 proved that much, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks like it's going to do so yet again.
The basics of 2D Mario platforming are so much a part of our beings that any breakdown more extravagant than "as before but with four-player co-op, still fantastic" seems the height of long-windedness - like explaining to someone that Ryu hurls fireballs, or that Final Fantasy certainly isn't. But that kind of reasoning isn't going to get us to 1000 words and another page impression, is it, so I'll persevere.
Motion sensing controls play second fiddle to pad inputs here, thankfully. You hold the Wii remote horizontally, using the D-pad to move and the 1 and 2 buttons to jump, bust out special cap moves and ground-pound. Shake the 'mote to unleash a helicopter spin attack, which can be performed while airborne to glide a little (or a lot if you're wearing the new propeller cap). Shake it while holding a button to heft an enemy (or, for that matter, a friend) overhead, and hit the button again to toss him away.
Our hands-on covered 10 of the game's reported 80-plus levels, most of which induced debilitating sensations of fuzzy rose-tintedness. There's the Mushroom Kingdom opener, Goombas and Koopa Troopas rushing forward as if to welcome you home; an icebound zone which throws up nasty combinations of slippery platforms and skidding sunglass-wearing penguins (another new cap transforms you into one of the latter); a lava level with colossal rotating cogs and those glowering spiked crusher blocks; a desert escapade perforated by jets of sand; and a spooky mineshaft haunted by skeletal Koopa Troopas, who come back to life seconds after you stomp them.