Previews

New Super Mario Bros. Wii

Preview: Four times the fun

So it turns out that Mario's creator has wanted to make a simultaneous multiplayer Mario game for years and this is IT. Four players platforming through traditional Mario levels all at the same time. Sounds obvious, so why the wait?

It was actually technology that held back Miyamoto's dream before, apparently, as he told E3 attendees that older consoles' lack of ability to zoom out and render all those sprites smoothly and clearly prohibited this type of game from being made.

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Whatever. Here it is, we've played it, and it works brilliantly. We got eight levels to try out featuring a good mix of overworld green stages, ice, caves, desert and one stage among the clouds, each one with their own unique challenges.

Nintendo hasn't messed about with the traditional Mario formula either. You just turn the Remote on its side and play. All the buttons, like previous Mario games, are where they should be.

The only hint of Wii motion comes from a spinning jump, performed by flicking the Remote upwards subtly. But it was more a pain than it was useful - pressing the jump button hard (as you do on tense jumps) sometimes caused the Remote to register a spin jump, which accidentally sent Mario to his death. We were surprised to see some proper hardcore platforming too. Considering NSMB on DS was criticised for being too easy, we expected some mum-friendly action.

How wrong we were. Swinging platforms, rotating blocks, giant spinning cogs, moody Thwomps and new fireball-throwing Koopas made sure we memorised the Mario 'death' jingle.

The new items are cool too. A cap with a little helicopter blade on it sends Mario flying into the air when he does a spin jump. It's not only useful for reaching high platforms but the propellers also cleared screen-covering fog in one level.

The penguin suit lets Mario shoot balls of ice that freeze enemies in mid-air, forming a new platform for the plumber. Pretty cool. And of course Yoshi is back with his enemy eating power, just like the good old days.

And in the middle of all this craziness, the new multiplayer mechanics worked well. The screen pans out as players drift further apart, but not too far. Players who wonder out of view when the camera is fully panned back die.

Get over it. This function makes vertical levels a particular challenge, as you have to keep up with each other to survive. If you're co-operating you'll find players having to wait as Mario mums struggle up the more challenging sections.

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But what's cool about NSMBW, is that you can choose to play it either co-operatively or competitively, all without having to change an option on a menu screen. Players collide into each other, bounce off each others' heads and each player has their own life count.

We chose to play co-operatively and even then 'accidentally' knocked others off platforms or stole their items.

But play against each other - trying to be the first to those coins or items, or the fastest through a tough platform challenge - and it could be an awesome laugh. Like two-player Mario Bros. was all those years ago, kicking those upturned enemies off the screen. But, just like that '80s classic, NSMBW is perfectly playable in single-player too.

The final game needs eight to ten incredible and varied worlds and a handful of modes that really explore the multiplayer functionality. If we get this we could just be looking at one of Mario's all-time greats.

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