Late last month, Nintendo rolled out a major update for their Wii U console (though acquiring it is still kind of a pain) that added some new functions to the operating system. Not long after did they finally launch their Virtual Console service. Like the Wii, it will allow people to purchase past-generation titles for play on the Wii U, though now these games have Miiverse community support, and can be played on the system’s game pad as well as on a television. Some have been less than pleased about the launch, at least in North America, arguing its rather barren availability even for an initial line-up. The frustrations seem to carry over from the slow updates to the 3DS Virtual Console, and could be doubly frustrating for people since these releases must now take the game pad and Miiverse service into consideration all while running properly.
Nintendo is acknowledging the thirtieth anniversary of their Famicom console, which pretty much helped put them on the map post-industry crash, and ruled 1980 and 1990s pop culture with an iron fist. They’re currently running a Virtual Console promotion that includes one title a month for the cost of thirty cents. Next week, the lauded Super Metroid will join these ranks.
In addition, Virtual Console games purchased on the Wii can be “updated” to the Wii U for $1.00 (NES), or $1.50 (Super NES).
I’d bought all of the games that were available for the thirty cents: Balloon Fight, (Mike Tyson-less) Punch-Out!!, F-Zero (I only ever played Gamecube’s F-Zero GX, but Nintendo, please make another one!), and Kirby’s Adventure. The only one I paid full price for was Super Mario World, a game I hadn’t played in well over twenty years, for a rather hefty $8.00. That’s pretty crazy to me, considering months back I bought several more recent THQ games in a single bundle for the price of $6.00.
It took me maybe two or three nights to get through it, but I still find it one of the best Super Mario games, and one of the best games in history. Perhaps the most interesting thing to me is that it also gave me a strange, new appreciation for New Super Mario Bros U.
Super Mario World released in 1990, and is as fun now as it was then. It takes us away from the Mushroom Kingdom and places us on the sprawling Dinosaur Island. We meet a new acquaintance, and a future Nintendo mascot in Yoshi: green dinosaur by day, destructive eating machine also by day, and night. He and Mario work together to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser (again), as well as several of Yoshi’s multi-colored friends (all of whom possess specific abilities). In the first or second stage, we find new abilities: the cape, allowing Mario to glide around an entire stage all the way to the exit if the area allows for it, the P balloon that allows him to expand and slowly float to higher ground. I don’t know if any of that is as exciting as it was to discover the coveted leaf from Super Mario Bros 3, but the cape serves a crucial purpose that leads to what makes Super Mario World so special for me: its secret exits, an evolution of warp pipes and whistles.
Some of the locations in Super Mario World are marked with a shining yellow dot, and others are marked in red. A level marked in yellow is an indication of the area having one exit and one traditional left-to-right path. Red-dotted stages mean exploration. You go up, you go down, needing certain abilities to progress, but all that effort gets you a secret exit — a new level, a shortcut. It’s a strange, almost psychological trigger of accomplishment when you find that key and the keyhole it corresponds to. Once the key is picked up, we see the hole grow larger and then swallow Mario, and a new hidden cove is exposed to satisfy curiosity. These secrets all eventually lead us to the Star World, with its own hidden paths requiring the aforementioned multi-colored Yoshi clan that lead to the Special World. I didn’t spend too much time in the Special World, with its surfer language for stage names like “Gnarly” and “Tubular.” I decided my time with Super Mario World was done for now, and time to jump into something else.
Moving through every world in the game though put me on something of a Mario kick, so I went back to New Super Mario Bros U, one of the Wii U’s launch games (New Super Mario Bros 2 released last year for 3DS as well), and picked up from my previous save file. Three days later, I found myself collecting every last star coin the story mode had for me to seek.
I’m always willing to try out a new entry in the “New” Super Mario Bros games. I kind of go through them on a superficial level, getting through its eight worlds and calling it a day. Most of its popularity seems to stem from the series’ multiplayer modes. It seems like casual fun, though I have never honestly had that experience. The series (from the introductory 2006 Nintendo DS game) has always thrown in the star coins as an additional challenge — three coins in places that range from easily visible to requiring timing, skill, and the right power-up to reach them.
I already liked the Challenge mode in NSMBU, which features a bunch of small objectives but requires a bit of skill for a bronze, silver, or gold medal. I initially went through the story mode with the amount of effort I usually put into the series (half-assed). Man, I really hate the 8-1 level in these games, though. In both this and the 2009 Wii game, you start traversing the hellhole-ish lava world somewhat peacefully until all of a sudden it’s raining meteors and you have to watch your steps very carefully. Imagine trying to score the star coins in that mess, although it wasn’t nearly as frustrating as getting to the secret exit! I hadn’t realized, though, that NSMBU had its share of secrets until I started looking at the chart for which star coins I had collected and which ones I hadn’t. I noticed icons representing levels that hadn’t appeared on the world map, which is arguably as diverse as the Super Mario World map, even if some areas are retreads of previous NSMB worlds.
Nabbing every star coin in a specific territory unlocks a level in the Superstar Road, which is perhaps the big highlight of New Super Mario Bros U. I don’t know if the previous games had its own version of it, but this world is like The Lost Levels for a new generation (though not nearly as cruel). There are no mid-stage checkpoints, and getting the star coins in Superstar Road will unlock a hidden stage there. My biggest nightmare was a stage called “Run for It,” which leaves very little room for error, and felt like Call of Duty 4‘s “Mile High Club” level on Veteran all over again in how this experience played out. Even after knowing the first half very well, it’s after the second star coin that the stage went to hell for me because of how fast the platforms moved.
Exploring these hidden secrets of these two Super Mario games have strangely rekindled my appreciation for the franchise, even if I consider this series an appetizer for the next big entry (Super Mario 3D Land is a fantastic game, too). I never necessarily grow tired of the Mario franchise, but it certainly seems like Nintendo keeps output of the series flowing enough that we become less excited and more somewhat intrigued. This probably doesn’t stop some of us from wondering where Nintendo will take this character as E3 makes its way around the corner.
Man, I honestly never thought I’d have this much to say about Mario.