The fire flower makes its triumphant return.
This game's title could not be more definitive, as the Marios' latest adventure really does return the plumbers to their super roots. While Mario may be rendered in 3D, his game is totally old-school. Running and jumping once again reign supreme, ousting punches, air meters and all that other froufrou for delicious mushrooms. Mario handles with traction somewhere between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario 64, and his jump is close to SMB3's but with a slower descent. Of course, he also brings some of the new moves he has learned over the years, such as triple jumps and ground pounds. New Super Mario Bros. (NSMB) features the best wall jump yet—there is precious little more satisfying than saving oneself from a perilous pit with a knee-jerk wall-jump. Mario may not control as he did in any of the classic Mario games, but he still feels perfect.
And that means you will have no excuse when a vicious water or fortress level hands you your rear end. Make no mistake: you will cry out in despair.
The game never gets as brutal as SMB2 (Japan) or Super Mario World's Outrageous, but a few levels come close. They are by no means "dumbed down" to appease inexperienced or former gamers, though they tend to be simpler in structure. New Super Mario Bros. contains very linear levels with either rightward or upward progression. Many of them are highly reminiscent of previous games, and mustachioed gurus will recognize levels in the style of SMB's underground caverns, SMB3's Pipe Maze world, and SMW's ghost houses. Players will similarly welcome updated versions of classic baddies and platforms, often used unexpectedly, such as when Mario is forced to dance on moving platforms between two piranha plants. The game contains the nooks and crannies one would expect from a Mario game, usually concealing each level's three star coins. A handful of stages in each world contain secret exits leading to warp cannons, warp pipes or extra stages. Secret exits give the game longevity for those interested, but the simple world map layouts nowhere near approach the complexity and expansiveness of Super Mario World with its definitive Star Road and Special World.
Not surprisingly, many of NSMB's secrets require the use of its new power-ups. The most interesting and admirably used power-up, or perhaps power-down, is the unassuming mini-mushroom. Mini Mario can fit through tiny pipes or cracks and run on water. He also has a very fluttery jump, giving him far superior jumping distance and aerial evasion. Of course, such awesomeness has its price—Mario dies with one hit. However, NSMB misses the mark with its other two new power-ups. The mega mushroom, which allows a temporarily huge plumber to stroll through the level, is little more than a glorified star. The seemingly clever Shell Mario, in which Mario apparently steals and wears Kooper's blue shell), also has its faults. Mario can duck into his shell to become invincible, like a more potent hammer bros. suit from SMB3, or dash in his shell to break blocks, bounce against walls, and knock down enemies. However, this suit is annoying as often as it is useful, since Mario slides into his shell automatically once he reaches maximum velocity and the player must release the run button to cancel. And since deployed power-ups do not return to the item reserve spot in NSMB, unlike they did in SMW, the player is forced to either live with the liability of running too fast or ditch the suit by intentionally taking damage.
The game has other setbacks, too. While the levels are difficult, they also provide a bucketful of 1-ups, nullifying the threat of losing your lives before reaching a save point. Also, while the soundtrack is mostly good, it more closely resembles Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine's than the 2D games', which I find unsettling. Nintendo should have saved the tower (fortress) music for the next Zelda game, and NSMB's rendition of the death jingle (borrowed from Super Mario 64 DS) is pathetic. Also, while the pre-rendered environment graphics are never distracting or ambiguous, they are somewhat plain.
Don't let my parade of complaints mislead you, though—I simply expect the very best from a "real" Super Mario game. Honestly, these problems aren't nearly enough to keep a good game down. After all, Super Mario World only had two power-ups, and many consider it to be the best in the series. Frankly, for all of my nitpicking, I almost always had a smile on my face. Mario's controls are so well-honed that players can have fun simply running around. They'll just have more of it if they actually play the game. New Super Mario Bros. tweaks "cameo" gameplay elements from so many sources that it is consistently fresh and constantly changing, and that, above all else, is what makes a genuine Mario game so incredible.