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Friday, June 09, 2006

New Super Mario Bros: Return to Memory Lane

Probably one of the biggest franchises in the history of video games, the Super Mario platforming series gets an update on the Nintendo DS, taking elements from almost every Super Mario platformer and tossing in some new stuff along the way.

How it Looks: Fantastic!
New Super Mario Bros have some of the best graphics of any game on the Nintendo DS, with some impressive 3D polygons that don't blur or pixelate around the edges, making everything look sharp and well-defined. The animations move seamlessly along as well, with nice detail in every enemy's movements as well. Even the water ripples pretty well. I think the best thing Nintendo could do with Mario Bros was using polygons, since you can use the same Mario, scale him for Small Mario, stretch him tall for Mega Mario, and colour swap for Fire Mario, all without having a large library of sprites: everything can be done with a few calculations.

How it Sounds: Good
There doesn't seem to be many (if any) new music in New Super Mario Bros, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. The majority of the songs and sounds are remixed from the entire library of Mario songs (mostly Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World), and they sound very good. The music is also a little upbeat than most other games, but that just tries to add a comfort level to those who don't play games (since the DS is targeting everybody, making a good portion of their first-party games available for everybody), and that even adds a little wrinkle in the gameplay: on every beat (almost like someone saying "Ah", or hitting a triangle for underwater levels) the enemies either jump or stutter in place. The Fire Flower power-up also follows suit. Another thing is that they cut back on Mario talking, only keeping it at the beginning and ending of every level. While I don't find it too bad, if they had it every time you jumped or shot out a fireball, it would have driven me nuts!

How it Feels: Intuitive!
The controls of New Super Mario Bros feel very natural, but that has a lot to do with the simplicity of the game. Jumping is done with A/B button , while running is done with X/Y button, though you can swap the buttons if you want. The only other button that does anything is the Start button to pause. While the touch screen only contains the level map (or map of the worlds on the world map), in levels there is a spot to hold an extra item like in Super Mario World. Touching it will drop the contained item above you. Unlike Super Mario World, though, if you get hit, it will not automatically drop.

How it Plays: Fun
Not much has changed in the Mario formula: Get from the start to the end while avoiding enemies and pits, collecting coins and power-ups, getting to the flagpole, etc. If you've played a Super Mario bros game for the NES or SNES, you know what to expect. Power-ups are not as diverse, and mostly are just the mushroom to turn you into Super Mario (they still call him that), and the fire flower to give him fireballs. New to the game are: the small mushroom to shrink Mario into tiny Mario, which allows you to jump extra high, run across water, and get into tiny pipes; the mega mushroom, which causes Mario to grow to the height of the screen, allowing him to crush anything in his path and gain 1ups for his troubles; and the shell suit, allowing his dash to turn into a thrown turtle shell. The small mushroom and shell suit are mainly for finding secret items. There are 8 worlds in total (two are hidden), and multiple levels in each world (akin to Mario 3). Also added are most of the minigames from Super Mario 64 DS, though they are changed to allow multiplayer. The only issue I have is with saving: you can't do it when you want until you beat Bowser at the end of the game. The only times you can save are when you beat a tower or castle, or use star coins on the map.

Game Length: 5-15 Hours
If you just want to kick Bowser off his throne, the game shouldn't take longer than 5 hours. If you want to unlock every level and world, and find the three Star Coins in every levels will raise the game time to about 10-15 hours. The minigames can also help pass the time, and the multiplayer (collect-the-stars with another player and multiplayer minigames) also adds a few hours of fun.

Verdict: Buy!
This is a game that reminds you of gaming roots, how fun it was, and that you don't need to be killing aliens, engaging in an over-arching story, or have HD quality graphics to have fun. Although the game is short, it is a game that you will pick up and play again and again.


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