NSMBLately, I’ve had to the urge to replay titles immediately before their sequels hit, so I couldn’t break this routine that is soon to become tradition with New Super Mario Bros. I wasn’t looking forward to the upcoming Wii release until recently, so to make sure that I really wanted this Mario that will most certainly be a retail blockbuster, I decided to revisit New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS in the truest form by replaying the entire title. Being a Mario game veteran, it didn’t take me long to clear (including all of the secret levels), but I must chronicle what this portly plumber’s 2.5-D journey meant to me.

The first time I played through New Super Mario Bros., I had a fun time with this platformer reminiscent of Mario’s 2D beginnings, but I didn’t find it that amazing. It wasn’t that the game felt any worse than Mario’s early 2D outings — it just didn’t feel inspired. Perhaps I was having a bad day when I first played it, because I came away with an entirely different impression this time.

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Maybe it’s just nostalgia kicking in, but when I leaped through the eight worlds of New Super Mario Bros. today, I felt this game take control of my senses in a way that Super Mario World did when I was a child. I was having a fabulous time squishing goombas, collecting seemingly out of reach coins, and butt stomping Baby Bowser. Within less than a minute of play, my hands were super glued to the DS (at least that’s the excuse my mind uses to justify me playing it for hours on end).

At first, I felt that the controls weren’t quite as responsive as those in Super Mario Bros. 3 (perhaps due to the polygonal characters and environments), but I soon got used to them nevertheless. By the time I’d completed the first stage, I knew that I was ready to tackle any obstacle New Super Mario Bros. would throw at my mustachioed self.

Even though I zoomed through the first level, I was impressed by how faithful it was to the original Super Mario Bros. There were plenty of bricks to smash with my noggin, numerous coins to collect, koopa shells to throw, and a flag pole to grab. This was truly the return of Super Mario Bros.

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Of course if the entire game was a throwback to the original Super Mario Bros., it might not entice me for long, so thankfully NSMB borrowed concepts from nearly every other Mario game in addition to introducing some new ideas of its own. Of course the basic “save the princess” storyline was pulled directly from the original Mario, but certain levels’ environments that allowed Mario to exit the right side of a non-scrolling environment only to enter the left were straight out of Super Mario Bros. 2.

Many other additions were inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 such as moving platforms, large fish that chase Mario, and elevators that can manually be controlled by pressing certain directions on the d-pad. Several additional elements of NSMB were inspired by Super Mario Bros. 3 such as the world maps containing item houses and secret levels, but Super Mario Word contributed a great deal as well.

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From Super Mario World, you’ll find rotating fences, secret level exits, and familiar enemies such as the large Bullet Bill, but sadly there’s no Yoshi. Despite the exclusion of the loveable green dino, there are a number of other additions from other Mario games (including those of the 3D variety) such as the butt stomp and wall jump.

But, enough with the old. Let’s discuss what new gameplay elements New Super Mario Bros. brings to the table. For starters, there’s the addition of new power-ups including the Mega Mushroom that induces giant-status, the Mini-Mushroom that turns you into a puny version of your favorite portly plumber, and a shell that allows Mario to bowl over enemies when he runs. Out of these new power-ups, I found the Mini-Mushroom the most useful, as it allows you to access hidden areas and worlds. Unfortunately, it’s difficult to survive in such a tiny state, but if you want to experience every level, it’s important to collect Mini-Mushroom power-ups at every opportunity.

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The Mega Mushroom is also a handy tool, as it transforms Mario into the size of your DS screen and allows him to crush everything in his path, but really, it’s not much more than an Invincibility Star. However, the worst of the new power-ups has to be the shell, as it makes it easy for Mario to unintentionally slide into pits.

A better power-up to grab is the old-fashioned Fire Flower. It is useful in nearly every situation — from fighting bosses to incinerating fish, so you’ll always want to keep a flower handy. Fortunately, if you lose your ability to hurl fireballs, you can easily equip another Fire Flower (or whatever other power-up you have stored in your inventory) at any time, simply by pressing the touch screen. This system is similar to that of Super Mario World’s, and it makes navigating treacherous levels a far less painful experience.

So now that I’ve covered the basic power-ups, how are the actual levels where Mario will spend most of his time prancing about? They’re brilliantly designed courses with numerous secrets and collectables, plenty of enemies to duke it out with, and challenging platforming segments.

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Nearly every level in the game has a hidden exit to find that’ll often lead to another course, so you’ll constantly be on the lookout for these secret paths. And when you’re not looking for hidden exits, you’ll probably be attempting to collect three, large gold coins that are strewn about each level. They’re often placed in seemingly out-of-reach locations, so you’ll have to come up with more than a few clever ideas to obtain them all.

Each level is also home to several classic Mario baddies in addition to some new, unusual creatures. Many of them are simply obstacles, so it’s up to you whether or not you want to destroy that pesky piranha plant guarding a pipe. Usually you can make quick work of your foes simply by jumping on their heads, or by shooting them with a fireball, but certain foes such as the large eel that chases you on an aquatic level are indestructible.

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As for the actual level designs themselves, that’s the most exciting part of New Super Mario Bros. Whether you’re in an aquatic level evading numerous small fish, riding a giant wiggler that acts as a moving platform, or are wall-jumping up a narrow chasm, there’s a lot of fun to be had. There are a few difficult moments, but for the most part, a great time awaits players that pay careful attention to their surroundings.

The castle missions and secret levels are usually the most challenging, as their platforming requires precise timing and accuracy, but they’re fun obstacles to tackle once you’ve made it through most of the early stages. When you finally reach the end of each castle level, you’ll typically encounter Baby Bowser or an original large boss. Most of these encounters are a breeze (especially if you have a Fire Flower), but there’s at least one annoying boss that might frustrate you. The good news is that many of these gargantuan opponents are original foes, so you won’t be fighting Bowser (or his koopa kids) during every boss encounter.

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Really, there isn’t much bad I can say about New Super Mario Bros., except that it ends relatively quickly. Fortunately, there is quite a bit to do for those who play their games thoroughly, but gamers who just like to play through the main quest without searching for secrets might be disappointed. Really though, they’d be missing the whole point of New Super Mario Bros., as this game was meant to expand upon the classic 2D Mario formula that emphasized quick reflexes and exploration. If you’ve ever been a fan of the portly plumber sporting overalls and a red hat, do yourself a favor and buy this reimagining of 2D Mario that is not only a fantastic DS title, but also lives up to this venerable series’ past.

Score: 9.5

Pros:

  • 2D platforming is rarely done this well
  • An excellent amalgamation of the old Mario games and entirely new concepts
  • Includes a fantastic set of courses that are far more enticing than plumber’s crack
  • Features a nice set of tunes that fit each particular environment

Cons:

  • It’s a relatively short game if you don’t seek out every secret and medal
  • The visuals aren’t bad, but I would have preferred 2D sprites to polygons
  • Some of the new power-ups aren’t very handy