Back to basics
New Super Mario Bros. marks Mario's first all-new side-scrolling platform game since Super Mario Land 2 in 1992. In addition to the single player adventure, NSMB includes Mario Vs. Luigi mode (more on this later) and 18 minigames. Some of the minigames come straight from Super Mario 64 DS or are updated versions, but a few others are totally new.
Wanting to do "something different" for a new Mario game on the Nintendo DS, the design team decided to bring Mario back to his side-scrolling days. The main difference this time is 3-D characters in a 2-D world. Takashi Tezuka, general producer of NSMB, explained in Nintendo Power vol. 202 that by using polygonal character models, "We can rotate characters, make them bigger, make them smaller, etc. Those types of things are more difficult with 2-D sprites." Indeed, the Mario Bros. and their enemies exude style never before seen in a Mario side-scroller.
NSMB borrows ideas from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Super Mario World, such as Goomba-generating pipes, climbable chain fences with panels that spin you to the other side, and flagpoles at the end of the levels. Of course, NSMB introduces new ideas of its own. You'll find switches that temporarily make hills appear from flat terrain, mushroom platforms that bend with your weight or sway on their own, and even bouncy mushroom platforms that spring you higher than a normal jump.
The touch screen shows the progress meter, Star Coins found in the level, total score, and item in reserve. The progress meter shows Mario's position relative to the end of the stage. The reserve item sits in the bottom-right corner of the touch screen, just a quick thumb-mash away. Some stages have short areas that switch the screens, moving the action to the bottom screen. Although rare, these areas keep things interesting and add to the challenge by temporarily disabling your reserved item, which has moved to the non-touch screen.
Once again, Mario navigates through the worlds via map screens. Like SMW, some stages have secret exits, which means most worlds have an alternate path to the end castle. While on the map screen, the touch screen lets you warp to any world you've previously visited. Like SMB3, Toad Houses reside on the maps, where Toadsworth waits to present Mario with a power-up or 1-Up chance game. The maps also have Flying Question Blocks and lone Hammer Bros. wandering to different spots on the map after you play a level. Enter a level that one of them has stopped on, and they meet you at the beginning of the stage; the Flying Question Block gives you its random item for free, but the Hammer Bro. won't give his up without a fight.
Each world has at least one Tower and Castle stage, where you can save your progress after completing them. Most worlds have Ghost Houses, which are not as tricky as the ones in SMW, but they do have some surprises in store for visitors. Because of alternate routes, you will only need to play through six of the eight worlds to reach the final boss. You can always go back and replay levels to try to find secret exits leading to new levels and the other worlds.
In addition to coins, power-ups, and 1-Ups, Mario also collects Star Coins. Each level has three Star Coins to find, which are used to buy new paths on the world maps. At the price of five Star Coins each time, these paths usually lead to Toad Houses, but some also open the way to new levels. Some Star Coins are hidden very well, and you'll need to collect 'em all to unlock the final bonus in the game.
What is perhaps another throwback to the old SMB, the controls seem more sluggish than what we've seen in Mario's latest platformers. He can't turn around quickly underwater, takes longer to stop after a moving jump, and takes a bit longer to accelerate to full speed on the ground. This is what bothered me the most because now you need at least a two-block platform to build up enough speed for a long jump. But, these are all small issues and it didn't take me long to make adjustments.
Mario's new moves for this 2-D adventure include a wall jump, double and triple jump, and ground pound. He'll even have to do a little rope swinging and cliff hanging over perilous pits. New spring platforms send Mario twirling high into the sky, setting him up for a fast, spinning dive bomb attack straight down.
What would a new Super Mario Bros. game be without new power-ups? NSMB has three: Shell, Mega Mushroom, and the Mini Mushroom. Sadly, none of them are very useful. The Shell automatically puts you into shell mode instead of running, which will no doubt send you spinning into bottomless pits a few times. Shell Mario does travel faster underwater, however. The Mega Mushroom makes Mario bigger for a limited time, during which he can bust through blocks and trample over enemies like a lawnmower through mushrooms. This is good if you want to quickly bash through a tough level, but bad if you want to see what the blocks and pipes hold before Mega Mario demolishes them. Surprisingly, I found the Mini Mushroom to be the most useful of the new power-ups. In mini form, Mario can jump higher, fit into small spaces, and run on the surface of water. Though you can't really do much with the new power-ups, you need the Shell and Mini Mushroom to find all the secrets. I would say the new power-ups are more useful in the multiplayer battle mode for attacking and evading.
Speaking of multiplayer, NSMB offers two ways to link up: Mario Vs. Luigi mode and Minigames. The Mario Vs. Luigi mode pits brother against brother in a battle for Stars. To collect Stars, grab the ones that periodically appear in the air, or attack your foe's character to knock his or her Star out into the open. Though the five special battle stages are short, most of them loop when you reach the end. Two to four players can play multiplayer versions of the minigames, where the objective is to get as many wins as possible. Unfortunately, NSMB does not support the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection, so all multiplayer action has to take place offline.
NSMB's terrain, blocks, and other 2-D graphics look great. Excellent backgrounds with parallax effects enhance the various settings, which all have a unique look while keeping a consistent graphical style. The polygonal characters may look blocky at times, but they move smoothly. Piranha Plants twist as they come in and out of pipes, while the ones rooted in the ground endlessly snap at the air, giving new life to these old plants. Mario's new death animation has him tumbling off the screen, while Bowser's demise in the first castle is almost too brutal for a Mario game.
The main music composer for NSMB is Asuka Ota, who also composed for Yoshi Touch & Go. With only a few remixes of classic tunes, the majority of the music is new, and fits in well with the game and the series as a whole. Classic sound effects from SMB return, and -- love it or hate it -- Mario has voices for most of his moves and for starting and clearing stages. Although Bowser and Bowser Jr. speak in Super Mario Sunshine, they are limited to growls in NSMB, much to my delight. The Boos have a spookier new laugh, which I prefer over the original one from Super Mario 64. One nice touch I noticed with the sound effects is that if a shell rebounds off an object off-screen, the sound effect is quieter.
In conclusion, NSMB is a worthy addition to the Super Mario Bros. series, successfully capturing the magic of Mario's side-scrollers of yore. If you played the heck out of the old Mario side-scrollers, or if you are looking for a gateway into the series, NSMB will not disappoint.
Review by Deezer, 06/04/2006