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Endgame: New Super Mario Bros. Wii

March 27, 2010

The truth is, I beat New Super Mario Bros. Wii a long time ago; I’ve been waiting to write this post until now because like any Mario game since, oh, Super Mario Bros., the true joy lies in the post-game.

Before I get to that, though, I want to talk about something: the multiplayer experience. At the end of last year, despite not having to pick a “game of the year” for any outlet, I’m pretty sure if I had been faced with such a problem I’d have gone with New Super Mario Bros. Wii (and yes, I am going to use the full title every time I have to refer to it, if only to underscore the verbose absurdity of the title). One year removed from Michael Abbott naming “co-op gaming” his “game of the year” to cap off his brilliant holiday podcast series, New Super Mario Bros. Wii redefined what co-op gaming could be. Despite the lack of online capability, playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii with one, two, or even three more people on a single screen is a delight unlike any other multiplayer experience yet developed. Ostensibly a cooperative experience, the sense of competition in such a play session is near-impossible to squash, as using your fellow players as platforms off of which to jump or hoarding powerups never seems to lose its appeal.

Penny Arcade gets it right, though — the rage that inevitably results from a player’s mushroomy feast doesn’t seem to lessen the fun of playing; rather, it’s motivation for revenge. And thus the drive to play, and play well, is heightened.

That said, unless you are paired with a player that is approximately the same skill level as yourself, multiplayer play is mostly a transient experience. Most players who are interested in actually winning the game will eventually peel off and play the game by themselves. Of course, when I say “most players”, I mean “me”, but it’s difficult to imagine the difficulty and frustration of the later levels translating to the competitive inclinations of the multiplayer experience. Multiplayer works best when the imminent dangers of the levels being played are easily taken care of; later levels, with things like double-digit simultaneous bullet bills and fireball-spitting “hammer” brothers would essentially become single-player levels with extra, human-controlled obstacles anyway.

I was simultaneously pleased and disappointed with the difficulty curve of New Super Mario Bros. Wii when I first beat it — while it certainly got harder at a nice, gentle pace, allowing the player to feel challenged even as losing didn’t happen all that often, there was never a controller-throwing moment, a bit of platforming that felt so impossible that I’d never beat it (only to overcome it after a few days of cooling off). Much of it felt rote, as if the game was upping the illusion of difficulty while never really getting all that much harder. This is especially true for the final boss “fight”, which feels appropriately epic, but shouldn’t be all that difficult for anyone who fought through the rest of the game that comes before it.

When you’re trying to get all of the game’s gold coins, however, this is where the controller-throwing really begins.

Most of my New Super Mario Bros. Wii experience was done while at least one of my kids was watching, so I couldn’t do all that much actual controller throwing. Still, particularly when trying to pick off the coins on the gleefully difficult World 9 (the bonus “star world” in which mid-level checkpoints become a thing of the past), the difficulty goes through the roof when you’re trying to make your way to places in the levels that aren’t apparent (or, aren’t apparently possible) on the first playthrough. When I gave in at one point and used a hint movie to figure out how to get one of the coins, and the hint movie told me that in order to do so, I’d have to jump, throw an iceball to freeze a piranha plant, and then land on the newly frozen piranha plant to enter a pipe, my first instinct was to say “no, there’s no way I’m going to be able to do that”.

In reality, it only took me two tries, but it still felt hard, as if I’d done something that a million other people hadn’t already accomplished. Even that was nothing compared to the two “below the ice” coins in World 9, Stage 7, the last two I picked up. Those were true controller breakers.

The funny thing is, many of the hardest coins in the game are, conceivably, easier with multiple players, since one player could theoretically pick up a coin and plummet to their death while the other player(s) concentrated on staying alive through the rest of the stage. It would still count as having picked up the coin, unless both players died. Would that have felt like a cop-out? I’m not sure.

Maybe it’s worth picking up the two controllers and trying to find out. Maybe I’m not as done with New Super Mario Bros. Wii as I thought when I started writing this blog. That can’t possibly be a bad thing.

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