Before I saw that first commercial for New Super Mario Bros. (NSMB) on the Nintendo DS, I can honestly say it had been years since I thought of a side-scrolling Mario game. I mean…like, SNES years. As most of us know, that system provided to the world some of the best Mario games around. And then Super Mario 64 was released, and it changed everyone’s perceptions of platform gaming, Mario, and even Nintendo. In the Mario cannon, I guess…what, 2002’s Super Mario Sunshine would be NSMB.’s closest relative. So why wait four years, not just to give the world another Mario game, but to give the world another 2D side-scrolling Mario game? And not just any 2D side-scrolling Mario game, but a complete retool of the original NES Super Mario Bros.?
Hell if I know. Maybe it had something to do with the twenty(ish) year anniversary of Super Mario Bros.. When the DS was launched in 2004, Mario fans got a port of Super Mario 64 (DS), which was all fine and dandy. But it wasn’t new. The next year we got Mario Kart DS. Okay again, but not new. Then 2006 rolled round and Nintendo announced early in the year that NSMB was going to be a thing to make all the fans go wild. It’s going to feature a return to the platforming mechanics that made Mario famous, but it’s going to be all prettified with new environments and power-ups for the DS. Woohoo, right? You u bet yer ass, right! I mean, c’mon. GIANT MARIO?!! You got to stomp around all crazy like through levels and so on and so forth?! How could that be anything but AWESOME?!
It was with that blinding excitement that I pre-ordered my copy of NSMB for my then-mostly-new DS. I had already played through and enjoyed Super Mario 64 DS – it was fun revisiting all of the game’s haunts and collecting stars. But for me, playing it was less about gaming for new experiences and more about gaming for nostalgia. The thing about NSMB was that it felt new. (That’s been the driving force behind the NSMB. “series” – just enough is changed and added to make each game seem like a new experience.)
I got NSMB during a personal gaming high tide. I was in the throes of a new job that I really liked and was riding a wave of positivity. With money in the bank and time on my side, I was able to devote not only my train commutes to gaming but also a few spare hours a week. (Oh, the relive the bygone days of yore!) I usually saved my DS for the train, but then, for a short while, it became regular part of our home gaming setup. Before I devoted myself to something more “hardcore,” I whipped out my DS for a round or three of New Super Mario Bros. It only took me little more a week of regular play to beat the game, but the extra coins and secrets kept me coming back for more.
And therein lays another secret of the success of the New Super Mario games – the secrets! You may recall a time when everyone went bananas over discovering warp zones and the World -1 glitch in the original Super Mario Bros. Well, nothing in New Super Mario Bros. quite conjured up the same astonishment in the eye-rolling, jaded world of the 2000s, but that didn’t chance the fact that NSMB offered up lots of secrets to uncover. Plus, there were those special coins that, if you collected them all, opened up other secrets. PLUS! There were minigames! Okay, so there were minigames in Super Mario 64 DS, but…minigames! And fun minigames, too! All these factors added to the games’ enjoyment and replayability. Because honestly, was anyone going to pick up NSMB for the story? For the deep character development? For the innovative mechanics?? (She said completely straight-faced.)
I’m not saying that I’d be pleased to see a “New Super Mario” game every year, a la Assassin’s Creed, but I’d more than likely buy into the trend. (Shoot, I already have.) There’s something soul-soothing in 2D platformers – the running, the jumping, the battles – and Mario continues hits all the right nostalgia/fun buttons in that regard. The Wii and Wii U versions of NSMB have well elevated the original Super Mario Bros. concept, but there’s something to be said about playing the one that really kicked things off. And on the DS, that grandfather of the best series of handhelds going. And you know what you don’t get in the Wii and Wii U versions?