Do you remember the first time you played Super Mario Bros? I can picture it now. My brother and I each got a NES for Christmas. It is good to be back, 20 years later, to the original. That’s the thing that sticks out the most in New Super Mario Bros., it truly feels like the original.
And what a present this game is, adding single-cart download mini-games, and a versus mode to a very classically trained Mario romp through the Mushroom Kingdom. It has been far too long since we have seen Nintendo’s main man staring in his own platformer, and even longer since Mario was in a side-scroller. You would have to go back all the way to the SNES and Super Mario World, in fact, to find the last one.
Everything in New Super Mario Bros. is rooted in the original 1985 classic, but subtly updated with some surprising effects and a hybrid 2D/3D engine that shines on the DS. You see this first in the title screen, which seconds as the only story in the game. But we all know the story by now, right?
Mario and Peach are taking a walk when Mario spots the palace getting hit by lightning. When he runs to help, Bowser Jr. snags Peach, and thus you once again must save her. Bowser Jr. has taken the princess to the nearest tower, which becomes your new objective.
New Super Mario Bros. is setup in the very traditional eight worlds akin to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, including an overworld map, towers, ghost houses, Toad houses, and of course castles to finish a world.
There are even nods such as jumping on the flagpole to end a stage, Bowser at the end of the first castle, and the same puzzle/maze like ending to Bowser’s castle in World 8. You can even achieve fireworks, again, just like in Super Mario Bros. — but I’m not going to tell you how. The nostalgia is so thick you could cut it with a knife. And this is a very good thing.
Although the Dual Screens are not utilized for anything but space, the layout works great. It means the information is on the bottom screen, keeping the top screen free from clutter. Information such as progress, score, Star Coins, and reserve item box are all displayed on the bottom screen.
While in the game, your progress in a level is shown by a Mario icon in the top portion of the touch screen. When in the overworld map, this section displays all the destinations with icons representing stages, like a flow chart. You can also use L and R to navigate left and right.
Since Mario is no longer a sprite, he can do thing such as turn around, and has a few animation cycles, such as when running fast, or ducking. The lighting, since it is also now 3D, changes too. When in a tower or castle, you will notice the lighting change to a darker mood. You will see ground deform, platforms grow, shrink and rotate, and the camera zoom in and out depending on the situation. They nailed the graphics, while keeping the aesthetics of Super Mario Bros. intact.
These are the type of small details that really make you go “wow,” and that happens a lot in this game. This is mainly due to the strict adherence to the standard 2D platforming grid; the 3D flares here and there pop nicely. The 3D elements are not over the top; the designers took a “just enough” approach.
Mario has some new moves and power-ups to help him in this quest, some of which would not be possible without this hybrid engine. Wall jumping is a welcome addition, and in some cases, a requirement. A number of hard to get Star Coins require some tricky jumping. Mario also has a butt-stomp that comes in very handy.
Of course you have the mushroom and fire flower power-ups, but added are a super-sized mushroom that makes Mario the size of the screen. With this you can plow through everything in sight, including pipes, bricks and question mark boxes. On the flip side, there is a micro-sized mushroom that turns Mario really small. In this form you can run across water, and jump and stay in the air longer. Some obstacles and pipes also require a micro-Mario.
Lastly is a blue turtle shell power-up. With this you can ricochet across a level taking out all the Goombas in your path. You are also invincible when ducking under your Koopa shell. All of these new moves help to liven up the series, but keep things rooted closer to Super Mario Bros. than anything else.
The game controls just as you would expect a Mario game to control. That is to say, everything is spot on. No complaints here. You actions feel tight and accurate, with absolutely superb platforming. Everyone can pick up the game and play it without looking at a manual, even for that one person who has never played a Mario platformer before.
Just like the game play and level design, the music from your childhood is back too. All those themes you fondly remember have been remixed and updated for this new generation of game. When you enter World 1-2 you know immediately that you are in an underground level, without even seeing the screen. Likewise the music in the castles brings back memories. Enemies now hop and change attack routine to the rhythm of the tune, which is a nice touch.
If you are going to run strait through it, New Super Mario Bros. can be completed in about five hours. Alas, if you do this you will be missing at least half of the game, including two entire worlds, as these are not unlocked if you are just blazing a path to Bowser’s castle at the end of World 8. A number of levels in each world will not be immediately accessible either, often needing a hidden exit to get to them. In all, you get over 80 levels to venture though. This should keep you captivated for another five or more hours, especially if you are looking for the Star Coins in each level (which are required to unlock levels, and Toad houses, in the game).
Thanks to the abundance of 1UP mushrooms, you will not have a problem finishing without breaking a sweat. There are tricky spots for sure, but nothing as frustrating as Super Mario Bros. 3′s World 8 airship. The last couple of levels, especially most of World 8, are complicated in New Super Mario Bros. — as they should be. In the end, I would have liked something a little harder, but this game is built for a wider audience than Super Mario Bros. was.
To be quite honest, the single-player game was enough. But the mini-games add loads of replay. At first glance these touch screen games seem ripped strait from Super Mario 64 DS. In fact, about half of them are directly from Super Mario 64 DS, albeit with enhanced graphics. Then you realize you can play these versus someone else, all with a single copy of the game.
While the versus mini-games are entertaining, the Mario vs. Luigi game is just frantic fun. Reminiscent of Mario Bros., you will be fighting against one another — not to kill turtles, crabs, and flies, but to capture the most Big Stars.
There are five levels to chose from, plus configurable options for how many lives each player has, as well as how many Big Stars need to be collected to win. These stages wrap around the screen as well, just like in the original Mario Bros. As in the mini-games, Mario vs. Luigi is also available as single-cart download play.
These single-cart games on the DS are really great, and add so much to the value and experience.
New Super Mario Bros. is the quintessential platformer that you should not hesitate adding to your DS library. With a classic single-player, over a dozen mini-games, and the addicting Mario vs. Luigi mode, it is very easy to feel like a kid at Christmas, again.
Also read what other Blogcritics had to say about New Super Mario Bros.:
Nintendo DS Review: New Super Mario Bros. — Matt Paprocki
New Super Mario Bros. is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Comic Mischief.