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New Super Mario Bros. (DS) artwork

New Super Mario Bros. (DS) review

"I knew better than to hope for a DS game that could capture all of that for me again. Nostalgia sets unrealistic expectations. No, I知 not bitter because things weren稚 exactly as I wished for them to be. In many ways, they came much closer than I ever expected. Instead, I知 upset because New Super Mario Bros. has too many issues that get in the way of a consistently good time."

If you clicked a link that led to this review just because I知 giving New Super Mario Bros. a 7 and you want to see how I could possibly be so deluded, please click 釘ack on your browser and read some other person痴 impressions. You致e already made up your mind and you can probably avoid an ulcer by reading no further. Yes, I知 aware that I知 in the minority and yes, I know that score stings. You need to realize something, though: I wanted desperately to love this game and it let me down.

Like many other long-time Nintendo fans, I ached to be able to tell everyone that Mario is back and that he痴 never been better. Unfortunately, that痴 simply not the case. What Nintendo has delivered here is sometimes great. There are moments where all the praise you may have heard rings true. You池e running and jumping through the Mushroom Kingdom while beautiful backgrounds scroll behind you in parallax. Jaunty tunes give extra spring to your every step and you punch a few bricks out of your way just because you love the familiar crumbling sound they make. As you slide down the flagpole and run into the familiar little castle while fireworks explode in the sky above, you tell yourself that everything is perfect. A shiny gold coin has a darker side, though, and in this case it痴 the reason I can稚 award it that 10 some of you most certainly crave.

Remember when a Mario game was all about the sense of exploring something new and exciting? I do. I recall slipping down that pipe and into the underground passage that was the second level of Super Mario Bros., just as I recall throwing vegetables in Subcon, exploring mushroom huts in Super Mario Bros. 3 and hopping along dolphin noses in Super Mario World. Do I even have to mention Star Road and the awesomeness of the hidden world it unlocked? Like most of you, I grew up playing and loving these games. I knew better than to hope for a DS game that could capture all of that for me again. Nostalgia sets unrealistic expectations. No, I知 not bitter because things weren稚 exactly as I wished for them to be. In many ways, they came much closer than I ever expected. Instead, I知 upset because New Super Mario Bros. has too many issues that get in the way of a consistently good time.

The most obvious of these is the three-coin system. Here痴 how it works: each level you explore contains several of the golden trinkets. They are your currency (nevermind the chump change you trade in for extra lives) and determine what secrets you can unlock. Is there a mushroom house on the map that you壇 like to visit? That値l be five coins, please. Do you see a path that leads to an alternate level? Pay the toll. Strictly speaking, it痴 not necessary to search out the elusive items. You can 礎eat the game without paying any attention to them, but will you?

Of course you won稚.

When an item is there, the gamer痴 natural instinct is to collect it. Sure, you could pass it up, but then you won稚 be entirely certain that you haven稚 missed something special. What if that path led to a cool warp zone? What if the alternate route you池e not taking is twice as cool as the primary one? It very well could be! So it is that because of the mystery of the unknown, you値l most likely force yourself to keep searching. You値l squeeze through tiny spaces and abandon cool power-ups like the fire flower or turtle shell because you have to see where that alternate path leads.

Sadly, the magical rabbit hole often disappoints. You値l grab a coin and then a weak power-up (it痴 probably duller than what you had) before returning to action. Sometimes, this gets even worse. Sometimes, there痴 a coin hidden just after a mid-level checkpoint, but just before some series of tough jumps. So you collect it, then die, then collect it, then die and so the pattern goes until you finally say 鉄crew the stupid coin! and manage to beat the gauntlet that lies just beyond it. Then you finish the stage and the status screen sits there, mocking you: 鏑ook at me! Look at how you wimped out and didn稚 get that coin. It痴 still waiting, you know. Replay the level and claim it!

This brings up the second point: some levels just aren稚 fun. While it痴 true that many of the stages are a pleasure to breeze through if you池e ignoring the coins (or if you致e already tracked each of them down on a previous play), there are occasional exceptions that are much more frustrating than they really should be. For example, one level finds you climbing a vertical shaft while spiny enemies rain down from above. This is a neat homage to the original Mario Bros. arcade game, but the first time through you might get hit by a falling enemy you had no way to see coming. Then there are underwater stages where you swim past green fish that home in on your slowly-moving form like torpedoes. Other sequences find you hopping over rotating platforms that hang suspended over boiling lava. Instant deaths weren稚 fun ten years ago and that hasn稚 changed.

Still, lava and bottomless pits have always been part of the Mushroom Kingdom. We池e used to them by now. What you might really wonder is whether or not other mainstays have returned. The answer is the resounding 土es that makes the game so worthwhile. Mushrooms, fire flowers and invincibility stars are all back and every bit as good as before. It痴 amazing how the simple pleasure of throwing fireballs goes such a long way toward ensuring that retro gamers find new reasons to smile. There are other 妬mprovements, as well. One is a massive mushroom that briefly expands Mario to gigantic proportions. He can stomp his way through pipes and walls of brick, racking up points toward extra lives and unlocking secrets with every stomp. He痴 also learned how to shuffle along precarious ledges, and to hang from them like Tom Cruise in M:i-2. Not only that, but now he can jump against a wall and bounce away from it just like he could in three-dimensional titles. Every ability he possesses will be put to the test, and you値l almost certainly adore each twist.

Perhaps you値l also appreciate smaller details that other developers wouldn稚 have bothered with. My favorite touch is related to the music. When Mario runs through some stages, you値l notice particularly catchy music playing in the background. Well, the Goomba and Koopa enemies are listening, too. They値l even sidestep to the rhythm at key moments, meaning you have to pay close attention to the soundtrack if you池e planning a sudden jump attack. It sounds like a small thing, but it brings a smile to my face every time. You know you池e playing a good game when someone actually bothered to include something so silly just for the heck of it.

Those same people no doubt were responsible for making sure that New Super Mario Bros. is packed with secrets. As you progress through the adventure, you値l notice that certain areas appear to be inaccessible. For instance, you値l only get to explore World 4 if you satisfy certain conditions in the sand-covered second world. World 7 is similarly cloaked. You really have to dig, whether that means exiting levels by way of alternate routes or just spending coins to highlight paths you otherwise couldn稚 have explored. Branching paths mean that even after you致e come out on top in the final battle, there痴 other stuff to see.

Eventually, though, every last secret is unearthed and you致e played through most stages until you know them by heart. That痴 when you start asking yourself if the game is really so perfect as you once thought, if it really lived up to its heritage. For me, New Super Mario Bros. was just one more great game that wasn稚 perfect. I壇 recommend it to my Mario-loving friends, and I知 sure I値l continue to play it for years to come, but I知 not going to kid myself: it could have been better. We can tell ourselves it痴 perfect. We can even believe it. But at the end of the day, those golden coins aren稚 going to collect themselves and we won稚 clear every last stage without stumbling through blind corners and across bottomless chasms more frustrating than they are fun. If it痴 all the same to you, I値l save my 10敗 for the Mario games that deserve them. This just isn稚 one of them.

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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 20, 2006)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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