New Super Mario Bros. (DS) review
"There is one particular thought that you should dismiss from your mind before reading a review or perhaps even going out to purchase this game. And that is, do not expect this to be along the same monumental line as Super Mario 64, Super Mario World, or even the first game Mario appeared on for that matter. Think of Mario’s latest venture as more of an anthology of sorts; an assemblage of positive features from his best games, spanning over the last twenty years. "
There is one thought that you should dismiss from your mind before reading a review or perhaps even going out to purchase this game. And that is, do not expect this to be along the same monumental line as Super Mario 64, Super Mario World, or even the first game Mario appeared on for that matter. Think of Mario’s latest venture as more of an anthology of sorts; an assemblage of positive features from his best games, spanning over the last twenty years. A nostalgic trip down memory lane has definitely been one of the main incentives to purchase a DS and the same applies for the latest in the long line of Mario’s platform-based adventures. With new and old elements alike, some good and bad, New Super Mario Bros. is yet another reason to purchase the dual screen handheld -- that is of course if you haven’t already.
Now the first thing noticeably different about New Super Mario Bros. is the graphical presentation. Mario is now sporting a three-dimensional image, first seen on the Nintendo 64. What of course hasn’t really changed is the reason why he is frantically running across the world as if something is terribly wrong. Once again, the Princess has been abducted, this time however by Bowser Jr, who has apparently become his father’s errand boy within the last few games. Over the course of eight worlds, two of which secret, you will travel over a relatively large map, knocking out stage after stage in the hope of retrieving the Princess yet again. And sorry Super Mario World fans, none of Bowser’s other kids are in this one unfortunately.
If you are familiar with the traditional controls then the learning curve of this game will not be a problem. Using certain buttons in conjunction with the D-Pad will allow you to pull off dashes and hops, as well as acrobatic feats, such as: triple jumps, ground pounds, and wall kicks. The latter being quite useful in later areas when you have to make quick escapes, especially in the screen scrolling stages. Another thing to note is that the touch screen is somewhat limited in use, providing just an overview of the world and a mini-map of your present location.
Nevertheless, what has always made these types of games fun is the atmospheric diversity apparent in said worlds. As you hop from land to land (by way of a Super Mario Bros. 3 style map system), you’ll cross valleys and deserts, climb up piranha vines to the clouds, and swim through underground caverns, all the while avoiding carnivorous eels and fish. Nearly every stage shows off something new but at the same time brings back some nostalgic moments, especially if you have followed the series for quite some time.
You probably wouldn’t even think of buying this game if you haven’t right? I mean who could forget putting on the tanooki suit for the first time in the third or finally beating the difficulty scaling masterpiece that was Star Road. New Super Mario Bros. brings to the table some interesting additions of its own, one of which being the power-ups. Ranging from absolutely mandatory to merely conventional, the mega mushroom, mini mushroom, and blue shell encompass the title’s primary tools; helping you thrash koopas and solve the trickiest puzzles with less effort than normal. For example, the mega mushroom puts you in an invincible state, letting you run through the area with no cause for concern. While this is happening, enemies are getting trounced, pipes are unearthed, and blocks are crumbled, all in the wake of your massive size.
Regular mushrooms, 1-up mushrooms, super stars, and the ever prevalent fire flower also make their return, giving platform perfectionists quite the arsenal. And while some of these additions make the game more exciting, there are others that bring along a detrimental tedium. A tedium that presents itself in the form of collectible star coins. What is it with Mario and these damn stars?
Perhaps too many collectibles have always been a problem in most platform games, especially when they add so little to the game. Just think of the blue coin system from Super Mario Sunshine for an example. Though not quite as horrendous, the three coin system prevalent throughout each stage is really more of a distraction, if anything. Here’s how it breaks down: in each stage you will find three coins which act as your main currency. Hidden in less than obvious locations throughout your progression, you will have to take the time out to find these tokens or even risk certain doom to grab them. And the reward for your hard work? Nothing more than being able to access mushroom houses which allow you to purchase a random power-up.
Strangely enough, the coins also tie into the frustrating saving system. Meaning that opening these mostly pointless areas act as one of the few ways to save your progress. This becomes aggravating in later levels, especially if you have to quit early, but find that you have either opened too many houses or don’t have enough coins. And let’s not forget the dreaded scenario of the battery running out at the wrong time.
Then again, maybe you are the type that likes to collect every trinket and trophy, all in the hope of earning that perfect score. That natural urge to grab something within reach is just sometimes too strong to withstand, I know. If that is the case then there is little cause for concern, but just remember if you ever find yourself pulling out your hair that most of it is avoidable.
What was also disappointing was the absence of a familiar face or two that some of us have come to expect to see. Yoshi, for example, fails to show up and would’ve been an interesting addition (not the vomiting Yoshi, of course, but the normal one.) A flying mission or two with him for old times sake would’ve been interesting, as would have been being able to brawl with Wario in a traditional man to man showdown. Then again, maybe I am being a bit too picky. I am glad that Luigi was able to make an appearance and with it, he brings along the introduction to the fun co-operative feature. With this addition, you and a friend (or enemy) can simultaneously play through stages at the same time, tag teaming enemies, challenges, and bosses alike.
Speaking of which, the game scales at a relatively balanced state, providing an adequate challenge as you travel from place to place. Boss fights are continually engaging and later confrontations even require some thought and several lives to beat. However, if you’ve heard some complaints of how the game is too easy, then I'd have to say the early-bird critics are somewhat correct. Lives are easy to come by, especially if you collect most of the star coins. I’ve even heard that the 99-life trick exists in the game, so if you discover its location, use it at your own risk. Nevertheless, what helps sustain the replay value throughout is the fact that all worlds are replay-able, even after they have been completely beaten. This surprisingly including: regular stages, mini-battles, and fights with the final bosses themselves.
Also heightening the reason to keep playing is the addition of mini-games that were first seen on Super Mario 64 DS. Knowing that this is a hand-held game, Nintendo would have been crazy to not throw some time passing challenges on here for the road. Some you will notice, some you won’t. Whether it is whacking moles on the head, blowing into the microphone to keep Yoshi afloat, or playing “Where’s Waldo” Nintendo style, there is plenty to keep you and your half-awake friends occupied for hours upon hours.
To sum it up, what helps New Super Mario Bros. succeed is the sense of balance that it finds. Though it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking, it manages to create an adventure that brings back some old memories and helps create new ones. With fantastic game-play mechanics, satisfying length, a catchy soundtrack, and plenty of extra features, the latest work from Nintendo succeeds on several important levels. The inability to save wherever you want is frustrating though, as is the lackluster use of the touch screen. But at the end of the day, the positives clearly exceed the negatives, and the result is what we can normally expect from a Mario game.
Staff review by Branden Barrett (June 29, 2006)
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