|New Super Mario Bros. (2006)
Available for: Nintendo DS
It’s been nearly 15 years since the last 2D Mario title demanded the attention of every gamer in the world, but as soon as you pick up “New Super Mario Bros.” for the Nintendo DS, you’ll be back in old school gaming heaven. It’s almost as if the NES was never made obsolete, and while Mario creator Shigeru Miyamoto hasn’t strayed too far from the old formula that made the original title such a classic, he’s certainly improved upon it with better graphics, innovative levels and exciting new gameplay elements. One could even be considered foolish to suggest that there would ever be a game – let alone another Mario title – that was better than the unanimous favorite, “Super Mario Bros. 3,” but after playing the new version for only a couple days, it’s clear that a new contender is on the rise.
The basic story behind the game isn’t much different from previous editions of the Mario franchise – Princess Peach is still kidnapped by Bowser, and Mario must still save her – but there are plenty of changes worth noting. Among the biggest is the way in which the game is set up. The classic side-scrolling, Goomba-stomping, flag riding action remains from the original, while the world map format from “Super Mario Bros. 3” has been improved upon. Elements of “Super Mario World” also appear, most notably the ability to reveal hidden blocks and save power-ups for future use. The difference in this last instance is that, instead of selecting the power-up before entering a level, the items are banked in the bottom right corner of the DS’ lower screen. You can then access the power-ups at any time during the level by pressing the image of the item on your screen.
Along with the presence of your saved items, the lower screen additionally displays your progression in the level (via a primitive timeline that also shows any checkpoints you may have reached), your remaining lives, and the number of giant coins you have collected. The latter is a new addition to the game that allows Mario the chance to collect up to three giant coins throughout each level. Mario can then cash in these coins at any time when he wants to unlock a different route through the world, or a path leading to a mushroom hut. The mushroom huts remain the same as before, and if you take the time to visit your good friend Toad, he will reward you will power-ups and extra lives.
These can actually be quite pricey considering the cost of unlocking said roads. Most of the giant coins take some extra effort to track down and collect, and it’s somewhat upsetting to waste five of them on a measly mushroom power-up. The plus side, of course, is that you can win up to twenty extra lives at a times, as well as receive one of three new power-ups: the giant mushroom, which transforms you into a screen-sized Godzilla who can smash through anything; the miniature mushroom, which makes you, well, miniature; or the blue Koopa shell suit, which, after using only a few times, I still haven’t found an active use for. It’s gotten me killed on more than one occasion, so one could hardly call that productive.
The rest of the game plays out like a classic 2D Mario title. There are cool boss battles (you won’t be fighting Koopa at the end of each level) and plenty of hidden secrets that you can unlock by climbing ropes, uncovering invisible blocks, ground pounding objects and performing Mario’s brand new wall kick. Some of these secrets you won’t even discover the first time around (especially since you completely skip worlds four and seven), so you’ll have to return later in the game (or when you’re done) if you want to find everything. This includes exploring all of the multiple paths that appear throughout the eight worlds, and the game makes them a breeze to return to anytime you want. Just tap the image of whatever world you desire (located on the lower screen while in map mode) and you’ll be transported there automatically.
The ability to continue playing the game - even after you’ve defeated Koopa - makes the replay value on “New Super Mario Bros.” a definite plus, especially since the title is only as challenging as its predecessors. This isn’t to say that the game is too easy, but it’s certainly not difficult to the point of frustration. The game also boasts a co-op mode and a series of minigames that you can play on the go, but neither of these are worth pushing the single-player action to the back burner for. Mario’s a back with a vengeance, and it’s good to feel the addiction pumping through my fingers again.