Having preordered New Super Mario Bros, I received my copy the day it came out. However, after hearing comments about it being a bit short I decided to take it slowly and only do a little bit per day. This game has already done the reviewing rounds for the most part, but I’m so impressed that I feel obligated to write one anyway.
The first thing that hits you when you begin playing is of course the graphics. Originally I was a little underwhelmed by the visuals, not really feeling the mish-mash of 2D and 3D at all. But then I saw it in motion, and everything changed. The fact is that this game is beautiful. The character animation is incredibly smooth, and somehow manages to make walking mushrooms, athletic overweight plumbers and turtles walking on their hind legs look completely natural. Every single character, enemy and object is lovingly created in 3D, but given a 2D edge by having textures on them occasionally change as if they were sprites (eg: Thwomp’s face). If you’re turned off by the screenshots like I originally was, at least watch the five-minute video on YouTube before completely dismissing the game.
As good as Mario looks, he’s nothing in comparison to the environments you’ll be having him plough through. There are eight worlds in New Super Mario Bros, and each has its own unique theme: plains, desert, tropical, forest, snow, mountains, sky, volcanic. As you can see the selection is very reminiscent of past Mario adventures, and some of the worlds do indeed greatly resemble their earlier counterparts. For example, many comparisons can be drawn between the forest world and Super Mario World’s Forest of Illusion. Likewise, the sky world is a lot like Super Mario Bros 3’s Sky Land.
As you’d expect, each world has its own set of level themes that are beautifully crafted. Miyamoto’s team has basically taken the most outstanding elements of similar levels in previous games and combined them all to produce extremely atmospheric locales. The traditional plain grassy levels are full of foliage and strange hills in the background. The castle levels feature an amazing contrast between the dark stone of the structure and the glowing orange lava, with fiery particles slowly floating through the air. The sky levels are full of clouds that completely surround you and cushion your weight should you land on them. Put simply, the levels look and feel astounding.
Of course, what you really need to know is what the gameplay’s like. Some have said that New Super Mario Bros introduces nothing new to the series, and as such will never be remembered as a classic. That is absolute rubbish. Although there’s no denying that the game draws a lot from its ridiculously successful predecessors, it also introduces a lot of new elements. Irritatingly though, actually describing these elements is difficult.
The easiest thing for a reviewer to do in this situation is to just list the new items, of which there are three: the blue shell that basically lets you turn into a koopa, complete with invincible sliding; the mega mushroom that makes you almost as big as the entire screen, allowing you to smash the level to pieces; and the mini mushroom, which simply makes you the size of a goomba’s foot, letting you fit down small pipes and jump a bit higher.
Sadly, it’s these three power-ups that are the most underwhelming of New Super Mario Bros’ offerings. Although they are fun when you first get hold of them, as you’ve no doubt heard from countless other people they’re just not that useful. The blue shell almost always results in you accidentally flying down a bottomless chasm, while the mega mushroom isn’t suited to navigating most levels and you end up getting stuck. The mini mushroom is a bit better, but you’re incredibly weak while in this state.
So as always, the innovation comes in the level design. There’s no doubt about it: Mario games have good levels. They’re fun to explore, fun to look at, fun to experiment with, and fun to complete. New Super Mario Bros is no exception to this rule — the levels are fantastic. The ghost houses are tricky as always, requiring a little more exploration than usual to find the exit. The castles get increasingly fiendish, and almost had me in frustration-induced hysterics towards the end of the game. Each level introduces its own gimmick, meaning that no two are alike. Not constantly playing this game is actually pretty hard because you know there’ll be something new to see every time you progress through to a new level.
Bosses are no letdown either. The structure here is pretty much the same as Super Mario Bros 3’s, where you fight a moderately difficult boss halfway through each world and then progress to fighting something more serious at the end. The difference is that the halfway boss in New Super Mario Bros is Bowser Jr, and the end-of-world boss is usually some regular enemy on steroids. Kind of like Yoshi’s Island, except with Bowser Jr doing the magic instead of Kamek.
There are some exceptions though. The game starts off on a high note by allowing you to have at Bowser in the first world, where he appears almost exactly as he did in the original Super Mario Bros: on a platform, suspended over lava, breathing fire at you. Get past him to hit the switch and you’ll send him flying down into the lava where he’ll brutally perish. The game’s final boss encounter is also absolutely fantastic, and is definitely worth striving for.
My only disappointment with the gameplay is the secrets: they’re just not good enough. Many are quick to point out the fact that two entire worlds are ‘secret’, but really, finding your way into these is a no-brainer and they’re already on your map. Even with the two secret worlds included, it comes to no more (or less) worlds than in Super Mario Bros 3. There’re three big coins hidden in each level that must be found to finish the game properly, and they are fun to track down, but they’re nowhere near as exciting as the two whole hidden worlds full of ridiculously hard levels in Super Mario World, or the two hidden levels in each Yoshi’s Island world.
Actually playing New Super Mario Bros is a breeze. There are literally just three inputs required 99% of the time: the D-Pad, Y, and B. These respectively control your direction, your speed, and your jumping. You can also use L and R to move the screen left or right, but it’s usually unnecessary. The actual movement is typically perfectly done, although the fact that Mario now has actual weight to him may catch some off guard. This weight is good though as it not only makes Mario feel more realistic, but also gives him momentum; this can be applied to all sorts of gameplay situations.
Move-wise, Mario’s got a whole bag of tricks on hand. Most of them are simply implementations of the moves introduced in Mario’s 3D games such as the butt stomp, triple jump and wall slide/rebound, but there’s also some new stuff like the ability to hang onto ropes and edge across/hang from cliffs. Using all these moves almost seems like second nature, and as somebody else said: it really does feel like the controls are motion sensitive at times.
Sound effects and music are two things that are always good in Mario games, and the tradition continues here. Retro sound effects are used plentifully to let you know this a true Mario game, but there’re also many new sound effects carefully placed throughout that spice things up a bit. For example, Mario himself makes a lot more sounds than in his past 2D outings when hurt and whatnot, and generally expresses himself more. It’s subtle, but this adds a lot to the experience. Similarly, the music is as melodical as ever and suits the levels perfectly. Unfortunately, they managed to knock a lot of the music down a notch or two by continuously using an irritating vocal-like effect as an instrument, which you can hear in the five-minute YouTube video. Is it just me who really doesn’t like it?
All in all, this game is brilliant — you’d be a serious fool to not buy it. It’s great for those new to the series, great for those who’ve played them all, and is surprisingly challenging unless you’re excessively good at Mario games, unlike me who still gets arseholed countless times when replaying Super Mario World. I really hope New Super Mario Bros’ high sales prompt Nintendo into developing a sequel or a New Super Mario World, although I guess the latter is technically on the way in the form of Yoshi’s Island 2.