In many ways, Nintendo's upcoming New Super Mario Bros. Wii is a return to the classic franchise's roots, featuring side-scrolling levels with a modern, yet familiar, look and feel.
Yet with this latest installment in the Mario legacy, creator Shigeru Miyamoto told Gamasutra and other press outlets gathered at an intimate New York roundtable that the aim was to focus more on a multiplayer experience.
Even that's not too far off from where Mario began: "The original concept was that the Mario Bros. games would be games that two people always played together," Miyamoto explained, "but of course, the Super Mario Bros. series turned into more of a single-player game."
Still, Miyamoto has never lost interest in creating meaningful multiplayer experiences, particularly now with the Wii, a console designed for the family living-room setting. That's why, he says, Nintendo focused its attention on local multiplayer with this title: it's designed for play in face-to-face groups.
By making New Super Mario Bros. Wii a multiplayer game, Miyamoto had simultaneous goals in addition to making a meaningful group experience -- he said the experience of playing the game is very different depending on whether it's being played solo or not.
He learned this through his known strategy of testing games by observing players' expressions: "People would play the game and...people playing alone had a serious look on their face. They were working very hard...and it was a big challenge for them."
"But as soon as we had multiple people playing the game their expressions changed dramatically," the designer explained, describing an environment of lighthearted excitement and rapid-fire verbal communication.
Subtly, the design of New Super Mario Bros. Wii seems to cleverly address a major criticism of Nintendo titles in the Wii era -- that in favor of wider accessibility the company has abandoned the sort of challenge that can satisfy a traditional or more experienced gamer. This is because the multiplayer is designed such that more experienced players have an additional element to work with in the ability to help novice players: They can carry, rescue, or lead younger or less skilled players, and have fun doing so.
In groups, then, the players themselves can create additional layers of complexity in the difficulty level. Playing alone is much harder, while the challenge in playing with others depends in large part on how much players help one another. "Because it is multiplayer, it has some new facets, in the sense that more advanced gamers can take care of novice players that might be playing with them, and ...carry them through the levels," said Miyamoto.
Miyamoto knew from the response to New Super Mario Bros. on DS that multiplayer was the key to building this kind of variety, he said. "One of the things we tried to achieve [on DS] was a balance of difficulty that would be easier for some of the newer gamers who first joined with the DS hardware, but would still satisfy the needs of longtime fans."
"But we found that doing that was actually pretty difficult," he added. With New Super Mario Bros Wii, Miyamoto recalled that "at E3, somebody asked, 'is New Super Mario Bros. Wii going to be as easy as New Super Mario Bros. was on DS?'"
"I think I said that it wouldn't be as easy. ...What we've created this time is in fact pretty difficult," he concluded.