Despite the amazing run Mario and Luigi have
had in best-selling video games, their gameplay elements have been
remarkably fluid. In their original arcade game, they flipped turtles and
bugs by jumping up and pushing platforms from below. In Super Mario Bros
(and its Japanese sequel), they jumped on top of their enemies. In the
American Super Mario Bros 2, a re-skinning of the Japanese title Doki Doki
Panic, they picked up and threw enemies. In Super Mario Bros. 3 they
received a number of powerups including a raccoon tail and flying cloud, in
Super Mario World they gained capes and an adventuring buddy named Yoshi,
and in Super Mario 64 Mario gained the ability to bounce off of walls.
New Super Mario Bros was supposed to be a
game wherein Mario and Luigi got back to their roots of 2-D, simplistic, yet
fun platform adventuring. For the most part, it succeeds. The old formula
(eight worlds, smaller stages in each) has been brought back, though the "Koopa
Kids" of SMB3 and SMW era play are gone in favor of recurring battles with
the new "Bowser Jr." from Super Mario Sunshine.
Graphically, this is almost the perfect
fusion of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario World. All character models and
levels are created with 3-dimensional models, though the gameplay is solidly
two-dimensional. The main goal of the graphical engine seems to be to make
things as scalable as possible, so that the camera can zoom in or out, or
objects grow or shrink, at will. The sounds are very classic Mario; my
personal conjecture is that most of the sound effects and character models
were probably "rescued" from Super Mario 64 to be re-used here, as their
appearance is very similar.
In terms of new tools, players have a few
options to play with. Just like in Super Mario 64, Mario can bounce off of
walls while jumping, and can execute a "butt slam" to hit enemies extra hard
from in the air. The the standard mushroom and fire flower are back in the
game, as well as three more powerups: a koopa shell (which gives Mario the
ability to become invincible when ducking and to slide while running like a
kicked shell), a "Giant" mushroom which allows him to become nearly as tall
as the screen and break almost everything in his path, and a "Tiny" mushroom
which shrinks Mario to 1/4 his normal height. While tiny, Mario can't damage
enemies unless using the butt slam attack, but he can jump further and
longer than normal. There are also certain missions where finishing as Tiny
Mario is the only way to open up secondary paths in the game, including two
of the worlds.
In terms of gameplay, the closest analogy is
Super Mario World. While the cape is missing, SMW gave players several new
options which are faithfully preserved. Levels and even completed worlds can
be re-entered, for replay and exploration. Secret paths abound, unlocked by
completing levels in different ways or by paying "secret coins" for them.
There are three such coins in each level, some more secret than others.
If you're one to race through a game just to
see the ending, of course, New Super Mario isn't for you. While the game can
be "finished" in just a few hours, doing so skips at least 2/3 of the game's
content, just like using the warp zones or warp whistles in previous Mario
titles. The fun is exploring the world and unlocking everything, and the
designers gave players plenty to enjoy and come back to.
Overall, if one were to make a hierarchy of
the Super Mario titles, New Super Mario isn't precisely at the top. That
honor likely belongs either to Super Mario World or Super Mario 64, the
games that gave this title their gameplay elements. The lack of distinct
level bosses is somewhat disturbing, and for sheer run-around exploration
value, either of those titles gives players more to do. Still, it's
enjoyable and worth owning, perhaps even with Super Mario 3 as contenders
for the #3 spot on a Mario hierarchy.
If you're a DS owner, pick it up. If you're
not a DS owner, it's one of a slew of good reasons to own one.