This article was originally published at Kombo.com on May 10, 2006.
Mario’s come a long way since his 1981 inception as Jumpman in Donkey Kong. After setting the side-scrolling platformer world on fire in classic games such as Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World, our plumber hero moved on to other genres as he sped around in a go-kart, kicked a mean soccer ball, wandered around with a bucket on his head, danced like a madman, became thin as paper, and even taught us how to type. Now years after Super Mario World, the world’s most famous gaming mascot has returned to his roots in New Super Mario Bros. When the Mushroom Kingdom is attacked yet again, Mario races to the rescue. Caught in a moment of distraction, Mario drops his guard and watches as Bowser Jr. snatches Princess Peach. The twisted turtle prince races off with her to the nearest fortress, leading our hero into a classic chase across grass lands, deserts, water worlds, icy wastelands, and the eventual Koopa-esque dark land.
Each level has a traditional end point, but some levels have a secondary secret exit that leads to additional hidden levels that serve as a shortcut through the various worlds. In fact, two entire worlds worth of levels are locked away. Plowing straight through the game takes players through Worlds 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, and 8 very quickly. Worlds 4 and 7 are teased right on the game’s map screen but are inaccessible unless Mario finds the secret paths to those levels. The replay value comes from finding those hidden levels and exploring each nook and cranny to reach them.
New Super Mario Bros. borrows beloved elements from Mushroom Kingdom adventures gone by. All of the later additions to the Super Mario series sit this adventure out, so there are no cape feathers, raccoon tails, FLUDD, or even Yoshi to be found. Instead we go back to the basics of super mushrooms, fire flowers, and the trusty Starman. There are some new toys that build off these classic items, however, such as a mega mushroom that blows Mario up to the size of the DS’s screen and allows him to smash and bash through pipes, terrain, blocks, bricks, and enemies. Conversely, a tiny mushroom shrinks Mario to near-microscopic size that allows him to access small pipes and run across water without sinking. Then there’s the new Koopa shell power-up that arms Mario with the sliding power of turtle shells.
Then there are Mario’s majestic moves. Once again the basics rule the day with jumping and running. Grab a fire flower to toss fireballs, of course. Then come the maneuvers inherited from Super Mario 64 such as the wall jump and the ground pound. Given the opportunity our hero can also twirl like a whirlwind. The trick is to master Mario’s basic skills and use them to rule the day. Simple? Sure, but also fun. The X or Y button can be held down to make Mario run, while the A or B buttons make him jump. Sound familiar?
New Super Mario Bros. is loaded with enemies both familiar and long forgotten. Yes, you’ll encounter Goombas and Koopa Troopas, but do you remember the Boomerang Bros.? How about the Fire Bros.? Unagi the eel from Super Mario 64 even turns up ten years later, as does a certain Loch Ness style of monster. Not a world goes by where attentive players will not gasp in delight and exclaim “They brought back _______!” Familiar hazards also make an encore appearance. Prepare for the scales from Super Mario Bros.’s famous x-3 levels, fire bars from the x-4 levels, P-switches that turn blocks to coins (and vice-versa), fences to climb from Super Mario World, and many more memorable such things. Don’t be surprised if a certain bridge with a certain axe turns up, too. The mix of beloved old material and fresh new material combine to create a Mario adventure that is long overdue.
This game is clearly for the longtime fans that remember the classic games and hear those familiar sound effects everyday during inner monologues. Newcomers to the Mushroom Kingdom won’t fall out of step, of course, but gamers who are close to the Super Mario library will sport a big, goofy, happy smile from World 1-1 to the end of the game (and yes, each level opens with a black screen that displays the text “World x -y” and a Mario head with the amount of extra lives in reserve just like the good ol’ days.
The single-player experience is the heart of New Super Mario Bros., but it is not all that the game has to offer. By linking up with a buddy, players can compete in special scaled-down versions of classic level archetypes (overworld, underground, icy bricks, castle dungeon, and pipe maze) by collecting large stars. Mario and Luigi go head to head with fireballs, stomps, and all kinds of traps designed to cause collected stars to drop back on to the ground and the first place to collect the designated number of stars wins a point with a game being over when one player wins the designated number of rounds. An options screen allows for variable changes. Early versions of the game boasted long chase levels in this mode, but they have been abandoned for these short levels that are basically the same set of four or five screens worth of level that loop endlessly.
Then there’s the other multiplayer mode in which up to four players can compete in minigames inspired by the minigames of Super Mario 64 DS. Some of the original minigames have been retooled to allow multiplayer competition while other games are exclusive to New Super Mario Bros. For example, Yoshi’s old “Loves me / loves me not” flower game involves trying to goad and force competitors to grab the last “loves me not” flower petal. Luigi’s “Pair-A-Gone” becomes a race to clear the table of cards, while Wario’s game of Concentration now involves trying to collect more coins than the other players. New minigames include a Yoshi snowball fight, Bob-omb shuffling, and even a balloon-blowing race to the finish that leaves players panting for breath. As in Super Mario 64 DS these minigames skip the use of the control pad and focus on the use of the stylus and touch screen.
Some outspoken people have groused that New Super Mario Bros. is a “waste” of the Nintendo DS’s abilities. Rest assured, however, that the Game Boy Advance’s platformer abilities could not handle the power behind Mario’s latest adventure. While the game is a 2D side-scrolling platformer, every character is actually a 3D model. The 3D models allow for characters to react with increased animated personality. Enemies on the march sometimes turn around, revealing their backs and eventually their opposite sides. The use of 3D models also allows for the massive and tiny variations of various characters found in the game.
Moving on to music and sound, all of the beloved Super Mario Bros. bleeps and boops are mixed in with new tones bringing another collection of old favorites and new experiences. The 1-up noise, the pipe travel sounds, power-up tones, and Koopa stomps ring out in blissful 8-bit glory. In terms of music there are no outright reused background tunes, but familiar melodies weave their way in and out of new compositions. Mario speaks out in this adventure as well, calling out “Here we go!” and “Yah!” and all the other now-familiar clips of gleeful expression. Rest assured, however, that such chatter is toned down from such use in the Super Mario Advance titles.
As far as using the DS’s abilities, the touch screen contains a simple timeline-style progress bar that chronicles Mario’s progress in each level as well as a spot to hold power-ups (as in Super Mario World). Touch the power-up and it drops into the top screen for easy retrieval. Multiplayer is restricted to local play (no Wi-Fi Connection here), but only one game card is required to set up a game. Both the "Mario versus Luigi" mode and the minigames can be downloaded from the host of the game.
Rabid Super Mario fans have been waiting over a decade for an adventure like New Super Mario Bros. Mario’s spin-off exploits are good fun, but the beloved plumber has always been in top form when he’s running and jumping from platform to platform in search of that princess in another castle. Happy days are here again at long last. Both Mario’s long-time admirers and amateur plumbers will find plenty to love in this new adventure and it is highly recommended to all.