New Super Mario Bros. Review
I can still remember my first exposure to the little red plumber that would become a big part of my life for many years to come. I was no more than four-and-a-half years old and had no exposure to video games – yet. Little did I know that my adventures throughout the Mushroom Kingdom would make me one of the more popular kids on the block.
Over the past 20 years, I’ve spent a significant chunk of time adventuring through Mario’s home land. I’ve guided him through many castles, helped him to realize vegetables are better to throw at stuff than to eat and even worked with Bowser to stop a great evil threatening the land. I can definitely say that the time spent over the past years with Mario has been fun – each of the games evolved into something new and added new elements (or, in the case of Super Mario RPG, took the game in a completely different direction).
The jump to 3D, however, took the series in an unimagined direction. With the idea of 3D graphics becoming so incredibly popular, we didn’t get to see any new sidescrolling Mario games. Sure, there were chances to play re-tooled versions of the older games that appeared on the Super Nintendo and the original NES, but they paled in comparison to what a new Mario sidescroller could bring to us.
Enter New Super Mario Bros. Appearing only on the Nintendo DS, New Super Mario Bros is the first original 2D platformer for Mario in nearly 15 years – the last Mario-centered game was released in 1992! Nintendo has finally brought the series back to its roots, however, and has done so with more success than I originally expected.
For starters, Mario isn’t actually a sprite, nor are his enemies. The DS has allowed Nintendo to render these characters in 3D, though they won’t be wandering around a three dimensional world – it is still done in 2D. The question blocks, regular brick blocks, everything feels like it should, except that everything is much more vivid and colorful. Also, The DS’s 3D capabilities allow for some really neat graphical effects – water sloshes around when Mario runs through it and splashes up when you toss a fireball at it.
A neat aspect that the 3D characters bring to the game is the ability to grow (or shrink) to incredible sizes. Where Mario used to only have two sizes, he now has four – the traditional small Mario and big Mario are complimented by the new micro-Mario and gigantic Mario. The two new sizes come from, you guessed it, mushrooms.
Both of these mushroom types, while rare, are generally necessary or incredibly useful when you do find them. Huge Mario, for example, can run right through bricks of any kind and even rip pipes up from their roots and send them flying. You’ll even have a destruction meter at the top of the screen – the more you destroy, the more 1-up mushrooms you’ll get. Also, there are tiny pipes and small areas that only micro-Mario will be able to get through. When he is that small, Mario can also run along the surface of water and can have much more controlled jumps – he almost floats in the air. Another new powerup for Mario doesn’t involve a size change but actually gives Mario a blue shell. If you run while having this powerup on, you’ll slide around like a regular Koopa shell. Also, if you duck with it on, enemies won’t know what to do and will just bump into you.
Small things from the previous games in the series make an appearance too. After playing through the first few levels, I noticed something – the style of level was the same as the first three in the original Super Mario Bros. The first level was an overworld level, the second was an underground one (complete with blue blocks and a 1-up mushroom that you have to chase along a long line of bricks) and a mushroom-platform level. Small touches like this give those that played through the games a lot back when they came out in the mid 80s something to smile at.
The sound effects are also a nice throwback. While the music is all remixed, it is instantly recognizable to almost anyone who has played a Mario game in the past. The death music, for example, makes a return. The distinctive clunk you hear when you stomp on a Koopa makes its return as does the familiar sound of Mario going down a pipe. Nintendo has done a great job of giving nods to the past while not just recycling old music and sound effects.
Controls are very similar to those found in previous games. Mario brings back moves that he has learned over the past 20 years. Mario can wall-jump (and this skill is necessary to master in some of the later levels), butt-drop and stomp with the best of them after all these years. Mario’s run speed when holding down X or Y seems a bit slow but, other than that, he controls a lot like he did in the original Super Mario Bros.
The game’s overall style is very retro, too. Instead of having a massive amount of difficult levels, New Super Mario Bros replay value comes in finding the three star coins in each level and also finding alternate exits for the stages. The coins can be used to unlock different paths on the map – be they to a toad house for powerups or to a different level. Alternate exits to levels will either lead you to warp zones or different worlds altogether – I missed World 4 and World 7 on my first playthrough of the game.
The various hidden elements on NSMB range from easy to incredibly difficult to find/get to. For example, one level’s secret exit is hidden way up in the top of an area. Hitting a switch will make the water flow up some – this’ll be enough to get you to the regular exit. However, if you’re quick enough (the water doesn’t stay up for long), you’ll find another switch to hit that will help you to the alternate exit. Secrets like this go a long way to helping make the game fun for all types of players – if you don’t enjoy looking for all sorts of hidden stuff, you don’t have to.
Once you’re done with the single-player levels, you’ll probably want to give multiplayer a shot – this mode is a blast. See, one player will play Luigi and the other will play Mario and you’ll be competing to collect five stars. Even if your opponent has 4 of them, though, all hope isn’t lost – just toss a fireball at him or pick up a Bob-omb and blow him up to steal those stars back. The levels for this mode are specially crafted and not just the same levels you’ve played through in single player. The best part with this mode is that the other person doesn’t even have to have New Super Mario Bros to play – Wi-Fi download mode is possible. Online play would have been nice, but the lack of it doesn’t take much away.
It has been a long time since we’ve seen a new sidescroller with Mario as the star. However, if New Super Mario Bros is any indication of what will come in the future on the DS, the wait was well worth it. NSMB manages to blend elements from the past seamlessly with gameplay technologies of today. Familiar enemies, powerups and levels all mesh with new elements to form what is the best Mario game to date.
Welcome back to the head of the 2D platformer class, Mario.