I suspect that there are two kinds of people who play Nintendo's Mario-themed games. First, there are the hard-core fanboys. These are the people who have diligently played through the scores of Mario games Nintendo has released since Donkey Kong got the party started in 1981. Not only are they masters of the strategic power-up and the perfectly timed jump, but they can dispense obscure bits of digital lore about Nintendo's famously mustachioed, overall-wearing plumber-adventurer.
Second, there are players who want nothing more than a bit of innocent digital distraction. Kids. Families. Grown-ups who need a mindless break and can't put their hands on a Pac-Man game at the moment. They're just looking to have some fun clearing obstacles and chasing a princess who always seems to get hauled away by some nemesis, no matter how diligent poor Mario's pursuit is.
Put me squarely in the latter category, though I have to admit it's been a couple of decades since my last go at the aforementioned jumping and power-upping. Believe it or not, the last Mario game I played for any length of time was Donkey Kong Junior on my ColecoVision in 1983.
ColecoVision went the way of the dinosaur, of course. But the void it left was quickly filled with the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985. And at the heart of that Nintendo's allure was … Mario. Some 200 Mario titles have sold 210 million units worldwide since those golden days of my youth. And Nintendo is still figuring out clever new ways to put players in control of the most famous video game character of all time.
Mario's latest platforming adventure on the Wii console more or less picks up where its predecessor, 2007's Super Mario Galaxy, left off. And as is often the case with this franchise, the proceedings here are as simple as they are complex.
All the main characters Mario aficionados have come to love over the years are back (along with new ones, too). The plumber's arch nemesis, Bowser, has once again kidnapped Princess Peach and is bent on taking over the galaxy. To accomplish that task, Bowser—who looks like a cross between a mad dog, a turtle and something out of a Godzilla movie—has been munching on power stars and morphing into supermonster proportions.
And so Mario must once again save the day. It's that simple.
And yet it's not. Because the stewards of the Mario franchise have once again dreamed up cagey new ways to empower their hero as he chases Bowser across the universe in this 3-D (and occasionally 2-D) adventure.
One of Mario's friends this time around is a little star-like character named Baby Luma who rides under his hat and gives him the power to attract other stars—whose energy Mario needs to keep chasing Bowser. Two other necessities for interstellar pursuit: a cool ride and equally cool powers. That ride comes courtesy of the Starship Mario, a ship shaped like, no surprise here, Mario's head. As for those special power-ups, at certain points the persevering plumber can morph into one of seven differently enabled versions of himself: Cloud Mario, Rock Mario, Fire Mario, Bee Mario, Rainbow Mario, Boo Mario and Spring Mario.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg—or more accurately, the tail of the comet—when it comes to the multitudinous ways the game varies the basic tasks of running, jumping and defending Mario from the mildly mean foes he meets along the way.
Speaking of mildly mean foes, allow me to introduce you to a couple: Beyond the cartoon violence in games like this, you have to reckon with Boo ghosts, who chase you occasionally. One of the bosses you battle is called a bouldergeist, obviously a derivative of poltergeist. And a few levels have a haunted house feel to them.
Another enemy you may run into is called a smeech. And it's their odd method of attack that makes them worth mentioning here: The pig-like creatures attack by sucking the lips of Mario's dinosaur steed, Yoshi—an attack that may have parents of younger players furrowing their brows a bit.
Mario's main manner of disposing of the "bad guys" involves either jumping on them or spinning rapidly in a circle, so when he knocks them into nonexistence, the impact carries about as much weight as a stack of collapsing Tetris cubes. That means it's just as easy for novices to plunge into the wireless Wii action as it is for experts to test their mettle against an ever-increasing variety of skill challenges. The result is, remarkably, a game that offers something for everyone—a rarity these days even for E-rated games.