Nintendo DS Review: New Super Mario Bros.

In 20 years, we'll look back on the release of New Super Mario Bros. and wonder why it took 15 years for it to happen. As some of the best selling games in the history of the industry, waiting for that period of time from a financial standpoint couldn't seem any dumber than it is. Yet, from a current point of view, it's obvious. Anticipation sells, and if it takes another 15 to gives us the next true 2-D platform Mario game, so be it.

New Super Mario Bros. Isn't perfect. It misses a lot of everyone's Mario wish list, while keeping a firm focus on classic gameplay and accessibility. This is what knocks this latest Mario adventure down a few slots, and breaks up the unbelievable hype we all experience, the downside to that waiting period.

Moving from sprites to polygonal characters allowed the designers to have some fun. In the playful world of Mario, the more the better. It may seem like a completely unnecessary step to have the enemies react or even dance to the music on cue, but in the frame of the Mushroom Kingdom, so be it. It's one of the countless ways Nintendo can make their profits off key franchises because no other development house in the world would take the time to add these touches.

Gorgeous graphics and catchy theme music are all wonderful things. They're no replacement for level design, and as usual, this latest Mario is a textbook. Not a single college that considers themselves home to future game designers should be without plenty of DS consoles and this game shoved inside. Even if you don't understand the concepts or logic that goes into a stage, you can still sit back and smile at the brilliant ways the design team makes you feel at home.

Even when stuck inside some never-ending maze, it's never a chore; it becomes an excuse to play through the level again. While confined inside eight worlds as always, every level is its own, and nothing here repeats with any regularity. All the way through to the finish, you're seeing things for the first time, whether it's completely new or a homage to the classics.

What all this warm fuzzy nostalgia does is hide the fact that you're not being challenged. You can breeze through this latest Mario faster than Sonic the Hedgehog could. In an attempt to grab the larger audience, they've neglected to acknowledge the die-hard fan base that will catch the familiar bits and pieces (which tends to be overly prevalent at times), but not feel like they've received their money's worth.

Power-ups, always a highlight, falter here too. Becoming a gigantic Mario is fun in the brief moments you can use it. However, it's so brief, you might as well track down a star to gain invincibility. These giant moments are even totally useless at times, as countless sections of the game block giant Mario from moving ahead. The unwieldy turtle shell power-up is tough to grasp, and very few moments in the game make it worthwhile to have (if any). Tiny Mario, the logical extension, only seems to be included to find a few secrets.

The sense of adventure isn't here either. Solutions to alternate levels or gold star coins are painfully obvious, or even in plain view. If it wasn't for the movie The Wizard, we still might not know about the warp whistles in Mario 3. Here in New Super Mario Bros., anything you need can be figured out because short of a glowing neon sign pointing to the area, the developers let you know what you need every step.

This is also a disastrously short game, a problem caused by a combination of low (or none if you ever played a game in the series before) difficulty and lack of big surprises. A stack of mini-games (most from Mario 64 DS) and a fun multi-player romp for two players doesn't add much in the realm of replay. This is not a game we'll be revisiting in a few years or adding to "best of" lists like the previous games.

A necessary criticism aside, this latest romp is a success. The level design alone sells this game, and it's criminal not to appreciate how it works. It's not the game you've been hopelessly waiting for. It's the one where you want to overlook the flaws so it can be that game you're still hopelessly waiting for.

(**** out of *****)

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