Friday, May 26, 2006


New Super Mario Brothers

Well, I've spent a week or so with New Super Mario Brothers now. And I think I love it.

The fact of the matter is, a lot of the individual elements of the game recall individual elements from past games. The new level designs don't feel particularly original -- if you've seen one automatically-scrolling moving platform level, you've seen them all. Mastery of old Mario games will translate into instantly recognizing the obstacles you're up against in this game.

But it's still fun.

The most important thing is that New Super Mario Brothers is a really good platformer. Every level has something to distinguish it from all of the others. Heck, even the underwater levels have their own personality, thanks to layout or the set of enemies you confront. It's fun to pick your way through an obstacle course or to search through a maze for hidden goodies. A few of the levels even get difficult.

Mario's move set is a lot of fun to use. Wall kicking and wall sliding are excellent additions to the game. It's fun to pull off mid-air acrobatic feats to save yourself from a plummet, set yourself up to attack a boss, or sneak into secret nooks and crannies.

Power Up, Power Down

The powerups are a mixed bunch. The mushroom, fireflower, and starman are all back and as good as ever. Like in Super Mario Brothers 3, there are some "premium" powerups that are a bit less convenient to get your hands on: the mega mushroom, the mini mushroom, and the blue shell. No one seems to like the blue shell very much -- it's useful when you're underwater, and Mario can hide from most enemies by ducking into his shell, but the sliding power is too unpredictable to really be useful. The mega mushroom is more of a gimmick and a cheat than anything.

But I really fell in love with the mini mushroom. It makes Mario even smaller than his powered-down "normal" self. At this size, he becomes very underpowered and he can't pick up koopa shells. In fact, the only way to damage most enemies is to do a ground pound; a normal stomp will bounce him right off their heads. Also, one hit can kill him. But the benefits are fantastic. In his smaller, lighter form, he seems to float like a leaf on the breeze. He can jump much, much higher and farther than he can with any other form. A great many of the game's secret passages are easiest to find with mini Mario wall-kicking and sailing around the levels like a tiny balloon, which is to say nothing of the passages and pipes that only mini Mario can fit through or the secret worlds -- 4 and 7 -- that you can only get to if you beat a boss as mini Mario. There are some other benefits as well: the donut blocks that return from Super Mario Brothers 3 won't drop when mini Mario is standing on them, and mini Mario can dash across the surface of water.

Secrets and Treasures

I wasn't too impressed with New Super Mario Brothers on my first run-through because I generally play Mario games just to get to the end. But then I went back to look for all of the levels I skipped (and you can skip a lot of them!) and I was truly impressed by the size and intricacy of Mario's new world.

Like in the NES games and Super Mario World, New Super Mario Brothers is filled with secret passages and alternative exits. Finding a secret exit always opens up a new path on the overworld map. Sometimes these new routes will let you skip ahead in the world or offer you bonus levels to take an alternative route through the world. Some of these routes will lead to cannons on the overworld map. If you enter a cannon stage, you'll blast yourself ahead several worlds -- it's the new Warp Zone.

So, like the classic sidescrolling Mario games, New Super Mario Brothers can be played in a non-linear fashion. You can play it straight through from start to end several times and take a different path through the game each time and see something new each time as well. Or, if you're the obsessive type, you can try and find all 80 levels and search them to find the three Star Coins hidden in each level.

I'm not the type of person who will finish a game 100% unless it's a lot of fun to do it. Getting all 240 Star Coins in New Super Mario Brothers is a blast. The coins are strategically positioned, either cleverly hidden or put in a place that requires a little skill and planning to reach. It's not terribly difficult to race from beginning to end in any particular stage of the game, but it can be tricky and satisfying to ferret out all of the Star Coins. (Star Coins are also used to buy access to certain bonus stages on the world map, so it's a good idea to pick up a few whenever you can.)

I'm still not sure if this game is going to go down as a classic or if it's just going to be remembered as a summertime diversion. Mario fans with high expectations may be a little disappointed. But if you're looking for some solid, unpretentious platforming action, New Super Mario Brothers might fit the bill.


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