Tag: Super Mario

Looking Back at New Super Mario Bros.

Looking Back at New Super Mario Bros.

So I was staring down at my list of ideas for the first ‘real’ post on this site earlier, and I found myself locked in place, unable to decide. Should I dive into the magic of the Super Smash Bros. series, and how I’ve gotten my hands on the last three installments the day that they released? Perhaps I could reminisce on watching my father play through Super Mario World when I was a small child, or rant about the injustice that is the lack of a true sequel to Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door (that one will come eventually, for good or ill). Maybe I could discuss my love for Breath of the Wild, because that’d be an original idea for sure. I could compare and contrast Super Mario Odyssey with the earlier 3D Mario games, or talk about how I fell in love (and then out of love) with the Pokemon franchise.

Needless to say, I chose none of them. I’m sure all will find their places here eventually, some sooner than others (I’m looking at you, Paper Mario), but I just didn’t feel that spark. Then, I remembered a video I saw from the Youtuber RelaxAlax a few days ago, on New Super Mario Bros.:

Early on in the video, he talks about how nobody, well, talks about this game. It made me realize that I actually have that issue myself. Somehow, whenever the discussion on the 2D Mario games crops up, this one is left in the dust. I’ve spoken with friends about how influential the old 2D games were. I’ve shared my love/hate relationship with the multiplayer of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, I’ve mocked New Super Mario Bros. 2, and New Super Mario Bros. U still sticks out to me as being too much of the same, a weak launch offering for what I feel was one of Nintendo’s weakest systems. But good old New Super Mario Bros., as simultaneously dependable and reinvigorating as it was when I first played it eleven (nearly twelve) years ago, always gets forgotten. I gloss over it, forgetting that it exists, even though there’s so much worth discussing.

So why not? Let’s look back at New Super Mario Bros..

Every child’s dream come true.

I first played New Super Mario Bros. (henceforth just ‘NSMB’, because I’m lazy) in 2006. I had been gifted with a DS Lite for my birthday, and was allowed to pick out two games to go with it. As a puny ten year old with no scope yet for what video games could be beyond Nintendo’s own offerings, two games drew my attention: Mario Kart DS and this one.

To me, NSMB was a breath of fresh air. I could never manage to get past the first few levels in the older games, but within an hour of playing NSMB, I was already on World 2! Already, it was a 10/10 experience.

(Spoiler alert: I am truly terrible at video games, but that’s a topic for another time).

NSMB has a couple notable moments in its very first world that I would argue even today are game-changing. The first is the appearance of the Mega Mushroom in the very first level. When I first touched that giant yellow mushroom and saw Mario swelling up, taking over most of the screen, my jaw dropped. Here I was just running and jumping along and then suddenly BOOM, I was obliterating everything in my path. Enemies flew off the screen, bricks burst into pieces, and even the pipes cracked into pieces effortlessly. I rampaged across the grasslands, destroying everything that dared to be placed in my path, until I came across the end of the level.

“Surely the flag pole will be indestructible.” – 10 year old me, already well-acquainted with the common disappointing limitations of video games.

Disappointment already weighed heavily upon my heart. I had walked right through the brick staircase as though it were made of paper, but there was the flagpole. I knew how this would work; I would walk up to it and find myself blocked from proceeding by an invisible wall until the Mega Mushroom’s timer ran out. Even still, I knew that to give into my disappointment and just stand there waiting for the inevitable would be boring. I continued forward…

and then the flagpole was gone.

No way, I thought to myself, my eyes wide and disbelieving, but there was the evidence right before my eyes. Mario was shrinking down, the end-of-level jingle was playing, and there was the busted remnants of the flagpole’s base. It was real. I had actually destroyed the flagpole, the one thing that I had been so certain Nintendo would never let me destroy. This was a whole new game, a whole new Mario; anything could happen.

I continued on throughout the rest of the world without too much trouble, until I came across Bowser at the end of the castle. No big deal, I thought to myself; it was a cool throwback to Super Mario Bros.. The battle itself was simple enough, and in no time at all, Bowser was falling into the lava, just as I had seen so many times before.

“You know, I wonder how Bowser always survives falling into lava like that.” – The idle curiosities of 10 year old me, having just defeated Bowser.

Only, Bowser came back up, looking like he was… drowning in the lava? Trying to break free? He fell back down into the lava, and then….

“OH GOD WHERE DID HIS SKIN GO?!?!” – 10 year old me, approximately five seconds later.

It was another game changer. Bowser hadn’t just fallen into the lava and shrugged it off; his skin had literally melted off of his bones. There was a part of me that was shaken, I won’t lie, but in a good way. My heart was pounding; first they let me demolish a level, and then the flagpole, and now they had allowed me to seemingly kill Bowser for good? All in the first world?

And here I was, thinking that this would just be like any other old Mario game. Silly me.

The unexpected surprises continued with World 4 and World 7, which I actually skipped entirely during my first play through of the game. It wasn’t until much later that I discovered how you could access them… and it took me even longer to actually succeed.

(Like I said, I am terrible at video games, and the Mini Mushroom just made things worse. In a good way).

I think it was a really interesting way to hide content away, so that only the most determined or skilled players can get to it. It encourages you to replay stages with an additional challenge, and serves as an open invitation to hunt down any secrets that might be hiding throughout the rest of the game. It helped that (at least for me) the bosses of World 2 and World 5 – the ones you must beat as Mini Mario to unlock World 4 and World 7 respectively – were among the most challenging in the game.

NSMB also started the trend of having a “false” final boss battle. After making your way through a series of ‘dark forest’ themed levels, you find yourself at what seems to be the end of the game. It’s a rematch against Bowser – or rather, fitting the theme of the last several levels, Dry Bowser. Impervious to everything except for the Mega Mushroom and Super Star (neither of which you’re likely to have on hand, especially if you’re as bad as I am), he’s a nice bump up from the fight back in World 1. He’s still very simple to defeat, however, and I did find myself somewhat disappointed the first time – only to be pleasantly surprised yet again when the second half of the world unlocked.

The second half was your more typical ‘final world’ sort of fare. Lava themed, Bowser’s Castle, and another showdown with the Koopa King himself. Coming on the heels of what came before it, however, made this last stretch feel fresher than it would have otherwise. I enjoyed the added touch of Bowser Jr. participating in the true final battle; while the game could have used more variance in its mini bosses, it was nice to have his constant presence throughout the adventure come to its conclusion at the climax of the adventure.

I wish more Mario games tried stuff like this. It’s always a fun moment when more content reveals itself.

NSMB brought a lot to the table. While its approach to returning 2D Mario games to the spotlight was minimalist at first glance, digging a little deeper reveals a game stuffed to the brim with surprises. It was the first 2D Mario game that I ever managed to beat. It’s charming, from its graphics to its music. The game is easy to learn, but difficult to master. It introduced me to the DS, was one of the first mobile gaming experiences that I ever had, and ultimately remains one of the few mobile gaming experiences that I have deemed worth my time to replay after its conclusion.

(I’ll admit that some of the draw includes the mini games and the stellar ‘Mario vs. Luigi’ mode, but I think I’ll save those for another time).

So why do I forget about NSMB? Why do I so often pass it by? I could try to blame it on the time of my life that I played it, except that I played through Mario Kart DS at the exact same time, and boy oh boy, my nostalgia for that particular title is no laughing matter.

If I had to guess, I think it’s partially the fault of the later games in the series. When it came out, NSMB was an entirely fresh experience. It was modern Mario brought into the 2D space, the first 2D Mario in nearly a decade and a half (and on the go, no less!). It introduced new power-ups, new moves, and new ideas. It was new. It earned its title. But the later games failed to retain this philosophy; at least New Super Mario Bros. Wii has the distinction of being the first truly multiplayer Mario game, and introduced several fun new power-ups of its own. But the rest of the series fell into a trap; they re-use the same environments, the same bosses, and even the same music (or at least, remixes that don’t do enough to stand out from the originals). It leaves the series as a whole feeling very lazy, despite how fresh NSMB felt when I first played it.

Other than that, I think the rest of the problem is, in a way, NSMB itself. It intentionally calls back to the older games, particularly Super Mario Bros., with its classically styled Bowser showdowns and its flagpoles and its environments that do little to stray from those of Super Mario World. Its most distinctive power-up – the Mega Mushroom – doesn’t change how Mario looks aesthetically. Its music is catchy, but compared to older games in the series, none of it is especially memorable, and aside from Bowser (or Dry Bowser) himself, even the bosses fail to stand out from the crowd.

This is all okay; NSMB was designed to introduce a whole new generation to the 2D Mario games, but it was also designed to show older fans that yes, the Mario they had grown up with was still around and better than ever. For what it set out to accomplish, I think NSMB is an amazing game, and having taken this time to look back and re-examine my experiences with it, I don’t think I’ll overlook it like I used to. It is a game that deserves to be remembered, and a game that deserves mention, no matter how lackluster its sequels might have become.

So that’s my look back at New Super Mario Bros. – a fresh, surprising, and fantastic platforming game for the Nintendo DS. A game that helped to define my childhood, and some of my earliest independent gaming experiences.

It’s a game well worth playing, so if you have the opportunity, I highly suggest you try it out.

What are your thoughts on the game? Is there a different title you think I should take a look at? Feel free to let me know in the comments below!

I’ll see you all in 3 days for the next entry. Until then, game on.



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