Today we are taking a look at the 2D Nintendo DS revival of the classic sidescroller Super Mario Brothers. The game is uninspiredly titled New Super Mario Brothers and was released in May of 2006. This is one of the few in my history of gaming that I can recall such anticipation for a handheld title (Maybe the myriad Pokemon Gameboy releases provoked such a reaction, but I was pretty apathetic about gaming from 1997-1999, so I missed it). Anyway, I downloaded all the gameplay footage I could find months in advance and shared them with all of my friends, some of which were planning on buying a DS for this game. Would this game be a killer app for the DS?
We'll get to that later. First the story. It's the same Mario story recycled yet again. Bowser Jr. kidnaps Peach and Mario must save her, pretty standard but functional. Too bad there were no real neat plot twists, but Mario sidescrolling has never really been about that. Moving on.
The graphics have a 3D look to them. This is as such because while the game is seen in 2D, most of the characters and background objects are actually 3D renderings on 2D backgrounds. Enough technical terminology, the look of the game is what I expected, having seen the aforementioned footage months ahead. However, having played Super Princess Peach a month or two before this release, I definitely would have preferred pure 2D graphics, or even better, graphics like Yoshi's Island DS. Those visuals are pure handheld bliss, with colorful crayola backgrounds and other inspired visuals.
New SMB's graphics have a feeling of functionality, but no real expressiveness. Because this is one of the few times I am trying to convey a real preference for a type of graphics, I am at a loss to describe it properly. Apologies.
The music is quite similar to the graphics, simply "there". At its best, we get some remixes of the classic overworld and underground themes, but not much else. The main theme is reused far too often, and because there is a new "da da da" or something in the back of the song, it gets grating rather quickly. I don't have a high opinion of the scores from most Mario games, other than Super Mario Brothers 2 on NES. Asuka Ohta and Hajime Wakai, the game's composers and Nintendo staples, really could have put more effort and variety into the music.
At least the sound effects are great, let's all give praise that they did not mess those up. We also get some of Charles Martinet's classic lines at random times in the game. Great stuff. Probably the best things in New sound wise is the neat Easter Egg when you put your DS to sleep. Mario says "Bye, Bye" followed by "It's a-me, Mario!" when you reopen the case. A neat treat.
When it comes to gameplay, it is pure Mario goodness. Running along, stomping goombas and Koopas, good stuff. On the surface New's gameplay seems flawless. But Mario fans are bothered by the "what could have been" gameplay. While the new powerups are fun at first (there's a reason they put a Mega Mushroom in the first stage...) a gamer will quickly realize that New is nothing more than the original Mario Brothers with a fresh coat of paint and some tacked on features from Mario 64. The Triple jump is never needed and will often get you killed. The backflip or roundabout would have been much better as evasive skills if only they were in the game. The Mega Mushroom is rarely seen, and only helpful in defeating bosses, because quite simply, you are too big to get through many levels while using it. Mini Mario is similar, but only really useful in finding hidden exits, and making the game tougher if you wish. But there are always handicaps you can impose to do that...
Shell Mario is ironic because that powerup is more like a powerdown. Once you get going, there is no easy way to stop, thus making the game harder. I confess that I messed around with it a bit but it is a pretty silly suit. Give me the Tanooki Suit or even the Frog Suit any day!
The level design is more like Mario 3 than Super Mario World, as only a few stages need to be visited to reach the castle. Hidden exits are present in a lot of stages, and are fun to discover, increasing the replay value.
For this review, I conquered all these hidden stages and was pleased with the added gameplay. Some of these levels have that brilliant level design that feels absent from the main game.
Challenge is fairly low in this game, with the same Boomer like mini boss battles over and over again. The stage bosses are pretty inspired, especially what you must do to access the alternate levels. Between that and the Mario World item box, we definitely got some sparks of Mario nostalgia goodness!
Besides that, the same strategies always work: Get two Fire Flowers and just incinerate everything. If you get into a tough spot, use the Megas!
Replay value is good. Going for the hidden levels and extra exits extend the fun for a good while. Other than that, it is the kind of game you will definitely want to pick up once and awhile to have a good time with.
In summation, New Super Mario Brothers is a game that retro fans can be grateful for, but it misses the mark in trying to appeal to that very audience. New's sales numbers suggest that the game is being purchased as a DS essential, thus creating new fans of traditional Mario sidescrolling. Let's hope this is the case, as it could lead to further and better 2D Mario games. As Screwattack.com put it, let's have a new 2D Mario game with everything that made Mario 3 and Mario World awesome and then some. It could be one for the ages if combined with the same care and devotion of the originals and the best aspects of New Super Mario Brothers. Here's hoping!
As many Internet reviewers have commented, the necessity of number scoring is understandable but troubling at times. You might think that due to all of my complaints about this game and comparisons to past Mario greats, I am compelled to perhaps give it an average score. And I would, but I always try to come back to an important principle: when the game was released and its prevalence on the relevant platform. I also try not to compare to similar games. I am uncomfortable trying to score this game, but if it must be done...
- Ugly Bob