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CONSOLE: Nintendo DS DEVELOPER: Nintendo PUBLISHER: Nintendo
RELEASE DATE (NA): May 15, 2006 GENRE: Platformer
// review by SoyBomb

Mario shows us yet again why he's so "Super".

It was in 1989 when I first experienced video games. My parents went out and bought an NES; we set it up in the living room, pulled the couch up to the television set, and prepared ourselves for an exciting adventure. We started out with only one cartridge: that Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt combo that Nintendo printed about sixty million copies of and is being used to prop up endtables the world over. From the moment my Mario started to move on screen (and was likely killed by a wandering Goomba), I was hooked. The universe of gaming entered my blood stream and never escaped. I was ready to do the Mario anywhere, anytime. I will never forget those thrills.

In 2006, Nintendo, having been heavily mired in the third dimension for about a decade, announced a game called "New Super Mario Bros.", a harkening back to the classic style of Mario game. But the opportunity to pull up another couch to a TV and play this beauty was not available: it's a portable game! And I didn't have a Nintendo DS back then, so I couldn't play it all. In fact, I never gathered up the nerve to tackle this ferocious beast until now — 2013. Still, with a Nintendo DS tightly squeezed amidst my two hands with their screens flashing and bursting before my eyes, could I relive that same magic as I did when I was much younger?

Not really.

Mario sure has really changed over the years. For one thing, he's now rendered in more polygons than the NES was ever capable of producing. I think that number may be zero, though, so it's hard to compare. And the colours, oh, how they shine; the Mushroom Kingdom is as vibrant as ever! Everything, save for the majestic hand-drawn backgrounds, are 3D models living in a 2D world. Mario can turn around and face the camera. The Goombas actually look round (and more apathetic about life). Bowser's actually a frightening behemoth and not just a pixelated caricature of your creepy uncle. Visually, times have changed greatly. And with the metamorphosis from static to dynamic worlds, Mario can actually have a greater effect on the environments around him. If he climbs a tree, it can topple over. If he stands on a mushroom, it can bend toward the ground. If he leaps onto a wire, it will curve and stretch under Mario's pasta-induced weight problem. Mario has more freedom than ever before.

That freedom, however, comes at a price. Though the Mario universe now looks better than ever before and he can now perform stunts that, twenty years ago, would seem preposterous to program, he also suffers from more floaty controls. Mario's a jumpy fellow, and I didn't feel as though I had absolute control over his every move to the pixel as in classic Mario titles. I think his momentum while moving has changed a bit; the physics feel different. Tolerable, mind you, but different. Upon completing the game, I discovered that I could play as Luigi. Within five seconds, I wished I had been playing as Luigi the entire time. Luigi plays like the games of old times. His movement is tighter and his response time is a tad quicker (not significantly quicker, but enough to be noticeable by fanatics like myself). These are the controls Mario should have had the whole time. Maybe then I wouldn't have sworn at him so frequently like an enraged boatswain missing his daily gin.

Mario's never going to get a proper vacation, is he?

Mario also has some new abilities under his belt. In addition to the classic trio of Mushroom, Fire Flower, and Starman to boast his spirits when he's feeling low (to the ground, that is), New Super Mario Bros. introduces a few new Mario styles, some more passable than others. With a tiny blue mushroom, Mario will transform into Mini Mario, able to fit in small crevices and leap a bit higher due to his reduced weight. Mini Mario is cute, but so many stages warrant this ability (but don't actually contain a mini mushroom), and it's hard to stay alive in this diminuitive, one-hit-and-you're-toast state. With a giant mushroom, Mario becomes Mega Mario and grows to almost the top of the screen, able to bust down most obstacles in his way (including blocks and pipes) with no delay. Okay, I like this one a lot. It's barely used in a meaningful way, but it's just fun to destroy a level. Do I feel bad for level designers whose work I ruined with Mega Mario? No. Last is when Mario touches a Blue Koopa Shell; he becomes... uh, Mario with a Blue Koopa shell on his back. He can use it to turn into a rolling shell while running to break blocks or knock out enemies. It's useful when I need it, but when I'm running and Mario just decides to scoot off in his shell, I get annoyed. Like, really annoyed. So annoyed, I purposely take damage to get rid of that thing.

The game itself is debatably difficult. For me, it was a much greater challenge than Super Mario Bros. for the NES. But its difficulty is higher dependent on your own goals. In addition to merely completing the game stage by stage, there are three hidden Star Coins to collect (something they now wedge into every New Super Mario Bros. game), solely for completion's sake and for an added challenge. If your goal is to see the ending, then the game isn't too difficult at all; the courses offer a reasonable challenge and are generally completable by the average gamer. But if you're interested in snagging each and every Star Coin, as well as locate every secret exit in every world, you will likely find this game to be very frustrating at times, to the point when, at any given moment, you could spot a Nintendo DS zoom out the window into a flowerbed below while curse words seep muffledly through the walls. Then you cool off with a lemonade, dust off that console, and try again. It's addictive. You want to save that Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser and his shuddersome son. You must do it!

Hmmm? Oh! Yes, there are hidden exits in some courses. Most take you to new paths that feature Mushroom Houses, serving a similar purpose to those of Super Mario Bros. 3. But the truly irritating part is that two particular hidden exits are the key to taking you to World 4 and World 7. Had I not used this wonderful tool called "the Internet" to find out how to access those exits, I would have never seen World 4 and World 7, leaving them grayed out and unloved on my map upon the lower screen. That shouldn't be. I shouldn't have to do this for a simple platformer. There is evil afoot.

New Super Mario Bros. also features a variety of mini-games, just in case eighty levels of Goomba-stomping bliss isn't enough for the weary traveller. They range in type from action-packed ones to puzzlers, some of which actually can be played with a friend using the DS' wireless capabilities. There are even silly card games like "Memory Match", if that piques your interest. Luigi dresses up in casino dealer garb, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's also a mini-game called "Sort or 'Splode". That... sounds... wonderful.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that New Super Mario Bros. isn't going to give you that same fuzzy warm feeling inside that you would get playing Super Mario Bros. in the 1980s or eating a Toaster Strudel for the first time. It is very much its own game that stands on its own two feet, if a video game had feet, and the experience you have with it will definitely be unique. Despite its flaws, it's a solid descendant of platforming from long ago. New Super Mario Bros. is cheerful and charismatic, and it will provide a challenge to gamers both novice and expert alike. Any DS (or 3DS) owner would be foolish not to add this to their collection.

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