New Super Mario Bros. is a side-scrolling platformer for the Nintendo DS. The Super Mario Bros. series hadn’t seen much in the way of truly new games in quite some time, with their last major installment being Super Mario World on the SNES and not in name since Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES. So it was high time the brothers jumped back in action. Thus, New Super Mario Bros. was made. It may seem a bit tired now, but let’s take a look back at the one that started this retro revival of mustachioed masters.
New Super Mario Bros. plays a lot like other games in the Super Mario Bros. series. You run and jump your way through levels, stomping on enemies and collecting coins in the process. You’ll see lots of familiar things like koopas, goombas, red bricks, green pipes, and even good ol’ Bowser. You’ll just be seeing them in their newly designed, higher-resolution selves. Many mechanics are familiar to the Mario series in general. You run by holding one button and jump with another. Making three consecutive jumps without losing your momentum will gradually get you higher each time, a technique known as the triple jump from Super Mario 64. Super Mario 64 also brings in the ground pound by hitting down while in the air. The wall jump is clearly a move in Super Mario 64 as well, but the way it works is a bit different here, allowing you to cling to a wall and slowly slide down it before hitting jump to do the wall jump. It’s more akin to something like Mega Man X, really. The familiar powerups in each level are the mushroom, the fire flower, the star, and the 1-up mushroom. You’re able to carry one in the reserve slot just like Super Mario World as well. There are coins that you can collect to gain extra lives for every 100. There are also three star coins hidden in each level for you to find, similar to the dragon coins in Super Mario World. There are also checkpoints near the middle of each stage as well. The overworld is much like that of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, with its various levels spread out and selectable by walking to them and choosing to enter. There are also various mushroom houses for lives or powerups and the inclusion of towers, ghost houses, and castles. The tower tends to be in the middle of each world where you will fight Bowser Jr. in some form. The castle at the end of each world has you fighting a more significant boss. There are various hidden exits within levels that open up more routes, much like Super Mario World. And of course, a large amount of the enemies and assets will be quite familiar from previous installments. So there’s a lot of borrowing going on, but there are new things as well.
Among the familiar powerups you’ll find some new ones. If you think the mushroom made you big, just wait until you get a mega mushroom. These bad boys will make you so big you barely fit on the screen! You can then run through most enemies and obstacles, creating a path of destruction in your wake. The more thing you smash up, the more the meter on the top of the screen fills. Once your time is up that meter determines how many 1-ups you get. In stark contrast, there’s also the mini mushroom. This little guy turns you into an even tinier version of Mario that is still vulnerable to a one-hit demise, but with great smallness comes great mobility. You can run so fast that your jumps will give you major air time and allow you to run across the surface of water. Not to mention there are a few small pipes and tiny cracks that only mini Mario can slip through. The one other specialty item on the menu is the koopa suit. I’m just going to pretend that’s the name but correct me if you would so I learn. This suit gives you a nice blue koopa shell on your back. You can duck to hide inside it and protect yourself from harm. Also, whenever you reach peak running speed you’ll automatically recede into the shell and zoom forward whilst spinning. Like most mobile koopa shells you’ll kill various enemies and bounce off of walls on contact, but unlike the standard hurtling turtle you’ll still be able to jump on command. Don’t worry, it is possible to stop the speeding charge. The star coins are a familiar concept, but here they are used on the overworld to open up more routes. Sometimes they lead to mushroom houses. Sometimes they lead to alternate routes through a world. Sometimes they lead to extra levels. And sometimes they lead to cannons. These cannons act as warps to other distant worlds. Along with all of these change-ups is also a brand new set of enemies, obstacles, and assets to admire as you make your way through the variety of levels before you.
There’s also a multiplayer mode, but I’m unsure how that works because… well… I had no one to play with. Sorry. There’s the option to play minigames as well. These are mostly all based on the touch screen and stylus controls aside from one which uses the built-in microphone. There are multiplayer ones but again… I couldn’t try them. Luckily there are single player games to try out as well. You can try to get your best score in most of them while a few of them simply have you going on continuously until you inevitably fail or decide to quit. They are split into four categories. The action category has games more based on your reflexes and precision. The puzzle category has you trying to solve brain teasers, sometimes very quickly on top of that. The table category simulates casino type games that have you betting your coins against the house dealer Luigi. The fourth category is variety, which tries to offer its name. So now that we’ve more than covered the basic stuff, how does it all come together?
New Super Mario Bros. has lots to love. Seeing a lot of old Mario staples recreated with more powerful hardware is definitely nice to see, along with the return to 2D side-scrolling gameplay. The blend of Mario universe mechanics makes for some interesting and varied gameplay just mechanically alone. Plus all of the new levels, environments, enemies, powerups, and general ideas presented keep each level fresh and exciting to play through. The mega mushroom feels awesome to use, just tearing through the scenery and all the enemies at once. The mini mushroom adds some tension to levels when trying to get to specific places that require the size. The koopa suit is a fun thing to experiment with. The replay value is high with all the secret exits, pathways, and star coin completion. It’s easy enough to get through for beginners while still offering those tougher challenges for the more skilled players. Some of the minigames are actually pretty neat and addictive as well. I mean, the wealth of depth and variety in this game rivals that of Super Mario World, and it’s all on a handheld! It’s pretty great. However, it’s certainly not perfect.
The momentum can be tough to get used to as it’s more similar to the first Super Mario Bros. than it is to something as tight and responsive as Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World. The extra lives can be handed out a bit too easily sometimes. Any moderately skilled player, such as myself, will wind up with a large surplus of lives without really trying. The secrets, on the other hand, can be downright brutal at times. Sometimes you need to have very specific powerups in very specific places and messing this up will require you to go get that powerup in some other level before coming back to try it again. I know at least one level forces you to finish it in one go because restarting at the checkpoint keeps you from being able to get the final star coin. You can bypass certain worlds altogether if you don’t find the secret exists or warps to them, which is neat for the sake of unlocking things but ultimately takes its toll in the length, variety, and difficulty curve of the game. Saving is also strange. Rather than being able to save on the overworld map whenever, you have to beat significant structures like towers and castles, or open up a star coin route in order to save. This means that you might be done playing or have to turn the game off when you’ve completed some levels but haven’t been able to save yet. Only after beating the final castle can you save whenever, which is a very strange choice. The minigames do have a few winners among them, but there are also some boring duds that get repetitive almost immediately. They feel more or less tacked-on to promote the use of the touch screen rather than to impact the game positively, and they appear to be some of the same minigames from Super Mario 64 DS to boot. Also, the one where you need to use your mic didn’t seem to work for me. Maybe it’s my microphone, but it just didn’t work for me. These would’ve been better if they were implemented into the mushroom houses so you would need to play them to earn powerups, like Super Mario Bros. 3, and that way if you wanted to play more then you could go to the minigame menu. It feels like a missed opportunity. Oh, and Luigi is shockingly absent for most of the game… unless you hold L and R while selecting your save file. He plays the same as Mario but it’s odd he would be hidden like this from a Mario BROS. game, don’t you think?
A lot of those complaints are minor and nitpicky, though. It’s still an incredibly fun game in the Mario series that fans should be able to appreciate. It has the kind of constantly unique and changing level variety that made its predecessors so inviting in the first place along with a nice new coat of paint. It even debuted on a handheld. New Super Mario Bros. is a must-have for DS owners and Mario fans alike. I’d recommend spending 20 bucks or less for it unless you’re a big Mario fan, in which case maybe 25-30 might even be reasonable for what you get. It was the start of the new series that is sure to have enough originality and variety to keep you from feeling sick of it. As for the successors? Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to them. Hopefully you’ll be here with me when I do. Let’s a-go!