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ew Super Mario Bros. marks a momentous occasion in video games: an all-new, side-scrolling action/platformer starring the plumber that put the genre on the map. It’s the equivalent of a Beatles reunion, except everybody’s still alive and unsullied by our memories of crappy solo records. It’s a bit hard to separate my expectations of this game from the reality of playing, but honestly it feels like a triumph – a tour de force of old-school platforming.
From a design standpoint, it’s clear that this is intended to be a summary of the Mario games past and present. While the levels and overworld seem to be most inspired by the original NES trilogy (especially Super Mario Bros. 3), you have moves from the entire franchise’s history, including the butt slam and even wall jumping from the 3D games. There are a few new mushrooms as well, one which turns Mario very large and one which shrinks him, allowing him to access hidden areas and special pipes. I found the large mushroom only marginally useful. While large, Mario essentially runs roughshod over the whole playfield, destroying blocks, platforms, and even pipes. It’s cool the first few times, but it can destroy blocks that might be the key to hidden areas or coins. I did usually attempt to save one until a boss battle, where it came in quite handy. The small mushrooms are incorporated much more organically, allowing you to access small areas and pipes in a way that seems more akin to the exploratory spirit of the original games. Similarly, moves like the butt slam and wall jump work well in this context; it will be hard to go back to the old games without wishing they were there.
As much as I appreciate the multiplayer and DS touch-screen minigames that have been added, there’s really only one reason why you must play this game. Quite simply, the 2D platformer, when done right, might still be the best damn style of game ever created. And believe me, New Super Mario Bros. does it very right. Everything I loved about the originals is here: the brilliantly designed levels, the memorable cast of enemies, the expert pacing, and the host of odd secrets to discover. This feels just like those games that made you fall in love with this hobby, overhauled with a few new moves and dramatically improved visuals. One could complain that it doesn’t try to incorporate the touch screen to the degree that Super Princess Peach did, but I’m glad that Nintendo decided to remain true to the spirit of its greatest franchise. It might not be the huge revolution some hoped it would be, but this is a highly enjoyable and well-crafted trip down memory lane.

Aw, man. This is going to hurt. New Super Mario Bros. is like a shunt delivering high concentrations of nostalgia directly into your brain. I’m no doctor, but I suspect that a procedure of this type has some definite risks and rewards. Sure, there are all new levels and a mash-up of earlier games’ moves, and I am nothing short of delighted with the graphical tweaks, bounty of self-referential design decisions, move selection, multiplayer options, and genius level design. In fact, I would argue that this side-scroller offers more exploration, hidden secrets, and gems of discovery than any before – it’s downright masterful. Yet it also feels a bit like you’ve done this before…but in a good way. Nostalgia can be sweet, and this vast journey truly is, but at some point you’ll feel a tiny twinge of disappointment when you tread such familiar ground. This will only last a second, though, because the next jump always leads to something unexpected – just like the Mario you remember.
Mario returns to his heyday of side-scrolling platforming
As always, it’s vivid and colorful, and shows new touches like water effects and improved animation
A score that emulates the great NES soundtracks of yore
I didn’t find all of the new abilities useful, but the core gameplay is stellar
If, like me, you yearn for the days of NES, this will be one of the best games you play all year
Moderately High
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