New Super Mario Bros. DS Review
I've spent a lot of time the last couple weeks wondering whether the astounding amount of hype behind New Super Mario Bros. is good or bad, for the title. On the one hand I can't imagine that any publisher would actually turn down or attempt to dissipate fan-generate hype for one of their titles. On the other hand, New Super Mario Bros. is the first true, pure 2D Mario title to be released since either 1991 or 1995, depending on whether you count Yoshi Island or not. Both 91's Super Mario World and 95's Yoshi Island are widely regarded as a couple of the best games ever made, so for NSMB to live up to that legacy, it too would have to be one of the best games ever made. So is it?
What strikes me most about NSMB is how packed the levels are with gimmickry and obstacles (in a good way). I can pick five NSMB levels at random and find enough ideas and elements to power an entire game. Ideas, even really sweet ones, are rarely repeated. There are also several enemy types that only appear once or twice in the entire title. In a way it almost seems like too much of a good thing. Why introduce a new enemy with interesting, new mechanics, in the second to last level? It's almost as though the team had a mandate to introduce one fresh idea in every single one of the game's 80+ levels.
With that being said, far too many of the NSMB levels are simply too short. Even in the final world, it feels as though you're hitting the midway restart point in seconds, and then crossing the finish line when the level was just hitting its stride. Many levels could use another leg to expand on the elements it just introduced. This brevity coupled with the generous doling out of power-ups makes the experience too easy, as well. I understand that the days of brutal NES-style difficulty is over for platformers, but Bowser's final castle still had way too many mushrooms strewn about.
This is even reflected in the game's multiplayer offerings. Just as the single player adventure is a direct (albeit very significant) sequel to the original Mario Bros., in many ways leapfrogging and bypassing all the subsequent sequels, the Mario vs. Luigi rivalry is also resurrected in NSMB, having remained largely dormant since the arcade Mario Bros. release. Two players face off in one of a handful of looping levels, battling for stars that periodically appear. If nabbing appearing stars isn't your style you can squash, fireball, or otherwise harm your opposing Mario brother to cause one of their stars to fly loose. The mode might sound gimmicky but in practice it proved extremely addicting. It generates a very heavy "just one more round" mentality.
Rounding out the package is a robust selection of minigames. Some have been carried over from Super Mario 64 DS, but a handful are brand new. This time around the minigames feature multiplayer support, which generates significantly more fun factor than you might guess. When playing single player, Luigi's card games are nothing more than time-wasters. But when playing with friends and entirely new dynamic is created. Multiplayer functionality breaths new life into many of the other repeated minigames as well.
The bottom line is that New Super Mario Bros. could have been a better game than it ended up being. Nintendo fans will need to temper some of their near-boundless enthusiasm for 2D platforming or else the package will end up disappointing them. In truth no one should be disappointed at all. The game is fantastic, and deserves every hour of playtime it has received from me, and will be receiving plenty more before it gets retired to the shelf. Still, I hope that somewhere deep within Nintendo a team is beginning prepwork on Newer Super Mario Bros., and that the game will take this excellent groundwork to create a game that can be held alongside Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3.
What's Hot: Levels packed full of imaginative gimmicks
What's Not: Many levels too brief & easy. No way to track unlocked secrets/levels.