He’s reincarnated in various forms and formats, but this time the Mario we all know and love has been resurrected in true classic action in the latest DS game, New Super Mario Bros.
New Super Mario Bros. goes back to Mario’s roots. We haven’t seen a Mario game like this in over 15 years, and even longer when you consider that the N64 version was rendered in 3D. This version is 2D side scrolling, but incorporates some great 3D graphics. Mario is rendered in 3D like many of the enemies and environments, although you cannot explore them as you could in the N64 version.
From the first seconds of play, you can tell that a good time awaits you. The game stinks of quality. It looks great, it sounds nostalgic, it responds brilliantly, and it’s a lot of fun, and that’s just the first minute of play. You can tell that Nintendo has done its homework on this game. It retains the look and feel of Super Mario Bros. but manages to update and enhance it with new moves, enemies, booby traps, puzzles, bonuses, and secrets so you always keep in mind that you are playing a new game and not an overheated rehash. There are many nods to its heritage, including goombas, Koopas, question mark blocks, and flagpole hopping at the end of the levels, but these are classic elements that I think should be included to give us a sense of familiarity. This might not have worked five or ten years ago, but enough time has passed that we do not perceive these elements as hackneyed.
With today’s games, we tend to take stories too seriously, when in reality history can’t fix a terrible game. The Super Mario Bros. story is as basic as it sounds, and we really don’t expect it to be any different. Now that I think about it, it doesn’t have to be any different. Everything is prepared for us. Our mission is to rescue Princess from Bowser’s clutches, in this case, Bowser Jr. kidnapped her and took her to the castle at the end of the first level. Once you get to that castle, Bowser Jr. takes Peaches to the next castle. This continues through numerous levels. There are eight worlds in total, and a top map allows you to see the different levels of each world. It’s pretty easy to get through the entire game as there are plenty of power-ups and extra lives, but you’ll miss out on the whole experience if you just go through the levels without stopping to smell the piranha plants.
There are a couple of hidden worlds to unlock. You must explore all the areas thoroughly to find all the unlockables, secrets, surprises, and shortcuts. There is also the added challenge of collecting coins. Not only will you earn extra lives by collecting coins, but there are three huge coins in each level for you to locate. This challenge isn’t easy and I haven’t found them all yet, but I’m intrigued to get back to the levels where I lost them. The replay value is tremendous if you decide that you want to find everything in the game and participate in all the challenges.
Mario has a lot of moves this time. You’ll still run, jump, and stomp, but there are a few more moves that give you more flexibility, and you’ll need that to negotiate your way through some of the deadliest foes and platform elements you’ll encounter. A bounce on the butt will allow you to break the blocks you are standing on. It can grow large enough to take up the entire screen, allowing you to break through tons of blocks and deal with smaller enemies by stomping on them. A mini mushroom will make Mario small and allow him to get into small places. It will also allow you to walk on water. A wall bounce allows you to scale walls to reach new heights or can be used if you fall into a pit.
Platforms twist, bend, warp, shrink, expand, float, fall, rise, and are destroyed. I don’t think the developers left anything out. Even the ground will ripple, causing Mario to experience a ship-like rippling effect on a stormy sea. Despite all these new elements and movements, the game does not take full advantage of the DS’s single control system, nor the touch screen control system or even the dual screen. The lower screen is basically used just to show your progress in each level. The touch function is used almost exclusively to access its power-ups. In other words, there is nothing you would really miss, control wise, if this game were to be released on GBA. However, the graphics are what really matter and this game would never look this good on the GBA simply because of the super powerful processing capabilities of the DS. Not only does this version look 10 times better than the Super NES version, it is just as great. Think about that for a moment. That should tell you how far Nintendo has come.
But wait, there’s more … The game also features a two-player verse mode with Luigi. The premise is a kind of race, to see who can be the first to get five stars in a platform obstacle course. You can deliberately try to hurt the other player by hitting him. This will cause him to drop his star and allow you to claim it for yourself. This mode can be played by sharing with a single copy of the game card. The same minigames from the Super Mario 64 DS game are also included, but can be played with other players, requiring only one copy of the game. These minigames make better use of touch controls, but they aren’t incredibly exciting.
The sounds are fantastic. It’s like having a game room in the palm of your hands. “Is it a game room in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?” Mario has a voice in this game and repeats some clichés drenched in Italian. Fortunately, you avoid saying, “That’s spicy meat.”
New Super Mario Bros. is new in look, feel, and gameplay, but thankfully we can still visit Mario’s old terrain. This game is reason enough to buy the DS system if, God forbid, you haven’t liked any of Nintendo’s other killer titles yet.