AVAILABLE ON: DS, Wii U (Virtual Console)
RELEASE DATE: May 15, 2006
As far as stand-alone Donkey Kong games from recent years went, I didn't have much choices. With Mario, it's a whole different story. I literally had tens of titles to choose from - which is probably difficult to believe, considering how many Mario games I've reviewed back in the day, and also considering that I laid the plumber to rest not once, but twice, due to the lack of games available. Well, suffice to say that me and Nintendo have resolved our differences in the last four years - I've bought a whole lot of Nintendo games, both new and old, in the last four years and a good bulk of them stars either Mario, Link or Donkey Kong. I've bought not one, not two, but three Nintendo consoles, and gotten a fourth for a Christmas present. So where the hell should I begin? It's obvious I can't do 'em all, and I don't even have a reason to go into the exploits of the extended Mario family just now. I don't have a reason to do any all-star games just now - this marathon is more about two central characters. That principle actually helps shorten the list quite a bit. Well, since I started with a game called Donkey Kong Country Returns, let's go to another comeback game from a little further back. The Nintendo DS was launched in North America on November 21st, 2004, and with it, as always, came a Mario title. Not a completely new one, though, but a complete remake of Super Mario 64. Although the remake was critically acclaimed for its technological prowess, and (almost) all of the extra content that set it apart from the original game, some people started speculating if Mario had run his course and all we'd get was remakes of hardly aged masterpieces from that point on; Nintendo had already announced a game called New Super Mario Bros., which didn't promise much by its name in this situation. However, New Super Mario Bros. was a completely new game; it was to be the first traditional 2D Mario platformer since Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the Game Boy, from 1992, and just as its title implied, a spiritual successor to the very first game in the Super Mario series from 1985. Its arrival was greeted with rave reviews - but is it really that good? Let's see. Classic Mario Bros. expert on the case.
You know my name
First of all, I've got to admit that I've had experiences with Mario games from the last ten (plus) years in a wrong order. I've played better games than New Super Mario Bros., but they've also been newer games by far. Except for Super Mario 64 DS, but hell, that's a remake based on one of my favourite games of all time - it doesn't matter whether I hacked it to pieces at launch or just started it yesterday. However, putting things into focus, one can still write an honest review of New Super Mario Bros.; really good Mario games never grow old. The original Super Mario Bros. - I still love that game. Super Mario Bros. 3 - oh hell yeah. Super Mario World - magnificent. Super Mario Galaxy - never liked it too much to begin with. You get the idea. When a game called New Super Mario Bros. emerges, I have certain expectations. In the gist of it all, I expect a good, entertaining platformer. That much New Super Mario Bros. manages to deliver. Is it all I could hope for from a 2D Mario adventure, a subcategory of platformer games that is almost full of some of the greatest video games in the world? No.
|Shadow of the Colossus.|
The graphics are just as good as you'd expect from Nintendo's very own research and development team for such a title. 3D character models and level effects against 2D backgrounds, plus of course the very physical movement of Mario creates a fluid feel to it all. No criticism there. Koji Kondo took a creative break (for all of 2005 and 2006 actually), and is credited as "sound director", while Asuka Ota and Hajime Wakai are in charge of the actual composition of the game. Another bundle of remixes, and some new tunes, which really aren't that great although the Overworld theme went on to be used in a lot of future games at some capacity. This is probably the first Mario game of any genre, developed by Nintendo, in which the music doesn't have any notable positive effect on me.
You know my game
New Super Mario Bros. is just about as standard 2D Mario jab as it can possibly get after his 3D exploits. Some random mechanics like the ground pound and wall kick manouvers are still in, but casual players will do just fine without 'em - just jump, dash, and shoot the occasional fireball, just like decades back, and you've got this. The level design really ain't that special; once harder levels set in, they're made harder with standard, tactically placed blocks, platforms and enemies instead of something really innovative and elements that would go to show what the DS was truly capable of. Bowser Jr. appears as a recurring miniboss who never really changes tactics, just the levels change a little bit (once in a while); the gallery of world bosses comprises of magically enhanced versions of standard enemies (like in Yoshi's Island, only on a smaller scale) and you'll butt heads with Bowser himself a few times, in a vintage Super Mario Bros. fashion - only the circumstances are a bit different from what you're accustomed to.
|Facing off with Bowser Jr.. Just the first|
time of many.
The Mega Mushroom is quite the epic novelty item. With this, Mario grows in size to barely fit the gameplay screen and trashes EVERYTHING in his wake, which unfortunately includes paths that might lead you to Star Coins. You might perceive it as a frustrating item well beyond its cool factor, until you realize that it works on all bosses, including Bowser. (There, a hint.) This reminds me, that the item reserve from Super Mario World is back, placed on the touch screen along with a level "map" and your HUD. The Blue Koopa Shell... buhhhh... always wanted to be part of the Koopa Troop? Well, now you can, this one time, and as you will see, life in Bowser's army isn't that great. With the Shell, you swim faster, sure, and that's a good thing - Mario swims very slow. You can also withdraw into the Shell to protect yourself, and dash into a traditional spinning attack across the floor... which also spins you right out of control, and probably leaves you groaning at the bottom of a pit. The Mini Mushroom does the complete opposite of the Mega Mushroom, and shrinks Mario into a size he can't do shit to enemies, but is able to defy gravity and jump to incredible heights, and fit into smaller pipes. These are the new power-ups. Like 'em? Didn't think so. They're shit. Except that Mega Mushroom, for its occasional value - occasional.
Of course New Super Mario Bros. is a good game; it's a 2D platformer starring Mario, it can't go to complete waste. But, it is so uncharacteristically typical and plain from Nintendo, and gets more frustrating in its sheer staleness the further it goes. The new crappy power-ups and the collectables' lack of usefulness just drive the nail further in. It's funny how this game got all the glory and the next handheld game in the New SMB series was so disliked by many critics; I find the successor more innovative and exciting, not a perfect game by any measure but better. Some might say "it was 2006, cut it some slack", and my answer is "it was 2006, so I certainly won't". Good game, but I expected more.