new super mario bros.

a review of New Super Mario Bros.
a videogame developed by nintendo
and published by nintendo
for the nintendo DS
text by Brendan Lee

1.5 stars

Bottom line: New Super Mario Bros. is “too goofily honest to really sap you over the head.”

New Super Mario Bros. was a retail explosion; it racked up the kinds of stratospheric sales numbers that keep the graying home-office octogenarians on Nintendo’s payroll simultaneously idle and employed. Mario was back. Not trying his hand baseball, or tennis, or basketball, or golf, or baccarat, no, but back and in his element: coins(!), Goombas(!!), tasty powerups(yes). And Lakitu!

Hey, Lakitu!

What’s more, Mario was doing it in style: while the Nintendo DS may groan under the weight of all but the most cleverly tooled 3D titles, here the polygons were used with a clear-headed attention to detail and the simple joy of primary colors. The music might have occasionally done that thing where you reheat the classic themes and stir in some Mario Paint-esque farts, and Mario’s constant observations that “ITSA SO NICE!” to clear a stage might have occasionally given you cause for both worry and shame, but all in all it felt like a Mario game: meaty physics that changed with each power-up; classic (yet lovingly reworked) enemies, and the nostalgic sense of gentle fun that made Nintendo an entertainment powerhouse in the first place.

Nintendo’s Japanese advertising angle said a lot about how the company was positioning the release: they chugged the advertisements along on a near-constant loop on the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo, showing a professionally lit thirtysomething playing a bit of DS between (apparently) difficult yoga bends. It wasn’t about the game, the ad – – it was about how much fun it could be, at thirtysomething, to enjoy one of those experiences you’d kind of kicked to the gutter as you got older. There was a brief clip of the game toward the very end, showing how INCREDIBLY LARGE MARIO COULD BE IN THIS ONE, totally BREAKING EVERYTHING THAT STOOD IN HIS WAY . . . but mostly it was about the woman, legs folded on her bed, brand-new (and just released) DS Lite in her soft, soft hands, remembering the splendid pigtailed afternoons of Super Mario Brothers back in the day. And, I suppose, pointing out how great it was to be able to sport Aphrodite’s midriff all the while. I’m pretty sure that much of the commercial was real, at least – – she wasn’t sucking her gut or anything. Big smiles.

It tickled most people in the same way it did Yoga Lady: the reactions to the game were largely positive, and even now it would be staggeringly disingenuous to saddle the game with accusations of soulless cash-in . . . if NSMB is indeed an exercise in calculating committee-belched cynicism, they were certainly able to Febreeze it enough during the QA process so that it doesn’t actually smell like one. Even if you’re having sinus trouble, any such accusations crumble for one simple fact:

The game just isn’t competently designed enough to warrant them.

More than one corner of the Internet has called it the highest-budget doujin game ever made, and it certainly plays like one in parts . . . for every section that sings like the glory days of Miyamoto, there are five others with spaghetti-at-the-wall enemy placement and goofy environmental fudges that are just zany for the sake of being zany. The new powerups are one hell of a mixed bag – – Very Tiny Mario has a fun correct-in-the-air floatiness to him that just kinda clicks in your hands, but things quickly go downhill from there: the Koopa shell is kind of a gas, I guess, but you’re never really given the level design you need to enjoy it. All you end up doing is empathizing with the Koopas themselves: good god, those creatures lead a doddering, pointless existence. It’s like driving the ZZ Top Eliminator past an H & R Block.

The Giant Really Big Mushroom is . . . well, it’s Saints Row right there in the middle of your Mario Brothers, and it’s as galling as it is exhilarating. Yeah, it’s great, the first time: there you are, smashing that hecking level to hecking bits. Fuck that level! You’re big (literally!) and important, and all of the rest of the level is a bunch of ****ed kindergarten children, ha ha! As crunchy as it is to blast through the level like that, it really starts to strip the emperor: if all you needed was that big mushroom, well . . . what’s the point of the carefully-stacked bricks and lovingly-placed question blocks? Why couldn’t I have a rocket launcher and a hovercar as well? If your grandfather is beating you at poker, why not just knock over the card table and hide his walker on the fire escape?

Well, because the game should be fun to play, that’s why. Getting out of playing the game through a testosterone-and-Red-Bull Frat Boy Jam shouldn’t even be one of the options on the table. Don’t step on the sand castle – – make it compelling enough for everyone to play with.

In NSMB, you just won’t want to, after a point . . . and usually that point is around the time you save Peach from the harrowing clutches of an admittedly on-note final boss. There are other worlds to sneak your way into, but at this point they feel like pointless noodling. You could be feeling up Peach at the drive-in and getting some cheek-reddening nose kisses; instead you’re going through the motions and clearing squatters out of the unkempt corners of the game’s basement. Skipping bits of the game through clever gameplay has always been a staple of the Mario series, but here the options to do so are staring you right in the face, and the whole thing chugs along with mechanical ennui.

Gallingly, you start to ask if the entire thing was a waste of time – – because, you know, there really is no Peach, and she was never in trouble in the first place. Just as a novel is only as believable as you think it is, so too is a videogame: for you to get those little psychological sparks that keep you playing and buying, the games need you to be a sucker for a little while . . . and unfortunately for both itself and us, New Super Mario Brothers just ends up being too goofily honest to really sap you over the head.

 

It might, however, be a rather fine gift for an OCD-befuddled child who is constantly trying to pull shiny quarters from behind his own ears.

–Brendan Lee

Comments

43 Responses to new super mario bros.

  1. Man, you’re right – if you insist on conceptualizing everything it does in the most crushingly negative terms possible, New Super Mario Bros is a pretty stuffty game!

  2. Yeah, it’s really too bad. I hope they put a little more effort into the next one.

  3. and yet there arguably hasn’t been a better DS game since!

  4. I had similar feelings the first time I played through the game. It was too easy, the levels too short, the new items generally less than mind-blowing. But when I pulled out the game again last week in a quest for every gold coin, the little details started to emerge and the thrill of the chase kicked in. The levels contained little puzzles I didn’t know were there. I noticed how the bad guys danced along to the music; somehow I had missed that the first time through. I had… fun.
    Plus I must add that the multiplayer oppurtunities in NSMB are some of the best on the ds.
    While I’ve got your attention, i want to say that this site is really exciting. Its good to have a new perspective on game reviews that asks for more from games. We suspend so many of our desires when we play games because we so rarely get what we really want but are trained to ignore, we settle for artificiality in too many aspects.

  5. Ethoscapade: Well, I liked Hotel Dusk better . . . but you’re right, that’s certainly arguable. It really just seems like everyone’s starting to hit their stride with the DS in terms of how to develop for it; I wonder when the Wii is going to get the party started. Perhaps the Wii SP Edition?

    bananaco: Maybe I should dig it out aga . . . er . . . actually, I just sold it. Maybe I should borrow it again? Tried the minigames before, but they seemed a bit on the . . . shallow side, I guess? A little too much blowing into the mic, etc.

    Really glad you like the site! Stick around, it’s just getting fun!

  6. You made a good point with the Koopa Shell power-up: it’s a great power-up that the levels don’t do enough with. You can try to go through the levels without leaving your shell, but since you have to wall jump so often, you’re going to be forced out of your shell often. Perhaps if the shell could wall jump…

    The problem here is that you don’t also draw the same conclusion with the big mario power-up because you’re too excited to condemn Mario for being guilty of the bigger/tougher is better attitude. When you get the giant mushroom, the game should be balancing jumping over pits without jumping over too much stuff (since you get rewarded with one-ups the more you destroy) or getting slowed down. It even starts to hint at this in the first level where you’re almost sure to get the giant mushroom, but the game never elaborates.

    Firepower still works really well in this one allowing you to blast through the levels without worrying about koopas and goombas.

    You didn’t mention the triggers panning the screen left and right. Perhaps you didn’t use it much, but it turns out to be a big help because when you’re speedrunning stages, it’s good to know what’s coming next. You could quip that this is a necessary feature since the DS’s screen is so small, but it’s a good solution and a welcome feature either way.

    You have also chided the game for putting the shortcuts out in the open, and while you do see where the canons are, you still have to figure out which level leads to the canon and then find the secret. I think it’s a nice way to let the player know that the shortcut is there but still keeps it somewhat hidden. Unlike the flutes in Mario 3 which you only even find out about in cryptic messages from Princess Peach in later worlds.

    The biggest problem with the game is it can’t decide if it wants to be SMB3 or SMW (the proper choice of course being SMB3) so you get the terribly slow mini-castles, the obnoxious dinosaur that is just much to slow, and other levels that they should have saved to clean up and use in Yoshi’s Island 2. You were sort of on the right track with the game going from levels which sing “like the glory days of Miyamoto” to the more cumbersome material in between, but then you failed to mention the save system that ties in with this. The fast and furious Miyamoto-glory-days levels would be better served by a game that doesn’t allow you to save or backtrack. In the end though, the game is probably better off with the save system since many of the levels that you have to play through, are not worth playing through again, so it’s better to just take your pick, but I think it should have warranted mention in your review.

    You didn’t mention the graphics. I think at this point everyone that hasn’t even played the game knows they either hate them or don’t care about them, so I guess I’m glad you didn’t mention them. I wouldn’t have minded hearing something in defense of them, however, since the graphics are a pretty sensible follow-up to SMW.

    You were tyring to keep the review short, so it makes sense that you didn’t touch on all these topics (and I haven’t even mentioned the ground pound), but I think if you wanted to keep the review focused and on point you could have avoided some lines like “You could be feeling up Peach at the drive-in and getting some cheek-reddening nose kisses; instead you’re going through the motions and clearing squatters out of the unkempt corners of the game’s basement.” which only restate less clearly what you’ve already said.

    A very critical look at a game it’s tough not to look at with quick knee-jerk observations: ** of ****

  7. as far DS dev’s “hitting its stride*” goes… it’d definitely be the second stride, in that case. new smb was more or less the end of that wonderful wave of DS software that began with canvas curse, and gave us meteos, trauma center, phoenix wright, electroplankton, tony hawk, mariokart, and advance wars before burning itself up. i mean, sure, electroplankton and phoenix wright were years old in jaypan by the time they got released in the US, and mario kart, advance wars and tony hawk aren’t so much DS essentials as they are tired franchises regaining their glory – but hey, kirby and trauma center. let’s have some more of that, if we could.

    it’s just a good thing that so many wonderful games came out for the gameboy advance last year (and not so much of a good thing that none of them were localized)

    *i accidentally typed “strider” here instead of stride and had to go back and correct it before hitting submit.

  8. On a personal note, if you haven’t played the multiplayer game in NSMB (not the minigames), you should give it a go because that alone would probably raise your opinion of the game.

  9. man, why do you use “crunch” as an adjective so often?

    its kind of weird.

  10. The shell powerup really comes into its own in multiplayer. The ice level is completely built around it.

  11. I disagree with this review pretty strongly!

    The main negative point the review brings forth, the giant mushrooms and how the ability to skip parts of the levels is staring you right in the face, is pretty weak. Giant mushrooms are pretty rare, and even though you can find them in those houses, many of the levels are impossible using them, due to the fact that giant Mario cannot fit through places regular Mario can.

    Also! The fact that if you use the giant mushroom in the underground levels you will often destroy the floor and fall to your death proves that the game is very aware of the oppurtuniy the giant mushroom presents!

    I’ll admit the game is flawed. The bizzare save system and the optional worlds are very strange design choices. I like that you had to beat a castle as tiny Mario to get to the secret worlds though. That added a whole new level to some of the boss fights. Also, the underwater levels were pretty bad, to the point that I never wanted to play any of them again. The game as a whole is pretty good though! Not great, but no where near as bad as “a fine gift for an OCD befuddled child”.

    This review is far more about the author feeling offended by the game cashing in on nostagia with its advertising campaign and his desire to craft “witty” metaphors than it is about the actual game. I swear, for every good article on this site there’s one that’s just an excuse for the author to come up with insults.

  12. My main gripe with the game was the optional worlds/levels. I think that if you’re going to make parts of the game optional, they should be HARD AS HELL. I didn’t detect much of a difference in difficulty in the extra worlds, and I thought it was lame that they were so easy to find.

    Let gamers of all ability and commitment level finish the main game and get a warm fuzzy feeling. But leave _something_ that you can really strive at and work hard for. I’m thinking here specifically of Gnarly, Tubular, Funky, Grumpy, Sneezy, and the other star road levels in SMW. It increases replay value and widens the audience… additionally, it makes casual gamers into more serious gamers.

    1.5 stars sounds about right.

  13. maybe nintendo wanted a game that everyone could complete the majority of? this is a game for the masses intended to reorient a long abandoned strain of platformer before (I assume) restarting it. would that sega do the same with sonic. it’s possible to be too cynical about super mario; brendan quite succeeds.

    if the blue shell sucks why the heck did i want it so bad?

  14. dmauro: That was well-reasoned! Why not try your hand at a game review? Do keep in mind that our convoluted, neck-snapping metaphors keep our skies blue and our teeth white. The multiplayer was kind of fun, yeah, but it would have been nice just to have an over-the-shoulder mode, so you could have recreated the days of giving advice to your friends. Then again, the single-player game isn’t really deep enough for you to need it.

    somes: I have only four teeth in my head, and sometimes it’s nice to remember!

    Menander: Yeah, that was a pretty good one . . . I really wish it had come up more in single-player, though.

    jim: Excelsior!

    Menander: Not offended, just disappointed!

    killerrobosaurus: Yeah . . . they should have been able to balance that thing where it’s really, really hard, but you get just a *bit* better each time. Hell, that’s the only thing that the entire rhythm format has going for it, distilled to its purest form.

    James: Yeah, Nintendo has a lot of Games For The Whole Family now . . . but if you’re continuing established franchises, it really cheapens them in the eyes of the loyal. That’s why those people have their Wii Sports and Professor M’s Mysterious Yay Button (Featuring Sherlock Holmes).

    Maybe you wanted the blue shell so much because its promise was under-realized, and the game didn’t use it that often. Like the boot in SMB3.

  15. the loyal? don’t you mean the fans?

    if there’s one group of people who should be thwarted and denied at any turn it’s the fans. look at kingdom hearts! look at sonic! look at mega man! fans are septic. mario belongs to mankind in whatever numbers they can physically print of it, not a bunch of eazy-boys who’ve been doinking their nuts out over the mushroom kingdom since 1986.

    i wanted the shell because the shell made the game fun. we can spit hypothetical perfect level designs out all day, but they don’t exist unless you’re some kind of latter day plato, and that dude never had a day of fun in his life. in the context of the game, the rare power up is fun and tricky. so it works, simple as that. it’s a nice little nod to sonic, in a way.

    the giant flower has nothing to do with saint’s row – it has everything to do with the series’ micro/macro motif and the prexisting invincibility scoring/1up system. it’s a natural outgrowth of the series.

  16. The problem with NSMB isn’t that it’s accessible, but rather that it lacks the lasting appeal of the original Super Mario Bros. Granted, that’s a pretty difficult thing to nail.

    For my money the game seems more torn between SMB and SMB3 than SMB3 and SMW, though. In my opinion it could’ve stood to be more like SMB. Of course I think nearly all games could stand to be more like that game.

    At the same time nearly all games need to be LESS like it. But as long as they’re trying, they should do a better job.

  17. James, your comments are spot on. Perhaps I am too idyllic to think that the level designs are flawed for not better incorporating the blue shell (I certainly did have my own fun with it). I give your comments *** of ****

  18. I think we should hold off judging the lasting appeal of NSMB until 2026, frankly. I can imagine SMB carts getting buried under new NES purchases before getting returned to at a later date back in the day. It’s unfair to compare them just yet, since one has has racked up 2000% more time on planet earth. Who can say?

  19. >> the loyal? don’t you mean the fans?

    Not exactly . . . I think that the advertisements were geared at the fans who had forgotten that they *were* fans. I consider the loyal to be people who actually continued to play those games and never lost their skills. There should have been something for those people to push against. Degenerating into Kingdom Hearts isn’t necessary – – KH doesn’t give people what they want; it gives people what they *think* they want. In this case, the loyal were looking for something they could use those skills with. And they were right to be

    (>_< ) when it didn't show up to the dance. >> in the context of the game, the rare power up is fun and tricky. so it works, simple as that.

    Nah.

    >> the giant flower has nothing to do with saint’s row – it has everything to do with the series’ micro/macro motif and the prexisting invincibility scoring/1up system. it’s a natural outgrowth of the series.

    No, it’s a lazy cheat. Invincibility already existed, so that aspect is redundant. What they should have done is made the entire game scale. They got this with the mini mushroom – – certain parts of the game were inaccessible without being tiny, so that worked nicely. They just ‘tarded out when they started to think big. You should have had entire jump puzzles and enemies that needed a large Mario: little mushrooms could take you one size smaller; big mushrooms could take you one size larger. It could have been great. Instead we got this fat kid in a playpen bullstuff.

    It wouldn’t have been hard to innovate a little with the powerups, make the first bit easy enough for those that hadn’t played in a while, and then scale it up so that it was both challenging and winnable by the end – – or hell, they could have just given the skilled some extra reason to play their really difficult optional stages. If anything is a nod to Sonic, it’s forgetting to build proper levels in lieu of WAY-RAD speed and OH HOORAY smash-nonsense.

  20. Brendan, if there were enemies that required a giant mushroom to kill I think you and I and everyone else would be all 🙁

    James makes a great point about it being an extension of the invincibility star, but Brendan, you’re not taking everything into account when you say that’s _all_ it is because giant mario essentially changes the geography of the level. The placement of the blocks means an entirely different thing to giant mario than it does to invincible or super mario.

    I played this some more on the train today and I realized that 4-1 (one of the levels with that annoying as hell dinosaurs) is actually really awesome because you can skip right over the dinosaur with some pretty tricky jumps off the spiders that are hanging there. I’m pretty sure there is a later level where you can’t skip the dinosaur though 🙁

  21. My biggest issue with New Super Mario Bros. was its deliberate evocation of older games for nostalgic purposes, which has nothing to do with the game per se and everything to do with Nintendo’s overall plans for the Mario IP: New Super Mario Bros. being designed as a nostalgia item implies that Nintendo believes that traditional Mario platformers can no longer stand on their own.

    Admittedly, Nintendo not making a new traditional Mario platformer in fifteen years also implies this. I’d go take comfort in Super Paper Mario if only they’d released it for a platform that existed. Like, you know, the Gamecube.

  22. I can’t believe that no one has mentioned the game control yet. Wasn’t “game control” a big deal in video game reviews back in the day? Perhaps I’m alone in this, but for being a nostalgia-driven game, NSMB doesn’t “feel” anything like SMB3, or even SMW. It was this fact, more so than the lackluster game design, that made me quit playing. If Mario moved in the same way as his previous 2D incarnations, I could have probably forgiven all of the other bad choices that went into this game.

    Also, regarding the “hidden” content: shortcuts have been the staple in past Mario games… you used to have to work to warp, not work to actually play more of the game. It’s probably not good to take for granted the idea that the player is going to be so enthusiastic about your game that he will search out content that’s not presented in the course of normal game play. Such people exist, but I don’t have the attention span for that anymore.

  23. yes, the control was the major bump for me. it’s like, with all of the team’s attempts to push the image of mario as some lovable, bumbling monkey (read: heck off), they made controlling the guy feel like handling jell-o.

    well, it’s not that bad. but you can sense the WON’T THIS BE SILLY AND FUN???? meetings going on beforehand.

  24. What is wrong with the control besides the ground pound preventing you from preparing to duck as soon as you land?

  25. it’s sloppy and slippery. jumping feels oddly stunted, as if mario’s forgotten how to leap, so he’s put on shoes covered in slime with dysfunctional springes on the bottom.

    here’s a thing you can try: get a running start – then jump, let go of the d-pad, and keep jumping. see how far mario keeps going in that direction. he seriously won’t stop until you hit an obstruction or fall into a pit. it’s kind of incredible!

    i’ve gone through nsmb around six times, and i like it, but i still haven’t come to terms with the control.

  26. The control feels like the original Super Mario Bros. Go back and try it.

  27. i play the original all the time. they’re really not even close. smb was precise, had you slicing through air.

  28. diplo, I just did a direct comparison of how far your momentum carries you in both SMB and NSBM and was not surprised to find that they are about the same. As for the jumping, that works about the same too. Your comparison to slimy shoes and dysfunctional springs is a decent description of how Mario jumps in all the classic Mario games though if you want to by cynical about them.

    what do you mean by slicing through the air?

  29. the control is clean in the original. there’s a rhythm to movement. i’m an accurate bullet, always in control.
    running in nsmb produces a bobble-headed sensation.

    “Your comparison to slimy shoes and dysfunctional springs is a decent description of how Mario jumps in all the classic Mario games”

    no, i…really don’t agree.
    nsmb’s controls are 64’s put into a 2d game. and i never liked 64’s controls.

  30. I don’t know what you mean. You’ve given me plenty of adjectives, but they don’t translate into how the controls are different from SMB. In NSMB does he not jump immediately after pressing the jump button? Is the gravity different? Does he jump too high or not high enough? The bobble-headed description tells me you don’t like the controls, but I’m still confused as too why because I thought they seemed to me to be very similar.

  31. the physics _are_ pretty similar to the original (and no other game in the series), but the animations are all wrong for this which is why people have a hard time buying it.

  32. I wouldn’t say they are all wrong, but yeah, the animation is certainly different and slightly weird. Don’t you think the physics of smb and smb3 are pretty similar though (making nsmb quite similar to smb3 as well)?

  33. Funny thing, I tried playing Super Mario Bros. 3 immediately after New Super Mario Bros., and I couldn’t stand it. No wall jumping!

    “i never liked [super mario] 64’s controls.”
    I think you just fried my brain. An evident control connoisseur such as yourself… oh, oh, you’re talking about the DS port, right?

  34. i dig it. a little too easy, sure, but that’s because i’ve been playing super mario brothers since 1986 (i was six). the game has that panache that has been missing since SM64.

    my only complaint: it’s too short.

    also, i want to fly. god i love SMW. that, and i’m almost still challenged by the special world.

  35. “This review is far more about the author feeling offended by the game cashing in on nostagia with its advertising campaign and his desire to craft “witty” metaphors than it is about the actual game. I swear, for every good article on this site there’s one that’s just an excuse for the author to come up with insults.”

    Quoted for truth.

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