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New Super Mario Bros. (DS) artwork

New Super Mario Bros. (DS) review


"New in name only, but still a lot of fun."


My first reaction to New Super Mario Bros. was a derisive laugh. Not because of any lack of quality -- it is a Super Mario game after all -- but simply because the word "new" was featured in its title.

Right from the beginning, things aren't exactly new. Sure the graphics might be prettier than the mustachioed plumber's NES and SNES games due to the DS being a more powerful system, but the feel and style obviously is supposed to elicit memories of those games. The very first level is an obvious homage to 1-1 in the original Super Mario Bros. and the next level apes that game to a degree, as Mario goes underground to continue his search for Princess Toadstool, who once again has been abducted by Bowser. Much like the second and third NES games, the second world contains a number of desert-themed levels. Just like Super Mario 64, you'll find lots of collectible items used as currency to unlock blocked off areas on the map. Towers and castles provide tough tests leading into boss fights. Mario still consumes mushrooms to get larger and obtains other power-ups, such as his always-trusty fire flower that allows him to spew fireballs at enemies to dispose of them long before they're in range of his trusty jumping attack.

New Super Mario Bros. screenshotNew Super Mario Bros. screenshot


New? Technically, sure, at least back in 2006 when it was released. But at heart, this Super Mario game is quite similar to those which came before it. Let's face it, though -- Rehashed Super Mario Bros. doesn't have the same ring…and likely would have gotten some P.R. people shot into the sun.

At this point, I feel compelled to say that none of that really matters. Super Mario is SUPER F'IN MARIO for a reason. Once upon a time, Nintendo found a great formula for gaming success and ran with it, gradually expanding on their ideas as time passed. The games got bigger, it became possible to save progress and the series even embraced 3-D gaming, but when it came to Super Mario, you knew what you were getting. Even if a game didn't completely adhere to the mold, such as Super Mario Bros. 2 or Yoshi's Island, they still had that undeniable vibe.

New Super Mario Bros. does have that vibe and, therefore, it's a winner in my book. Going back to the series' 2-D roots, it gave me what I wanted without any of the struggles I've had with some of the Super Mario games I'd played recently. I didn't have to mess with the 3DS' clumsy 3-D slider…or with how that system's controls just didn't feel like a good fit for Super Mario 64 DS…or even the Wii's motion control stuff. Just simple side-scrolling that I could pick up and lose myself in without feeling the need to adjust to control schemes I'm apathetic at best about learning.

The greatest strength of this game, other than how it's a Super Mario offering that follows the formula, is its diversity. There are a lot of levels scattered over its eight worlds and those worlds offer a ton of challenges -- enough that you'll be finding new ones even in the late stages of the game. Were a lot of those challenges featured in previous Super Mario games? Sure, but I wasn't complaining. It's not like I'd been playing those older titles constantly and picked up this one for something different. I wanted vintage Mario on a more modern system and that's what I got. Thwomps smashing down from the ceiling, moving platforms that suddenly plummeted into bottomless pits, coins all over the place to collect for 1-ups, pipes to descend and vines to climb. New Super Mario Bros. is great if you want to play a Super Mario game with a retro vibe, but prettier than those 8- or 16-bit games could hope to be. It's a bit easier than those older games, but still provides the same sort of fun.

New Super Mario Bros. screenshotNew Super Mario Bros. screenshot


There are a few differences between this game and its ancestors, though. The whole "Bowser kidnapped the princess…AGAIN!?!?" plot gets resolved at the end of the very first world, when Mario finally gets fed up with the big lug and sends him falling into a pit of lava to only leave his skeleton behind. However, that's only a superficial change. Bowser Jr., who had been encountered as the tower boss in the middle of that world, steps into the void, prevents Mario from completing his rescue mission and then leads him on a merry chase through the remaining seven worlds. Bowser's "Mini Me" provides the boss fights in all the game's towers and borrows from Kamek from Yoshi's Island in the castles, using magic to turn random critters into imposing creatures barring the way to the next land.

Outside of that, the other changes to the formula tend to provide any complaints I have. You have a few new power-ups that are a bit uninspiring. You can get Mini Mario, who is primarily useful for fitting through tiny holes or pipes to find secret rooms or exits. Collect the fairly uncommon Mega Mushroom and Mario will become gigantic and be able to smash through stages, able to destroy everything in his path simply by running through them. And the Blue Shell is great for defensive players, as that shell can block most attacks. Other that that, though, it's main use is that it works much like Super Mario Bros. 3's Frog Suit, helping you to swim faster in the game's water stages. And so, I spent the entire game trying to keep a Fire Flower on hand, as I prefer offense to defense, hated Mini Mario's floaty jumping and found the Mega Mushroom to be little more than a novelty due to how rarely it's found.

Also, for some reason, entire worlds in this game are essentially hidden. Two of the eight lands in New Super Mario Bros. can only be accessed in two ways: either by beating particular bosses with Mini Mario or finding the secret exits in two of the game's Ghost House levels. The fact that most of this game's worlds have optional levels accessed via hidden exits is one thing; that 25 percent of this game also is hidden in that way is something else. While I like being a thorough player when I'm with a game I'm enjoying, I'm not overly keen on making that mandatory to access large parts of the game, especially when we're talking about an pure action game. Save that stuff for the more exploration-based genres, such as RPGs.

Still, while New Super Mario Bros. might not be THE perfect Super Mario game, it's still a lot of fun. With a wide variety of levels and lots of fun platforming, this was really enjoyable to play through. Super Mario earned its popularity for a reason. His games are easy to pick up and get into, and also hard to put down once one has gotten into them. This one was no exception. It might not have felt "new", essentially providing more of the same, but that was far from a problem for me. After all, when you have a long-standing, enduring formula for success, trying to be too "new" often is where serious missteps get made. While this game might have a few flaws, it was able to avoid that pitfall and give its series yet another high-quality title in its library.

4/5

overdrive's avatar
Featured community review by overdrive (December 04, 2020)

Rob Hamilton is the official drunken master of review writing for Honestgamers.

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dagoss posted December 30, 2020:

I remember when this game came out. I took the "new" in the name to mean "finally, a new Mario game." We had a lot of spin offs and 3d games by this point, but hadn't seen traditional platforming in a long time.

It was a shame it din't stray a least a little in new territory.

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