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Reviewed: New Super Mario Bros.
Producer: Nintendo
Required System:  Nintendo DS
Overall Rating:
Author: Michael Ahlf
Date: July 8th, 2006

Despite the amazing run Mario and Luigi have had in best-selling video games, their gameplay elements have been remarkably fluid. In their original arcade game, they flipped turtles and bugs by jumping up and pushing platforms from below. In Super Mario Bros (and its Japanese sequel), they jumped on top of their enemies. In the American Super Mario Bros 2, a re-skinning of the Japanese title Doki Doki Panic, they picked up and threw enemies. In Super Mario Bros. 3 they received a number of powerups including a raccoon tail and flying cloud, in Super Mario World they gained capes and an adventuring buddy named Yoshi, and in Super Mario 64 Mario gained the ability to bounce off of walls.

New Super Mario Bros was supposed to be a game wherein Mario and Luigi got back to their roots of 2-D, simplistic, yet fun platform adventuring. For the most part, it succeeds. The old formula (eight worlds, smaller stages in each) has been brought back, though the "Koopa Kids" of SMB3 and SMW era play are gone in favor of recurring battles with the new "Bowser Jr." from Super Mario Sunshine.

Graphically, this is almost the perfect fusion of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario World. All character models and levels are created with 3-dimensional models, though the gameplay is solidly two-dimensional. The main goal of the graphical engine seems to be to make things as scalable as possible, so that the camera can zoom in or out, or objects grow or shrink, at will. The sounds are very classic Mario; my personal conjecture is that most of the sound effects and character models were probably "rescued" from Super Mario 64 to be re-used here, as their appearance is very similar.

In terms of new tools, players have a few options to play with. Just like in Super Mario 64, Mario can bounce off of walls while jumping, and can execute a "butt slam" to hit enemies extra hard from in the air. The the standard mushroom and fire flower are back in the game, as well as three more powerups: a koopa shell (which gives Mario the ability to become invincible when ducking and to slide while running like a kicked shell), a "Giant" mushroom which allows him to become nearly as tall as the screen and break almost everything in his path, and a "Tiny" mushroom which shrinks Mario to 1/4 his normal height. While tiny, Mario can't damage enemies unless using the butt slam attack, but he can jump further and longer than normal. There are also certain missions where finishing as Tiny Mario is the only way to open up secondary paths in the game, including two of the worlds.

In terms of gameplay, the closest analogy is Super Mario World. While the cape is missing, SMW gave players several new options which are faithfully preserved. Levels and even completed worlds can be re-entered, for replay and exploration. Secret paths abound, unlocked by completing levels in different ways or by paying "secret coins" for them. There are three such coins in each level, some more secret than others.

If you're one to race through a game just to see the ending, of course, New Super Mario isn't for you. While the game can be "finished" in just a few hours, doing so skips at least 2/3 of the game's content, just like using the warp zones or warp whistles in previous Mario titles. The fun is exploring the world and unlocking everything, and the designers gave players plenty to enjoy and come back to.

Overall, if one were to make a hierarchy of the Super Mario titles, New Super Mario isn't precisely at the top. That honor likely belongs either to Super Mario World or Super Mario 64, the games that gave this title their gameplay elements. The lack of distinct level bosses is somewhat disturbing, and for sheer run-around exploration value, either of those titles gives players more to do. Still, it's enjoyable and worth owning, perhaps even with Super Mario 3 as contenders for the #3 spot on a Mario hierarchy.

If you're a DS owner, pick it up. If you're not a DS owner, it's one of a slew of good reasons to own one.

Added:  Saturday, July 08, 2006
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 1/2

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