Ever since he played the first Super Mario Bros on the NES, Daniel Driver dreamed of a sequel that allowed two players to guide Mario and Luigi across the Mushroom Kingdom simultaneously. It turned out that he wasn’t really looking for multiplayer Mario – just someone to play those games with.

It only occurred to me recently that New Super Mario Bros. Wii is such an important game to me. For nearly 30 years I’ve been playing Mario games and while there are better games in the series, this feels like the culmination of a number of threads in my gaming and personal lives.

I didn’t play the original Super Mario Bros. until 1990, but I remember when I first played it as a bright-eyed seven-year-old in the dining room at my nan’s house one Christmas, on a NES that belonged to one of my uncles. I knew it was better than anything I had on my Commodore 64 within minutes, though at the time I’d never admit it.

My sister and I were playing as one of my Dad’s slightly tipsy brothers looked on. Taking turns, we occasionally made it to the end of the first world, but the intimidating, fire-riddled castle of King Koopa had mentally defeated us before we’d even made much progress.

Naturally, as a pair of kids, we started to mess around, and it was then I found that I, as player one, could pause player two’s screen at any point. Like an utter bastard, I found it hilarious to pause my sister’s game mid-jump and cause her to plummet down one of the Mushroom Kingdom’s many bottomless pits. A year younger and not quite so amused, my sister kicked up a stink and one argument later, NES time was brought to an abrupt end.

New Super Mario Bros Wii's cover.
Platform

Wii

Year

2009

Genre

Platformer

Developer/ publisher

Nintendo

The first level of New Super Mario Bros Wii.

A mere two years later – thinking back, it feels like longer – we were playing Sonic the Hedgehog 2 on our Mega Drive. Being able to pick up a second pad and play as Tails at the same time was tremendous fun. Granted, Sonic’s famous fox friend would frequently disappear off screen – most likely to raid bins and make ungodly noises in people’s gardens at night – but it was worthwhile because we traded this off with the fact that Sonic’s unkillable twin-tailed pal could help topple Dr Robotnik.

If only Mario and Luigi, two actual brothers, could settle whatever differences they had and be on the screen at the same time. One could only imagine what had separated them: jealousy over Princess Toadstool; Mario not paying Luigi fairly for that plumbing job; arguments over a family inheritance; maybe Luigi was pissed off with his brother’s penchant for pausing reality and causing him to fall to his doom.

Estranged brothers

Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are two of the greatest games of all time, and teaming up with a friend to conquer every world is still tremendous fun. The co-op element had improved greatly from the first, beyond just taking turns and repeating the same levels. Things could get tactical as players worked to clear the levels in each world, while Super Mario World’s branching paths made it more interesting still.

But progress still depended on taking turns, and at times in Mario World taking differing routes would make it seem as if the brothers were just having completely different adventures. Games like ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron and World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck on the Mega Drive were doubtlessly a tier below the Super Mario series, but they were showing the increasingly distant brothers how co-op platforming could be done. Tails had even started to interact with Sonic in Sonic the Hedgehog 3, carrying his lazy friend around like a furry helicopter taxi. It surely would only be a matter of time until Mario followed suit.

But they didn’t. Instead, things seemed to get worse.

Yoshi’s Island, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2 were all outstanding platform games – innovative, beautiful trailblazers, but ultimately solo experiences. Things had gotten so strained in the Mario household that Luigi had apparently downed tools altogether, with the two brothers only racing in go-karts, competing in various sporting events or kicking the absolute shit out of each other in Super Smash Bros.

For over 20 years, Mario and Luigi had not shared the screen on a mainline Mario game, but that was about to change.

New and improved

In 2006, Nintendo launched New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS. It was great, capturing the magic of the NES and SNES titles with a 2.5D adventure. Filled with secrets and that slick Mario gameplay, the games went down a storm in both a critical and commercial sense – I was a huge fan. Again, Mario and Luigi were separated by a character select, though they could combat each other in wireless link play, which hardly gave the impression they were finally ready to work together.

I spent a huge amount of time with New Super Mario Bros. on the DS – far more than I spent with the port of Mario 64 on the system – and it was, and still is, a fantastic game that I could endlessly talk about. But it’s the game that appeared three years later that’s the focus of this tale.

In 2009, New Super Mario Bros Wii was released. Finally, after 24 years, Mario and Luigi had resolved their issues and were sharing a screen together, co-operating! There were two Toad characters too, presumably to stop the others falling out, but this meant simultaneous action for up to four players. It sounded like a revelation and I would’ve been totally on board, had I not been coming off of an Oblivion binge, brought on by splitting up with my ex at the time.

Single, with no interested mates or family members who’d want to play it with me, alongside a focus on Xbox 360 titles like Street Fighter IV and Mass Effect, the game passed me by at launch.

Press 2 to join

2010 was just a few days old when, by chance, I ended up talking to a girl on Facebook. We clicked very quickly (I’m sure no couple has ever been so drunk on a first date), and very soon we were meeting up most nights. She had a two-year-old son, which meant that we’d occasionally spend dates nights in when she couldn’t get a babysitter.

One night, I popped round as she was putting her boy to sleep. Prepared as I was, I brought my trusty DS to keep me occupied until he was down. She had a PS2 and a Wii in the living room, but it seemed easier and more appropriate to stick to my own handheld console. However, the warning signs were there for what would happen next.

“What are you playing?” she asked as she sidled up next to me.

The answer, funnily enough, was Super Mario Advance 4, the GBA port of Super Mario Bros. 3. I’d picked it up on eBay and was trying to make my way through it. Her eyes lit up as she explained how she loved that game on Super Mario All-Stars on the SNES, so I naturally offered her a go.

It would be two months before I got that DS back.

It turned out that this beautiful young lady was also a bit of a gamer. In those two months we started to play the Wii together a lot and I started to buy games for us to play together – I’m pretty sure this was before Netflix and chill went mainstream.

One of the first was New Play Control! Mario Power Tennis. This one sticks out for a particular exchange one evening following a couple of hours of gaming, during which I was being thoroughly beaten.

“Why are you so rubbish?” she taunted.

I remember thinking to myself that she had some nerve, beating me and trash talking. She jabbed me with the Wii remote mockingly as I smiled and simply replied “Why are you such a c***?”

It was a gamble, responding to her jibes as I would do to one of my best friends in a similar situation. Fortunately, she saw the funny side and we both fell about laughing. A couple of weeks later I got my DS back, with the GBA version Super Mario Bros. 3 100% completed. This girl was special, and from a gaming perspective it was time for something that we could really play together.

Collecting eggs without a Yoshi in sight

Easter rolled around, we’d been together just over three months and I was spending more and more time at her flat. Among the chocolate eggs was a present I’d picked up that we could play together: New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

I’d seen it on sale that week during my lunch break, in Marks & Spencer of all places. The game came in a glorious Nintendo-red case, standing out from its default white peers like a fiery beacon upon Bowser’s Castle, and after picking it up I couldn’t wait to show my girlfriend.

“Is this a present for me, or for you?” she asked sardonically as the unwrapped gift revealed itself, much to my excitement.

“It’s for both of us!” I replied awkwardly, feeling as if I’d dropped a Homer Simpson bowling ball on her Easter eggs.

That night, once bedtime was done, it was time for us to get stuck in. Finally, I’d get to play the Mario multiplayer game I’d dreamed of all those years ago.

The game was an instant hit with us. Both well versed in the methods of the Mario, we blitzed the first world with barely a life lost. Little did we know that what lay ahead would test us to our limits, in every way that it could.

Old school made new in the best way

New Super Mario Bros. Wii was an absolute joy to control. The set-up was simple but utterly ingenious, with Wii controllers held sideways to resemble NES controllers. It wasn’t a new idea, but the adoption of this method fit the game like a glove, run and jump felt just as they did on the NES games, while shaking the controller would have your chosen character perform the jumping spin introduced in Super Mario World.

From a graphical standpoint it was great to look at: smooth, colourful and slick in every way you would expect a Mario game to be. The same could be said for the sound, those distinctive Mario effects present and correct along with voice clips that never felt overbearing.

Musically, though, it was a mixed bag. The painfully odd singing – if you could call it that –sounded like someone had taken a Speak and Spell and autotuned the hell out of it, and it was present and every bit as grating as it was in the game’s DS predecessor. That said, as you would expect from a Super Mario soundtrack, the main melody that made up the DNA of the all of the games’ music was a wonderful earworm – joyful and nostalgia infused, it till sounded like a true Mario soundtrack.

At first glance, the gameplay was standard Mario fare: run, jump, collect coins, pick up mushrooms to grow to Super Mario size, collect power-ups to give Mario and chums various abilities. The Fire Flower transformed your character into an instrument of fireball spewing doom, while this now had an alternative with the Ice Flower, which allowed you to freeze enemies before shattering them Sub-Zero style. Obviously far more humane.

The headline addition to the power-up line was the propeller hat. Again, it was simple but cleverly implemented; once donned, the propeller would activate with a quick shake of the Wii Remote, allowing players to reach higher platforms and uncover all manner of secrets.

So, with all these new power-ups and the ability to play through with a friend or three, the game should be a pushover, right? Wrong.

Two brothers, two lovers

With World 1 aced, my girlfriend and I moved on to World 2: Desert. The eagle-eyed may notice that this follows a similar pattern to Super Mario Bros. 3, following a breezy first world with a brutal expedition to the sandy wastes. The angry sun may have been in absentia, but the cliff-faced difficulty spike was present and correct.

Gradually, as we made our way through the various levels in this world and as the days and weeks progressed, the difficulty of two players tackling this Mario outing became clear.

One of the things that made New Super Mario Bros. Wii fantastic to play was its physics. The characters moved with palpable weight and precisely in the way that you would expect them too. Everything felt substantial and real, and that extended to the player characters.

Above I mentioned Sonic and Tails, ToeJam and Earl plus Mickey and Donald: characters in three games where player on player interaction was limited. In all those games, one character could literally walk through another like a ghost. This was not the case in New Super Mario Bros. Mario, Luigi and chums quite simply could not occupy the same space; instead they bounced, pushed, shoved and jostled for personal space as if they were commuters on the London Underground.

This subconscious battle for platform real estate created hilarious slapstick moments. Run too fast and sometimes we’d knock each other off a platform to a sudden demise. Jumping often became an exercise in timing after we had occasions where one would land on the other’s head, giving the upper player a boost while the lower player was sent plummeting to their death. Throw a bunch of traps and enemies into the mix and the sheer amount of tomfoolery on show meant you could probably replace the game’s soundtrack with that from The Benny Hill Show.

These antics made the game challenging but an absolute riot to play. There were times when we’d almost fall off our chairs laughing at the sheer idiocy on show as the brothers Mario frequently stole power-ups and bumped one another to their respective doom.

Bubble… BUBBLE!

As funny as those mechanics were, they could also infuriate, but that capacity was neutered somewhat by another genius addition by Nintendo EAD: The Bubble!

Whenever a character died in multiplayer, they would shortly return to the playing field encased in a bubble, warbling “help me” as if underwater – in fact after hearing their cries for a while you’d half expect them to cry “oh, Mr Geppetto!”. They would only escape from their bouncy prison once they made contact with another player, whereupon the character would be free to re-join the fun.

It was a nice, unique way of dealing with character deaths, but it went further than that. “Bubble Time” could be initiated at any moment in game with a quick press of the A button. For example, my girlfriend and I would make a jump, she would land, but I would miss the platform, prompting me to strike that A button desperately. Encased in my watery sack, my lives saved and power-ups retained, I could wait until the other half was ready to free me.

This helped ease others into the game too. My girlfriend’s two-year-old son, who was becoming obsessed with the Sonic the Hedgehog port on my iPhone, could play New Super Mario Bros. Wii and was happy enough to spend vast amounts of time in a bubble. Friends we had over would also play and the insanity as we co-operated, yet fought for space, was doubled. The bubble technique was one we’d fall into repeatedly.

If someone was missing a jump: “Bubble!” Falling behind as the screen scrolls forward: “Bubble!” Get caught in a moving block in a castle: “Bubble! Bubble! BUBBLE!”

As for the two of us, we continued to eek our way through the game slowly. I was commuting a lot for work at the time and my girlfriend was studying in addition to her day job and being a mother, so we weren’t playing New Super Mario Bros. Wii every night, but we were making progress when we did play it, but that progress was becoming slower and slower.

The rocky road to victory

As difficult as World 2 was, it was only a hint of what was to come. Every passing world upped the ante. The game made its DS predecessor look like a cakewalk.

As the months rolled on, the three of us moved in together to another flat in north London for what was ultimately just a stop gap until we moved closer to my new place of work in Milton Keynes. Life, as it does, threw a few challenges at us along the way. I was still losing hours of my day to my commute, my girlfriend was in the midst of a career change that meant the two of us tightening the purse strings, while the area we had moved to was far from either of our first choices.

This meant more nights in playing the Wii and we were approaching the last world, but the difficulty meant that frustration was outweighing the humour when it came to our multiplayer pratfalls.

“You jumped on my head!” I remember having screamed at me once. “I didn’t mean to do that” was said after I had visibly rolled my eyes at another silly death.

But we persevered. When the going gets tough, whether it’s Super Mario Bros. or real life, you stick together, you work it out and you push on.

One night, over a bottle of wine, we made one final push to finish the game. Determined and keeping the bickering to a minimum, we fought our way through the final level of the world: Bowser’s foreboding and intimidating spiky turreted fortress. As we reached the end of the level, there was a wonderful homage to the boss battles in the original Super Mario Bros. as we dodged oncoming fireballs to meet our final foe. Just as in the NES original, it simply took the retracting of a drawbridge to send the boss to his doom. Bowser, it seemed, was criminally easy. We laughed, we whooped, but victory was not ours yet.

A magic spell later and Bowser returned as a screen-filling ultra-boss who gave chase to the plucky Italians as if they’d overcharged him for a shoddy plumbing job. By some miracle, with minimal bumping and frequent yells of (you’ve guessed it) “Bubble! Bubble!” we managed to beat this one final obstacle at the first time of asking.

It was a monumental achievement and the first game the two of us had seen through together from beginning to end.

Bonds created, and a tradition born

It goes without saying that I couldn’t have achieved this co-op victory with anyone else, so while I was waiting almost 20 years for that multiplayer Mario experience, I wouldn’t have had anyone to play it to the extent me and my then girlfriend played it, for the months it took us to grind through to the game’s finale.

A game does not a relationship make, and it never should. However, New Super Mario Bros. Wii did give us many nights of entertainment and saw us enjoy dizzying highs and frustrating lows together.

Eight years on and the girl in question is no longer my girlfriend; instead, I’m very proud to call her my wife. Her son is now our son, and he has two younger sisters who drive us all crazy. To the surprise of absolutely no-one, all three kids have more than a passing interest in games.

So what of New Super Mario Bros. Wii? For years after, it still found its way onto our playlist. My wife and I went on a mission a few years ago to collect every single giant Star Coin, even unlocking the secret ninth world and finishing those levels. However, the difficulty of that final set of levels meant we stopped short of collecting every coin.

After dabbling with soft-modding our Wii, we downloaded the wonderful Newer Super Mario Bros. Wii game. This sprawling labour of love is well worth visiting if you enjoyed the original!

Later still, we picked up a Wii U and enjoyed the official follow-up, New Super Mario Bros. U, which allowed a fifth player to help/hinder the others by placing platforms on screen via the GamePad.

Most recently, after a few years of searching, we finally hunted down an affordable, physical version of New Super Luigi U, a game that ramped up the difficulty, kicked Mario to the curb and gave every level a 100-second time limit.

But where it all began for us – New Super Mario Bros. Wii – is not forgotten, and it’s played on occasion in our house by not just my wife and I, but our kids too. It’s not the best Super Mario game in the series, as beating out its legendary peers would be some task. However, it’s without a doubt one of the most fun. Crucially, its strength lies in bringing people together.

Not only did Nintendo finally deliver Mario the co-op gameplay I’d always dreamed of, but more importantly I now had my own family to share it with.

Pros

  • Mushrooms, flowers, coins and Koopas. It’s 2D Mario as you know and love it
  • Accessible but challenging, with secrets and collectables expanding the game beyond defeating Bowser
  • Riotous, hilarious fun in multiplayer mode

Cons

  • Music approach is divisive to say the least
  • Lacks the originality and impact of the original games

Dan’s take

It may not be remembered in the annals of gaming history as the greatest Super Mario game, but there’s no doubting the pedigree on show in this wonderful homage to the original Mario Bros. games. Its true strength lies in the sublime and challenging multiplayer which will have you laughing in the early stages just as much as you’ll be gnashing your teeth towards the end, and with secret worlds and a litany of collectables, it’s a game you’ll be playing for a very long time.