Hallelujah: New Super Mario Bros!

In the handfuls of free minutes I had between work sessions on the new Book, I was playing (errr… testing) a new game that I considered to be worth covering in both the Book and Backstage: New Super Mario Bros. ($35) from Nintendo. In short, there hasn’t been a portable game release in the past five or more years as significant as this one.

New Super Mario Bros. was originally understod to be a remake of the classically accessible 1985 NES hit, but has turned out to be much, much more. The only reason you haven’t heard more about this game is unfortunate timing: Nintendo decided to release it a few weeks prior to the U.S. launch of the Nintendo DS Lite console, and is probably saving most of its marketing muscle for a joint promotion. It was a tough call for consumers: go out and get Mario and an old, not-so-hot DS, or wait a few weeks and get both together.

Will it really be that hard to wait? If you haven’t seen it yet, the answer is YES. In short, platform (run/jump/explore) games are great on portable systems, and there is no platform series better than Mario – when Nintendo’s on the ball. So when I say that there hasn’t been a Mario game this great in 10 years – yes, I’m looking right past you, Mario Sunshine – I really mean that there hasn’t been a 2-D platform game this good in that long, either. People who were intimated by Mario’s 3D adventures will find that this is the game that will bring them back. It’s a bit like like the movie Superman Returns: what would Mario have been like on the SNES after the first two games, if Mario 3 and Super Mario World hadn’t happened?
You don’t get raccoon Mario, stone Mario, or any of the other oddball suits or flutes that appeared in the beloved Mario 3; instead, there’s a gigantic, world-crushing Mario, a nano-sized sneak-into-crevices Mario, and a turtle-shell wearing Mario who can retreat for safety or spin around in Koopa style. In all honesty, these suits are almost gimmicky: they’re fun to play with a few times, but most of the game’s excitement is in the secret-discovering, run-and-jump action that made the early Mario games great – little things like Mario 1’s flagpoles have been brought back for giggles, and there are plenty of hidden levels to be unlocked. Then, in addition to worlds full of Mario 3-quality level designs, there are two big wireless modes: minigames, and even a cooperative mode where Mario and Luigi can roam the single-player levels together.

Please do me a favor on this one: if you’re on the fence, just get it, especially if you can hold off until next week and snag it with the Nintendo DS Lite ($130). My girlfriend, who hasn’t played a game in ten years, can’t stop playing NSMB, and even a gamer as jaded as me finds the game engaging. Games like this are making the DS platform hugely worthwhile, and now is certainly the right time to buy in.

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