In New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you play as Mario (or Luigi, or a toad) while fighting your way through a magical land of walking mushrooms and winged turtles, en route to finding and saving Princess Peach, who has been kidnapped - for the zillionth time.
Princess Peach: The most kidnapped character in the history of any art form. You'd think by now she'd hire security goons and maybe Beatrix Kiddo from the Kill Bill movies to protect her from the abducting clutches of Bowser. But no, she serves as a professional career victim.
Anyway, New Super Mario Bros. Wii packs no surprises if you know Mario games. It's a side-scrolling platform-jumping adventure, and it feels and plays exactly like Mario games have for 20 years. It does look somewhat prettier. And despite its lack of newness, it's very fun.
Even though the word Mario may make you think it's a kiddie game (thus easy), it's not. It's very challenging to beat, with crafty obstacles and time limits. If you're a casual gamer, it might be so hard it'll frustrate you while charming you.
On the other hand, if you die eight times in a level, you can choose to let the game take over for you briefly, then you watch as Luigi races through your stuck-level, showing you how to beat it. That's kinda cool.
Let's be specific: You run from left to right, or climb upward, jumping over empty spaces and avoiding as many villains as you can. You sprint or swim across desert landscapes, and underwater worlds, and the tropics, and snow-covered hills - all while killing or avoiding an amazing number of man-eating plants, and evil clouds, and blue monsters throwing spiky boulders at your head.
There is something new. We in the gaming press have talked a lot about the new four-person cooperative multiplayer. You can play with up to three friends, and the four of you take on these same levels together. This is a great, great addition to party gaming, and to cooperative multiplaying.
But you should know the four-person cooperative mode is even harder - way, way harder - than the solo adventure. I invited two dudes over to my place to play co-op, and we could barely get through the early, "easy" levels. My friend Ched exclaimed, "This is just madness!"
The madness is chaos. In co-op mode, the game throws at you an unreal amount of killer mushrooms, killer turtles and anything else that kills. My friends and I were so daunted, we switched to the co-op mode of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which seemed like a breeze by comparison.
So, bonking the heads of winged turtles in Mario is harder than scope-sniping an enemy soldier in Warfare 2. Maybe that's why Princess Peach puts up a weak defense against getting kidnapped: She lives in a very dangerous land of meanies. Oh, it's a pretty land. But her kingdom offers a hard-knock life.