I know you’re probably reading this in February, but you have to understand that I’m writing in November. As it stands, we’ve just elected a new president who A) Lives in a tower, B) Enjoys grabbing maidens, C) Has legions of robed followers who call themselves wizards and D) Wants to rule the world for his own personal profit. As interesting as it might be to live under the rule of a dark sorcerer, no chosen one has come forth to end his reign, so life has been a little stressful. On top of trying to get Obamacare to pay for a four-to-eight year supply of Xanax before it’s repealed, I’ve also had to spend the semester student teaching, which basically means I’m spending all my time learning how to do a job I’ve had for ten years, and paying for the privilege of teaching someone else’s classes for free. But under Trump’s new education secretary, that may become the new norm. So in short, I haven’t had a lot of time for games lately. Here’s a Mario review.
The plot of New Super Mario Bros Wii opens with Bowser publicly denouncing his criminal ways. To offer restitution for the harm he’s committed in the past, he turns toward philanthropy, building up infrastructure in the Mushroom Kingdom and starting a foundation for the survivors of the Toad army to go to college. Mario embraces this new Koopa King, but Luigi can’t shake thirty years of dogged bullying, and secretly investigates Bowser’s sudden change of heart. Meanwhile, a dark and mysterious force moves in, trying to tempt a seemingly tranquil Bowser back to his old ways and…
…I’m just fucking with you. Bowser kidnaps the princess. Mario chases after him. This plot is Nintendo’s sugar daddy, and they’re going to stick to it like they were walking through Mirkwood and deviating from the path even slightly meant they’d be devoured by spiders the size of SUVs. (Although, they may want to consider a change in formula. I can see how the orange-haired monster grabbing the girl and taking her back to his tower while his magikoopa wizard tries to help him conquer the world might start inducing PTSD flashbacks like Pokemon induces seizures.) Fans are desperate enough for narrative consistency that Nintendo published a Zelda timeline that looks like it belongs in the office of an FBI agent hunting a serial killer. But Mario gets to remain frozen at one point in 1986, basically getting the same free pass as your racist, sexist grandfather. “He’s from a different time.”
So how does the game actually play? Well, pretty much like Mario 3, with a few cameos thrown in for fan service. You go through the same desert, ocean, ice world, etc, as you did on the NES. You fight the same koopa kids who haven’t bothered to take so much as a beginner’s judo lesson since Super Mario World and can still be taken out by three quick stomps to the head. You still follow a hub map from course to course as though you’ve got a bus pass for the Mushroom Kingdom and will be damned if you don’t get your money’s worth before you walk around the spinning lava-filled battlefield of murderous turtles. The game dishes out free lives and power-ups like Chick tracts, all of which have the stopping power of a broken condom when compared to the fire flower. In fact, they’ve paired up the fire flower with an ice flower that can freeze certain enemies for short periods of time. While it’s more useful than not for stopping your typical fire-proof enemies, and while it’s kind of fun to encase fish in a block of ice and make them float upwards to “sleep with the humans,” it generally slows enemies down about as much as stepping on a wad of chewing gum.
It’s a 2D platformer, and although I play platformers with much the same enthusiasm as renewing the license plates on my car every year, I’m glad they made the game. Too often, I think, developers confuse “what’s technologically possible” with “what’s mandatory for a game to include.” It’s the same sort of logic that leads people to confuse “abortion is legal” with “here’s some Vaseline and a plunger. Now get on the exam table or go to prison.”