New Super Mario Bros.
Itís not easy being Mario. Sure, youíve literally got a princess for a girlfriend, but she keeps getting kidnapped by your arch nemesis every time you turn your back. Your hands get singed every time you throw a fireball. Most of your friends are dwarfs with freakish mushroom-shaped heads. Denim overalls have been out of style for a decade. Your weird brother keeps shoveling his angst, insecurities, and perceived inadequacies on you at every opportunity. A monstrous turtle keeps invading your home. When you arenít saving the kingdom from evil, youíre expected to be an expert race kart driver, a baseball/basketball/soccer/tennis/golfing superstar, a painter, a typing teacher, a melee fighter, and just a good old fashioned party animal. But not even all of that can compare to the pressure of the millions of fans watching your every move in all the games youíve ever been in. Expectations are high; these fans constantly demand for the best platforming Mario adventure ever made. Sadly, such demands are rarely met.
What do you know, Mario’s jumping on pipes again.
Itís a brand new day in the Mushroom Kingdom. For the first time in ages, Mario and Princess Peach are getting some quality time with each other. But as we all know, the leisurely vacation is going to be short-lived. Bowser Jr. steps boldly out of the shadows to confront our heroes. Unlike his behemoth father, this evil upstart likes to take the fast and direct approach to doing things; he picks up the princess and drags her down the road to the nearest fortress. Not quite as grandiose or epic as the dastardly plans of yesteryear, but hey, it gets the job done. Itís up to our hero to chase down Bowser Jr., administer a little old fashioned Mario Bros. justice, and save the princess from utter doom yet again. Sounds kind of familiar, doesnít it?
Okay, so itís not the most original plot ever conceived. However, thereís still a damsel in distress, and itís your job to go save her from Bowser Jr.ís evil clutches. But before you can even lay a white-gloved fist on his scaly hide, youíve got to get to him first. In order progress through the various lands of the New Super Mario Bros.,youíll have to traverse the hazardous landscape of the Mushroom Kingdom, carefully jumping among platforms while taking down all of Bowser Jr.ís entrenched minions. Youíll find a few useful items along the way, including a Super Mushroom to double your size, a Fire Flower that allows you the power to sling fireballs and incinerate your foes with extreme prejudice, and even a Starman that grants you invulnerability. Should you survive the daunting obstacles and opposition, youíll eventually infiltrate the fortress, do a few more fancy platforming moves, defeat the boss, and move on. If youíve ever played a Mario game, this should sound all too familiar to you. There are a few changes, however. Thereís none of that old ďSorry Mario, but the princess is in another castle!Ē stuff; youíll get a shot at Bowser Jr. on several occasions. But every time you defeat him, heíll just manage to grab the princess, bolt out the nearest conveniently placed exit, and make a run for the next fortress or castle. While the kid may not be quite as tough as his old man, heís still a tough one to take down.
Snowball fight? Wicked!
This cat-and-mouse chasing dynamic is one of many new spins on the tried and true Mario gaming formula. As previously mentioned, youíll have to beat a series of levels laid out on a map in order to progress through that particular area of the Mushroom Kingdom. But in this iteration of the Mario series, traveling along the map blends elements from both Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. As with the late SNES classic, you can take branching paths through the kingdom depending on your actions within the levels; finding alternate exits can set you onto different paths that can prove to be less time consuming or easier to complete. Not everything is that secretive, however. You can open up new paths with the giant golden coins that youíll find hidden in each level. You can spend these trinkets as you like; cashing them in will usually grant you access to a Mushroom House and a few helpful powerups inside. In another blast from the past, youíll occasionally find the Hammer Bros. lurking somewhere on the map and waiting to ambush you. Also, the progression between the kingdomís eight areas is not entirely linear; you might find yourself warped from Area 2 all the way to Area 5 and not know how in the hell you got there. While things may seem a little confusing at first, the vast amount of hidden paths will keep completionists coming back time and again.
Hey, does anyone else remember Bomb Jack?
However, the Mushroom Kingdom map isnít the only thing to get a makeover. New Super Mario Bros. takes the old gameplay mechanics and blends them with a few new features. The basic concept of jumping among platforms is still alive and well, but now Mario can do wall kicks, double jumps, edge hanging, butt slams, and a few other handy tricks heís learned since he went 3D. However, veterans of the Mario series will soon discover that this game lacks any sort of flying powerups whatsoever. Thatís right, boys and girls, Mario is staying on the ground for this adventure, a throwback to the original Super Mario Bros. In order to make up for this utterly lacking arsenal, a few new powerups to keep you interested. Should you get a Blue Shell, youíll be able to strap it onto Marioís back, hide him inside of it, and dash into foe after inept foe. Also, a certain mushroom will reduce our hero to the size of an insect, allowing him to squeeze through tight spaces, enter small pipes, and walk on water. However, such a miniscule size makes him an easy target for foes to crush. On the opposite end, the Mega Mushroom sends Mario on a grow spurt of epic proportions, allowing him to rampage through the level like a denim-clad Godzilla. You wonít be forced to carry these items one at a time, either; like the item storage system from Super Mario World an extra item can stored in a box on the Touch Screen, allowing you to bring it out and use it with a single touch.
Not that heíll ever really need to use them, anyway. While this game boasts a seemingly fresh take on the Mario series, it suffers from an utter lack of difficulty. Seasoned Mario veterans should be able to plow through this game without losing a life; sporadic enemies, remarkably short levels and simplistic platform layouts make most of this game a walk in the park. Donít get me wrong, though; some of the ideas are great. One of the fortresses forces you to dodge a series of rolling Spiked Balls of Doom, another has you jumping from platforms to avoid a rising tide of lava Metroid style, and yet another leaves you being chased and nearly eaten by the giant eel from Super Mario 64. Sadly, such awesome ideas donít apply to all the areas. The majority of the levels should pose little threat to your overly abundant stock of 1-Up Mushrooms. Nor should the bosses, whose easily predictable attacks make the battles a cakewalk. While this game may seem daunting to those new to the platforming genre (or Mario games, for that matter), many gamers may find the lack of challenge to be disappointing.
Once the inevitable happens and the Story Mode goes stale, the game offers a few extras to keep gamersí attention. Should you happen to find another DS owner, the two of you can play the Mario VS Luigi Mode. With a nod to the competitive two player battles from Super Mario Bros. 3, the two of you will compete against each other in an epic battle of skill, strength, and pure moxie. The goal is simple: go through the level and collect more stars than your opponent. Should you feel greedy, you can always jump on your opponentís head or hit them with a fireball or shell and pick up their dropped loot. But if youíre socially inept or canít find another DS user out there, New Super Mario Bros. comes packed with a wide variety of mini-games, all of which were featured in the first DS Mario game, Super Mario 64 DS. Youíll be able to play memory card games, draw platforms with the Touch Screen, shoot slingshots, and plenty of other addictive games for the obsessive gamer. Between these extras and the large map to complete in Story Mode, this game will keep you busy.
The varied gameplay wonít be the only thing to keep your eyes fixed on this game. New Super Mario Bros. makes excellent use of the DSís graphical abilities. Unlike previous Mario games, this title blends 3D character models with 2D backgrounds. Mario somewhat resembles his Super Mario 64 design, complete with the animations, sound effects, and even his stereotypical Italian accent. Many of the enemies have been redesigned as well, including cameos from Petey Piranha, the Eel, Thwomp, and plenty of other foes that youíve come to know and hate. However, itís just not the 3D stuff that looks great. Several of the levels, though heavily based on designs from the previous games, are remarkably lively and full of detail. Youíll have to jump through a mass of giant orange mushrooms that bend and curve with Marioís weight. Youíll get to swim through murky depths, hear and watch the water ripple and splash when you jump into it, explore fiery catacombs and even make a few snow tracks. Even the old flagpole and fireworks from the first game are back, something that ought to send waves of nostalgia running through your mind. And if those donít do the job, then the remixed versions of the classic tunes ought to do the trick.
This game even has spiders in it.
They almost got it right. Honestly, they have a decent idea here. A 2D Mario platformer utilizing the DSís capabilities could be a force to be reckoned with. Itís got some lively gameplay, tons of different paths to explore, a decent multiplayer, and more mini-games than you should probably shake a stick at. That being said, this game should prove fairly easy to those of us who have grown up with previous Mario titles; the levels are incredibly short, the difficulty is fair at best, and the whole thing seems to need a bit more fleshing out. Is it worth the thirty bucks that youíll have to fork over? Depends how you like your games. The mishmash of a solid platforming formula with a fairly easy difficulty and a lot of content makes this game hard to review. But when everythingís said and done, youíve got the first 2D Mario platformer in ages. You canít go too wrong with that.
Eight out of ten