Nintendo came out of E3 2009 much stronger than they did in 2008. They started off our booth tour with their big announcement of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and I got to squeeze in some play time with the game.
If you've played the DS version of New Super Mario Bros., most everything is going to be familiar, including major elements of Super Mario Bros. 3 from the NES era, new and entertaining power-ups, and a fair supply of secrets to keep things interesting for a good, long play session. Then we saw the surprise elements of this Wii release, which make it far more than just a port.
First, there's the four-player simultaneous play, which I can't really label as co-op or versus play. Similar to Legend of Zelda: Four Swords, you play as four different characters (Mario, Luigi and two different Toads) who can make the levels quite easy for each other. The Nintendo rep indicated that if the levels were tackled solo, they would be about as difficult as the oldest Mario games. Upon completion, each level rates each player by the number of coins they managed to acquire, and this is promptly followed by the players driving each other comically insane. Jump off your allies' heads to get a boost to that coin, or have them throw you to it. (Just hope that they won't chuck you off a cliff ....)
Lesser additions include the new penguin suit, which is very useful in ice levels and oh so adorable; the inclusion of abilities endemic to the 3-D Mario games, like wall jumping and spin jumps; and the reintroduction of Yoshi, mostly as he was back in Super Mario World. The game also doesn't pause when you grab a power-up anymore so that it doesn't mess up the other players' rhythms. If a player dies in co-op play, he'll immediately float back in on a bubble — which another player could pop, say, right when you're over a cliff.
Controls remained nice, simple and short on waggle, and the 10 demo levels (out of "at least 80" in the final game) all looked nice and played nicer. They also tend to be a ad long, which indicating a very long potential play length.
Nintendo's E3 lineup certainly has one nice thing to start with now: a callback to the classic era, with some new and many familiar ideas, all packaged up under its Italian mascot and the signature sorts of fun that have defined him for decades. The fact that New Super Mario Bros. Wii looks like it can successfully be both difficult enough for the hardcore fans and easy enough for good party play could be a major sweet spot in Nintendo's future.
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