Monday, June 27, 2011

DS review: New Super Mario Bros.

Everything about New Super Mario Bros. is a love letter to fans of old-school NES and SNES Mario titles. The layout of the overworld map, the level progression, and the soundtrack represent the essence of Nintendo's poster boy plumber. Graphically, however, the game aims for a simple, yet polished look, with 3D models filling the side-scrolling levels of the Mushroom Kingdom.

Bowser is dispatched quite early in the game, leaving Bowser Jr. to fill in as the game's main antagonist. Each subsequent battle against this younger Koopa will increase in difficulty, and some environmental hazards can also present greater difficulties. That said, the Bowser Jr. fights only make up about half of all the boss fights in the game, with Monty Mole, Petey Piranha, and others trying to block Mario's path to rescuing Princess Peach. The progression from one level to the next feels very natural in both difficulty and artistic design, and players are granted some freedom in choosing which route they prefer to take in some of the later worlds. It's not all a walk in the park though, as players cannot save the game until they have either completed a tower or castle boss fight, have spent five large coins to unlock a new area, or have completed an entire world. That's not to say that completing any of the following is always going to be incredibly difficult, but some of the later worlds are host to levels that may require a number of trial-and-error runs.

Red mushrooms and fire flowers play out the same as in past Mario games, while the Blue Shell provides protection while Mario is ducking from enemies or traps, the Tiny Mushroom lets Mario run across the top of water and access smaller pipes, and the Giant Mushroom turns Mario gargantuan for a limited time as he smashes through pricks, pipes, and enemies of all sizes. All of these abilities feel very well-balanced and can accommodate to different play styles. If Mario happens to be powered up and encounters a duplicate of the power he currently has, it can still be grabbed and saved for later use. There is only one space to save said items in, which maintains the challenging element of the game. Players may find that having a Fire Flower or Blue Shell on reserve may prove quite helpful in scaling a tower or castle to reach a boss fight.

There's plenty of replay value presented through a number of side levels unlockable through large coins collected in each stage. Players can also use these large coins to access mushroom houses, where they will play simplistic mini-games to stock up on extra lives or gain a power-up to save for later use. Also included is a decent sized collection of Mario Party-influenced mini-games, which can be played solo or with three friends via the DS' local connectivity.

Overall, New Super Mario Bros. is a fun portable platforming experience in the style of older Mario titles. The DS controls feel much smoother than that of a SNES controller, and the presentation is very appealing. New Super Mario Bros. may not aim to be the next greatest thing in handheld gaming, but because it keeps itself grounded and its aims simple enough, it's tons of fun to play.

My rating: 9.0 (out of 10)

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