Super Mario Sunshine Review

Ever since its release on the GameCube in 2002, Super Mario Sunshine has been one of the black sheep of the Super Mario series. Its water pack-themed gameplay and stagnant setting certainly make it stand out from other Mario titles, but it’s those same elements (and a handful of others) that have always prevented Sunshine from being the kind of revered classic that Mario is used to starring in.

It’s all relative, of course. On its own merits, Super Mario Sunshine still provides a great gaming experience, and it probably holds up better than the other 3D platformers of the GameCube/PS2/Xbox era. If it were an entry in another series, Sunshine may have been a defining moment. But in a series that houses more “best games ever” than any other, simply being “great” isn’t great enough. Sunshine was a victim of its own expectations.

Those expectations certainly were high, seeing as Sunshine was the follow-up to Super Mario 64, a title that changed the direction of gaming from then on out. And with a six year build-up to a 64 sequel, suffice to say Sunshine had a lot to live up to. Those shoes were simply too big to fill.

If we take a step back and look at Sunshine on its own merits –  away from all-time greats like Super Mario Bros. 3, World, 64, Yoshi’s Island, and the later Galaxy games – it’s easy to see that there’s a lot to love in Mario’s polarized GameCube outing.

In Super Mario Sunshine, Mario, Princess Peach, and a group of Toads are vacationing to the island resort of Isle Delfino. Of course, there’s never time for Mario to catch a break, and no sooner does Peach’s plane land on the island’s airstrip that they realize something is horribly wrong, with a toxic goop polluting the landing pad. Mario quickly finds a strange, talking water pack called F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dowsing Device), and uses it to clean up the airstrip (why anyone else couldn’t use F.L.U.D.D. when it was just lying around is anyone’s guess). As it turns out, the whole island is being covered in this strange goop, with the culprit being a Mario doppleganger attempting to frame Mario for the ordeal.

Sure enough – despite the doppleganger’s obvious blue, gelatinous body – the inhabitants of Isle Delfino (the tree-headed, big-nosed Piantas and the hermit crab-esque Nokis) hold Mario responsible for the crime, and sentence him to clean up the island and clear his good name. It’s definitely a nice change of pace from Peach getting kidnapped (though that happens a little later as well), but the voice acting (yes, voice acting) leaves a lot to be desired.

That’s all besides the point really. Mario games are never about the story, and all this polluted island clean-up business is little more than a reason to introduce the new water-based mechanics.

Being a sequel to Super Mario 64, Sunshine plays very similarly to its revolutionary predecessor. Mario retains his triple jumps, summersaults, wall jumps, butt stomps and dives that he learned in 64, only now he has possession of the F.L.U.D.D. to give him new moves.

The two primary functions of F.L.U.D.D. are the squirt nozzle and the hover nozzle, with players being able to switch between the functions with the press of a button. The squirt nozzle is used to clean up sludge and to shoot other objects when necessary, while the hover nozzle, as its name implies, allows Mario to hover for a short time, which really comes in handy for some of the trickier platforming.

Additionally, two other nozzles are acquired later in the game, and are more or less Sunshine’s equivalent to the usual Mario power-ups, as they temporarily replace the hover nozzle when obtained. The turbo nozzle allows Mario to move super fast, being able to break through certain walls and run on water, while the rocket nozzle gives Mario a higher jump than he’s ever had before or since.

“Drink up.”

Although F.L.U.D.D. may seem a bit on the gimmicky side, it’s a gimmick that ultimately works, as it adds a new twist on 64’s platforming mechanics. Meanwhile the fact that you’ll frequently have to “reload” it by finding a body of water to recharge gives it a little something of a shooter element (I can’t help but feel Splatoon borrowed a little something from F.L.U.D.D.). And the idea of a water-based platformer is still an intriguing concept looking back on it today.

Best of all is that Sunshine’s Mario controls so well. Mario wrote the rulebook on how to make a platforming hero control fluidly, and Sunshine provides some of the most cohesive controls in the entire series. Aside from wall jumping sometimes being a little finicky, I can’t think of much to complain about in the control department.

Sadly, not everything in Sunshine works as well as Mario and F.L.U.D.D. The camera, though an improvement over 64’s, still suffers a bit from the same faults of its predecessor. A number of bonus areas, in which Mario is thrown into more cramped platforming gauntlets, are particularly hindered by the camerawork, as it can be difficult to get the camera in the right angle while simultaneously trying to make sure Mario doesn’t fall to his doom on a tricky, moving platform.

Similarly, you may find that there are more than a few technical issues with the game. Though they may be small and (mostly) inconsequential, pointing out technical issues in a mainline Mario title is normally unheard of. But it seems Sunshine didn’t have as much time to receive the usual “Mario polish,” and you may find Mario getting stuck or an enemy’s animation not showing up more often than you’d like.

Still, while these flaws are notable, they’re hardly game-breaking. With how well Mario controls, along with the overall execution of the level and mission designs, it’s hard to complain too much.

Super Mario Sunshine ultimately has a similar structure to 64, with Mario traversing a central hub world to access the “proper” stages, which house a series of missions, each one capped off with acquiring a Shine Sprite (Sunshine’s equivalent to 64‘s Power Stars). There are, however, a few differences that perhaps played a part in Sunshine’s more divisive reception.

“Sunshine reeeally likes falling back on the red coin missions.”

The first of these differences is that Sunshine is actually more linear than 64. Contrary to recent popular opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with linear games, but considering that many like to praise 64 and Sunshine for being the “sandbox” Mario games, it may surprise some to revisit Sunshine and find out that’s only true to an extent. While Banjo-Kazooie dropped players into a stage to unearth its collectibles at their leisure, 64 and Sunshine’s mission-based level format gave a set objective that needed to be accomplished at that time. 64 did actually allow players to tamper with that format, as they could at times accomplish the requirements for a stage’s later stars while attempting to get an earlier one, but Sunshine doesn’t share that element, instead having the selected mission dictate the Shine Sprite to be collected almost entirely (the only exceptions being a handful of the game’s hidden Shines, or a level’s obligatory 100-coin Shine Sprite). The delightful hub world of Delfino Plaza is where the game is at its most open, but the stages themselves are more limiting.

Again, that’s not a bad thing per se, but perhaps one reason Galaxy was so warmly received is that it was more honest with its linearity. Galaxy had level structure that was more akin to Super Mario World than 64, so the linearity felt like a cohesive whole. But Sunshine presents its stages as open-world sandboxes but, fun though they may be, they’re not quite that.

One of the other big differences in Sunshine from other Mario titles is that every stage is built around its tropical island theme, which works for better and worse. In terms of better, it makes Isle Delfino feel like an alive location, with the different levels even being visible in the distance of others. In terms of worse, it also means that Sunshine lacks the sense of variety and surprise that the best Mario titles have. Sure, there’s a dose of different locations, like a harbor and a beach and a haunted casino (which is located on another beach…), but there are no castles or giant worlds to speak of. Isle Delfino is definitely a unique location in the series, but it seems to be in some kind of bubble away from the franchise’s usual fairy tale elements.

That’s not to say that Sunshine is devoid of the series’ indelible mark of surrealism, as the aforementioned platforming gauntlets that serve as the bonus stages – where Mario is robbed of F.L.U.D.D. and has to rely on his own abilities – seem to be housed in a bizarre, often pixelated dimension, with random shapes and objects suspended in space in such a way that they feel like a precursor to the Galaxy titles. It may not be a surprise that Sunshine’s detractors often single these segments out as the game’s highlights.

“Maybe Yoshi shouldn’t drink so much Hi-C…”

While Mario’s world may seem (relatively) more grounded and less fantastic in this GameCube adventure, there’s still a terrific sense of joy to be had. Many of the Shine Sprites are a blast to obtain, and even Yoshi joined in on the action (albeit sparingly), being able to use his hovering and enemy-eating abilities of the past, while also being able to spit up juice (eewww!), which works similar to F.L.U.D.D. but with its own properties (like turning certain enemies into platforms). Not to mention that Super Mario Sunshine still looks visually impressive for a fifteen year-old game, and its music is upbeat and fun, and perfectly captures the game’s setting.

There are some other disappointing elements though. Not counting Delfino Plaza or the bonus stages, Sunshine only boasts seven proper levels, which is considerably less than Super Mario 64’s fifteen! Yet, the game has just as many Shine Sprites as 64 had Stars (120), with a decent chunk of twenty-four of them being obtained by trading blue coins to a raccoon in Delfino Plaza (ten blue coins for one Shine).

With twice the number of blue coins as there are Shine Sprites, collecting them all may have made for a fun sidequest, especially seeing how some of them are so esoterically hidden (stand on a certain platform and squirt the moon!), that finding them would actually feel more worthwhile if trading them in unlocked some kind of secrets. By simply making them a means to get every Shine Sprite, it makes it feel as though both the Shines and the blue coins were only partly realized. I would have much rather had the game spent more time crafting another level or two for those additional Shine Sprites, and thinking of something more unique to do with the blue coins, then simply slapping them together in what really feels like an effort to save time.

It should once again be emphasized that , while many of these criticisms are just, others are more relative. Sunshine has both the honor and misfortune of being a part of a series with an abnormal consistency in high quality and creative spark. So while Sunshine may be well executed in most respects, and is still a whole lot of fun to play today, its more restrained and conservative sense of invention makes it lesser than most of its Mario series brethren, and its more rushed elements bring it down a peg further.

For most other series, a game of Sunshine’s quality may  have felt like a trip to paradise. But for Mario, it feels like he’s taking a vacation from being the best at what he does.

 

7

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle Review

You really can’t judge a book by its cover. Or in this case, a game by its concept. When news leaked in late 2016 that Ubisoft was making a crossover title between their Rabbids characters and Nintendo’s Super Mario franchsie – one that was rumored to involve guns – gamers were a bit skeptical (to put it lightly). With nothing to go by but those rumors, the entire concept sounded like some batty fanfiction. But now here we are in 2017, and Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle is a reality. And it’s a damn good game. Yes, it’s as strange as it sounds, but it’s also one of the freshest – and best – Mario games in recent years, and one of the best titles on the Nintendo Switch.

Mario + Rabbids really is unlike anything else bearing the Mario name. Though Mario’s world has always been one of surrealism, here it is the more sane of the game’s two clashing worlds. The Rabbids have run amok in the Mushroom Kingdom, bringing with them a sense of irreverence (and toilet humor) that would normally seem out-of-place in Mario’s usual fairy tale world.

The story goes like this: a genius inventor from our world, who also happens to be a Mario Bros. fangirl, has created the “Supamerge,” a device that can combine two objects together. While she’s away, a group of Rabbids arrive in her room/workplace in their inter-dimensional, time-traveling washing machine, and start chaotically playing with all the Mario memorabilia. One Rabbid, however, starts messing around with the Supamerge, and accidentally begins merging his fellow Rabbids with the objects around them. The Rabbid then hits the time washing machine with the Supermerge which, combined with all the Mario-themed items scattered about, inexplicably teleports the Rabbids – along with the genius’ robot assistant Beep-0 – to the Mushroom Kingdom.

From there, the Rabbid who stole the Supamerge accidentally ends up merging with the machine itself, thus giving himself the ability to combine objects. This Rabbid is found by Bowser Jr., who decides to use this Rabbid’s newfound ability to create a mutant Rabbid army and take over the Mushroom Kingdom while Bowser is away on vacation. Naturally, it’s up to Mario to save the day, but he’ll be getting some help from some of his usual friends, as well as a group of Rabbids who were cosplaying as Mario characters when they were merged, thus adopting those characters’ heroic traits.

It’s…it’s insane. Though it seems weird for a Mario game to be so meta as to present itself as a video game in its own story, it does seem a bit less inappropriate due to the outright insane idea behind the game itself. After all, this is a title in which Yoshi wields a machine gun. It’s not exactly the usual Mario fare.

“Depending on positioning, enemies can have 0, 50 or 100 percent cover from fire.”

Gameplay-wise, Mario + Rabbids is a tactical RPG in the vein of XCOM. The game is played in a somewhat isometric perspective, with the segments in between battles featuring some exploration and puzzle-solving elements. Players technically control Beep-0, who guides Mario and friends throughout the exploration segments. Meanwhile, the game features eight playable characters for battles, with players being able to select three of them at a time for their team.

Mario is of course mandatory to be in your party at all times, as is the case in every Mario RPG up to this point. But along the way, Mario will be joined by Luigi, Princess Peach and Yoshi, as well as four Rabbids dressed as those characters (aptly named Rabbid Mario, Rabbid Peach, etc.). Battles take place in grid-like environments, where characters take turns performing their actions. Each character is allowed three actions per turn (movement, attack, and using an ability), with the best part being that, for deeper strategy, you can swap between characters during individual actions, instead of having to blast through all of a character’s actions at a time.

These actions aren’t as simple as just making a move and attacking, however. Character placement is key to victory, and you want to be moving your character somewhere where they can cover from enemy fire, while also having enemies in their line of sight. Additionally, during the movement phase, a character can “dash” into an enemy for some extra damage, and can select a nearby teammate to perform a “team jump” to cover even more distance.

Each character has their own role to play, with everyone having their own combinations of weapons and abilities. Luigi, for example, is a bit of a glass canon; being able to deal great damage from a distance with his sniper-like weaponry, but has the least hit points of all the characters. Meanwhile, Princess Peach is something of a tank, having a large number of hit points, a shotgun-like weapon that deals close range damage, and a shield ability that let’s her soak up half of the damage enemies do to whoever she’s protecting. Rabbid Luigi specializes in debuffing enemies, while Rabbid Peach heals allies.

Even the abilities everyone shares, such as the dashes and team jumps, have unique features depending on the individual character. Mario can, of course, damage enemies by jumping on them with a team jump, while Luigi is the only character who can team jump twice in a row, and Peach’s team jump heals allies nearby to her landing position. While the Mario characters get the better jumping benefits, the Rabbids have the more varied dashing abilities. Rabbid Peach can dash into multiple enemies, while Rabbid Mario’s dash explodes as to damage other nearby foes.

Between every character’s primary weapon, secondary weapon, and special abilities, there’s a wide range of gameplay and strategy options available for every battle. Better still, you gradually unlock more character abilities (or improve those you already have) by upgrading a character’s skill tree. By winning battles and completing certain tasks, you are awarded with Power Orbs, which are essentially experience points, and are used to customize a character’s skill trees to however the player sees fit. You can even respec the characters at any given time.

Power Orbs, as well as coins for buying weapons, come in greater numbers depending on your performance in battle. Should you keep all of your characters alive and finish off enemies within a certain amount of turns, you’ll be given a better grade and better rewards, thus giving you more incentive to thoroughly think through your strategies.

“The game pays homage not only to core Mario titles, but its expanded universe as well, including Donkey Kong Country.”

I can’t compliment the battle system enough. The battles will constantly keep you on your toes and scratching your head wondering how to best tackle the enemies and their tactics, as well as how to use the environment to your advantage. There are even some types of battles that change up the rules – such as escorting Toad or getting a character to a certain point – that add a whole other layer to the battle system’s depth and complexity.

If there’s one downside to battles, it’s that your team options are more limited than you’d like. It’s understandable that Mario has to be in your team, but on top of that, you must also have a Rabbid on your team at any given time. I can understand Ubisoft wanting players to use their characters (who wouldn’t pick all Mario characters if given the option?), but if that needed to be the case, then maybe the team size should have been expanded to four characters instead of three. There were multiple occasions where I knew I would have a battle down pat if I could have both Peach and Luigi on my team. But I couldn’t do that simply because I then wouldn’t have a Rabbid in battle. And when you consider that Princess Peach and Rabbid Peach are the only characters with healing abilities (and there are no healing items in battle), you’ll likely feel the need to have at least one of them on your team at all times. While the battle system itself is insanely fun mechanically, the team limitations can be a bit disappointing at times.

Some may lament that, at only four worlds long, the game may appear to be on the short side. And considering you don’t get Yoshi on your team until midway through the fourth world, he may come across as underutilized. But each of these four worlds are decently lengthy, consisting of nine “chapters” apiece, plus a secret chapter found in each that can only be accessed after the world is otherwise completed. Additionally, after you’ve conquered a world boss, you can replay the world and face a series of challenges which further change up the rules (finish a fight in a set number of turns, get everyone to a specific spot without dying, etc.). And there are a few “Ultimate challenges” that are only available post-game, so little Yoshi still has a lot to do, despite being a last minute addition to the story mode.

Mario + Rabbids is one of the best looking titles on the Nintendo Switch, with clean, colorful graphics that take advantage of the usual Mario aesthetics, combined with a bit more absurdity to compliment the Mushroom Kingdom’s current invaders. I did experience multiple freeze-ups during my playthrough, however. Nothing that affected gameplay, but still frequent enough to note.

The visuals are a definite standout, though there was a little bit of a missed opportunity in combining the Rabbids with traditional Mario enemies. While I enjoyed all the character designs, it does seem a bit weird that Chain Chomps and Boos are the only usual Mario baddies to show up, and even then, they show up as obstacles, not enemies. Not really a complaint, but should there be a sequel, I hope to see some Rabbids donning Koopa shells or riding Lakitu’s cloud, and maybe a Bob-omb with bunny ears.

Along with the battle system, Mario + Rabbids’ biggest highlight is its musical score. Composed by the great Grant Kirkhope, Mario + Rabbids captures a unique flair in the Mario series, but one that should stand alongside the series’ classic scores. From a handful of classic Mario tunes remixed, to the completely original tracks, Mario + Rabbids has a fantastic score that is distinctly Kirkhope. So on top of Mario, Rabbids and XCOM, the game may also bring Banjo-Kazooie to mind. And that’s just swell.

2017 has proven to be a banner year for the video game medium, with one great title being released after another. And Mario + Rabbids is a standout title among that lot. It’s a surprise no one really could have seen coming (even after information on it leaked). It combines two very different franchises, and mixes in some inspirations from others, to create something that feels completely original. It’s far and away the best Rabbids game ever made, and it’s also one of Mario’s best outings in recent memory.

 

7

Mario & Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Arcade Edition Review

M&SATR2K16OGAE

The Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series has been around for a good while now, and its newest edition – which sees characters from the Mario and Sonic universes take part in the Rio Olympics from this past Summer – now brings the series to arcades. The Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games series isn’t exactly the biggest critical darling of either franchise (to put it lightly), so how well does it transition to arcades?

Mario and Sonic at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Arcade Edition follows the same basic formula of its predecessors: Players pick one of several Mario or Sonic characters, and partake in mini-games themed after Olympic sports. The difference here is that the arcade cabinets provide some unique control schemes.

Two large joysticks are placed in front of the player, while they simultaneously stand on a footpad similar to those found in Dance Dance Revolution games. So a 100m Dash will see players start the game holding the joysticks in a way that mimics the starting positions of Olympic racers, before running in place on the footpad to simulate the actual racing portion, to name one example.

Admittedly, most of the mini-games are kind of fun (my favorite being archery, which uses the left joystick to aim, and the right joystick to pull the bow and release the arrow), but there is one huge problem… they are all way too short.

Granted, the sports featured are mini-games, but even with that moniker, they end incredibly briefly. I’m not even exaggerating when I say that watching the tutorials for some of the games is actually longer than the games themselves (archery is an exception, which may explain why I enjoyed it more than the others). The worst part is every time you put credits into the arcade cabinet, all you get is one game. So you’re more or less putting tokens in the machine for lengthy tutorials and only a brief snippet of gameplay. At least in Mario Kart Arcade GP you get a full race every time you play.

What makes things all the worse is that the games are chosen at random. So not only are the games short, but you don’t even have control over which ones you play. If you’re going solo, it would be nice to just pick one of the games, and would it be too much to ask for both players to vote for a game and then have one of said games selected when playing multiplayer?

Really, there’s not much else to the game. The arcade setup and physicality that comes with make for a few minutes of fun. But the utter brevity of the games, combined with their random selections, don’t give the game a whole lot of value. Play a round or two with a friend, but don’t be surprised if your tokens quickly go elsewhere.

 

3

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX Review

MKAGPDX

Mario Kart as been one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises. Every major platform since the SNES has seen the release of a new Mario Kart title, and in more recent years, Nintendo has teamed with Namco Bandai Games to produce a series of Mario Kart titles for arcades. The third and most recent of which, Super Mario Arcade GP DX, can be played in many arcades in Japan and in the west. But just how well does this arcade installment stack up against the traditional entries on Nintendo’s platforms?

In many ways, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is a pretty interesting game. Not only does it bring Mario Kart to arcades, but in many instances you are able to save data so that you keep unlocked features with future visits (though not every arcade provides the means to save progress, and simply have many of the game’s aspects unlocked from the get-go). Then there are silly little details that could only work in arcades, like taking a photo of yourself with a pirate hat or Rosalina’s hair to be displayed over your character for other players to see.

Gameplay-wise, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is a pretty faithful transition for the franchise to arcade cabinets. The game is controlled via arcade wheel, with an acceleration and brake pedal being included to better mimic real-life driving. It definitely feels appropriate for an arcade version, though admittedly the wheel’s controls can feel a tad oversensitive.

Naturally, like any Mario Kart, the game is at its best when played with others. Most arcades that feature the game have multiple cabinets. Players can not only race against each other, but can even team up against computers, or have two-on-two races between players. Some of these modes even include special items that see players’ vehicles join together, with one player temporarily becoming the driver, and the other firing a barrage of weapons, Double Dash style.

On the downside of things, some of the classic Mario Kart aspects – namely the items and tracks – have been watered down. While it’s understandable for certain features to be simplified in the arcades, I can’t help but feel that the game went about the simplification in the wrong way.

Items are now placed into three categories: items that are launched in front of you, items that are dropped behind you, and special items. This not only takes out the variety in the Mario Kart weaponry, but in each race you’re only able to get a single item in each category, which – like your Kart – are determined via roulette wheel. So not only do you not have most of the classic Mario Kart items at your disposal (all but the Koopa Shells are replaced with more generic items like road signs),  but you don’t even have control as to which items you get, or what kart you drive.

The tracks themselves also have a strong lack in variety. Although there are still a few different cups to choose from (each containing four tracks), each track within a cup has a striking similarity to each other in both layout and themes (every track in Mario Cup resembles a beach, for example, while Bowser Jr. Cup is all about airships).

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is definitely a fun time at the arcade, especially if you happen to get three other players to join in. Unfortunately, its feeling of being simplified for the arcades is a bit too prominent, which removes a good deal of variety and depth from the formula. It’s definitely worth a few tokens if you have some friends or other arcade patrons playing with or against you. Just don’t expect to spend a whole lot of time on it, even if you have the tokens to do so.

 

5

Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) Review

SSB64

Super Smash Bros. quickly became one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. And how could it not? It’s a fighting series where Nintendo’s most beloved characters duke it out with sumo-style rules, and Mario Kart-esque weapons. But after the sequels built so strongly on the series’ formula, going back to the original may come us a slight disappointment. While the 1999 original Super Smash Bros. remains a fun game in its own right, it feels more than a little empty when compared to any of its sequels.

As stated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game where – rather than depleting your opponents’ health – the goal is to accumulate enough damage to send them flying off the screen, thus eliminating them. It’s a simple enough setup, but it has proven so much fun that the series has produced some of the most insanely replayable games of all time.

On the downside, much of the depth found in the gameplay wouldn’t arrive until the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee would add more moves, more specials, and tighter mechanics. Brawl would add Final Smashes and some really creative movesets. And the recent Wii U and 3DS editions add depth and polish to pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

By comparison, the N64 original feels barren. Here, the characters only have three special attacks (performed with B, B + up, and B + down), as opposed to the four found in Melee and subsequent titles. Even more notably, the number of standard attacks each character has is incredibly limited. There are no Smash attacks or more intricate moves. You can’t midair dodge, or perform very many fancy combos. You only have a few directional ground and midair attacks, and the aforementioned specials. The gameplay is still fun at its core, but knowing just how much depth the sequels added to the equation, it’s easy to feel that the original Smash Bros. is a bit dated.

On top of that, some of the mechanics also haven’t aged too well. Here, opponents will be sent flying off-stage with relatively little damage. In later entries, opponents usually need to be well above the one-hundred damage mark before you can think about sending them packing. But here, you can defeat enemies after having only dealt about half of that damage. This leaves many battles feeling incredibly short. Another downside is just how slow the characters move. Many people complained that the characters in Brawl moved too slowly, but I might assume those same people hadn’t played the original in a good, long while. Here, the characters move so slowly and jump so floaty it’s hard to complain about Brawl’s movements by comparison.

SSB64On the bright side, the original Super Smash Bros. featured an indisputable roster of deserving characters. From the get-go, players can select Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud and Pikachu, while the secret characters include Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon and Ness. It’s an incredibly small roster compared to the sequels, but it also benefits by predating the clones, self-damaging characters, and seemingly random character selections found in later games. Every character here strongly represents Nintendo’s diverse franchises, and you can’t really complain about the the character inclusions (though it is a shame the low memory of the N64 meant that Princess Peach, Bowser and King Dedede were left out of the mix until later entries).

Super Smash Bros. also featured a good number of fun items and a small but creative selection of stages, each one boasting their own gimmicks. There are also some additional modes to be found, though understandably, there’s not nearly as much content as there would be in future installments.

Single player modes are limited to an arcade-style “story mode,” where you battle in a series of fights until you make your way to the Master Hand, and the mini-games Break the Target and Board the Platforms. They aren’t much, and once you’ve played through them to unlock the secret characters, you’ll probably be sticking with the multiplayer battles.

The original Super Smash Bros. is still a fun game, particularly with a full group of four players. But it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as any of its sequels. The game feels prototypical and a bit shallow, and it simply isn’t nearly as fun as Melee, Brawl or the Wii U and 3DS editions. It does hold up better than many of the other multiplayer titles on the N64, however.

If you want to play a more definitive and deep Smash Bros. experience, stick to the Wii U version. But if you simply want to have some old fashioned, multiplayer fun, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

7

Mario’s Time Machine Review

Mario's Time Machine

You may think a title like Mario’s Time Machine is pretty cool. The idea of Mario traveling through time could make for a compelling game. But it would only take one quick glance at this 1993 SNES title’s cover art to realize one thing: This is an edutainment game. Worse still, it’s from the same people that created Mario is Missing.

It can be hard to think that a game like Mario’s Time Machine actually exists. There were a few Mario edutainment games during the early 90s, but most were on the PC. It’s baffling enough to think that Mario is Missing managed to find its way onto actual Nintendo platforms, but for it to manage a quasi-sequel on the Super Nintendo makes this scenario all the more surreal. Somehow it’s even weirder to see Mario inhabit real world locations for a second time, as he’s now meeting up with historical figures.

Mario's Time MachineIn Mario’s Time Machine, Bowser has once again stolen artifacts from around the world, this time through different time periods. So Mario sets out to retrieve these artifacts from Bowser’s museum, and use his own time machine to get these artifacts back to their rightful place.

The game immediately starts with Mario in Boswer’s museum, where different pedestals hold different items. The museum is separated into three floors, with each floor housing five items that need to be returned.

Mario can pick up one of the items from a pedestal by pressing the X button on the SNES controller. After you’ve picked up a particular item, a press of the R button opens up a screen for the player to do some homework. Homework in a Mario game. How exciting.

The homework acts like a kind of Madlib,with players filling in blank spots in biographical papers on historical people. As if this “gameplay” aspect weren’t thrilling enough, the menus of words that show up for each space contain way too many options for how simple the questions are, all of which are listed in alphabetical order, and cycling through them is just tedious. No matter how easy the questions may be, you’ll spend a good amount of time on these homework pages just because cycling through the words takes so long.

To make matters worse, if you somehow get three wrong answers on a single word, it takes you out of the homework menu, and you have to open it back up again. Yes, that’s a small punishment, but that just makes the process that much more tedious. Why does it even need to close out of the homework screen? It’s not like a full-on game over or anything, so why bother closing the menu if the player can just open it right back up again?

After you finish filling out the homework, Mario needs to travel back in time. To do so, you first need to hit the L button, which brings down the time machine. Then, you have to scroll through different places in the world, fill out the year, and select either B.C. or A.D. and then press the A button.

Mario's Time MachineHere’s where things get really messed up. Instead of taking you directly to the desired time and place, Mario is transported to a surfing mini-game. In this surfing mini-game, Mario must collect 10 mushrooms and then enter a whirlpool to finally get to the selected time. But Mario must also avoid sea urchins, which eliminate all of Mario’s collected mushrooms. And entering a whirlpool before gaining ten mushrooms won’t take you anywhere. To make this whole process all the worse, the player doesn’t actually know whether they’ve selected the right time and place until after the surfing mini-game. So if you accidentally hit a wrong number or forgot to flip the B.C./A.D. switch (which is very much possible with how small it is), you just have to wait until you’ve finished the surfing mini-game before you realize you messed up.

After you’ve arrived at the destination, all you do is find the historical figure, and talk to them to return the item. Rinse and repeat this process over and over, and that’s it. It’s hard to imagine it could be any more monotonous.

On the plus side, Mario’s Time Machine at least feels like it could be educational to young audiences, which is something Mario is Missing can’t boast. The problem though is that the game itself lacks any shred of depth, and its setup is overly convoluted, made all the more so by the fact that the game features no instructions on how the mechanics of the game work. It would be easier and less time-consuming for kids to just do actual homework than to try to figure out the details of Mario’s Time Machine. And even if they do figure it out, it doesn’t change how bland and tedious the game is.

There’s really not much else to say about Mario’s Time Machine. It may feel more educational than Mario is Missing, but it’s every bit as bad of a game. Just stay in school, kids. And keep playing actual Mario games. Let’s hope the two don’t come together again anytime soon…

 

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Mario is Missing Review

Mario is Missing

There are many reasons why the Super Mario series holds such a lofty status in the world of video games, with one of the biggest of those reasons being its versatility. Throughout the years, the Mario series has weaved its way into various genres to great success. The Mario Kart series is probably the most famous such sub-series, while the Mario RPGs have created adventures that rival the core platformers of the series. Even sports genres like tennis and golf have benefitted from having the Mario characters crossover into them. But there is one genre that Mario could not successfully transition to, even through multiple attempts: edutainment.

During the earlier part of the 1990s, Nintendo licensed a number of developers to create “educational” Mario games, all of them falling flat. There is arguably no more infamous example of this experiment than 1992’s Mario is Missing.

Nintendo likes to boast 2001’s GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion as the first time Luigi had the spotlight ahead of his more famous, red-clad brother. The truth is that Mario is Missing beat it to the punch by nine years, as this marked the first time Luigi was the sole playable character in a Mario game, as Mario himself has been kidnapped by Bowser. You can’t really blame Nintendo for rewriting history, however, because this was one awful debut for Luigi as a leading man.

How does one even begin to describe Mario is Missing? Well, as previously stated, it is an attempt at creating an educational Mario game, with the key word there being attempt. After Mario is kidnapped, Luigi travels to Bowser’s castle in Antarctica to rescue him. Yes, Bowser’s castle is inexplicably in Antarctica, and this game takes place not in the Mushroom Kingdom, Dinosaur Land, or any fun, imaginative world we’d grown accustomed to in Mario games, but in the real world. How fun…

Bowser’s castle contains three floors (think of them as worlds), with each floor containing five doors to different real world locations (think of them as levels). After all five levels in a world have been cleared, Luigi must face a “boss fight” (note the quotation marks) in order to get one step closer to rescuing Mario.

As soon as you enter a door and walk into a real-world location, the game looks somewhat like a traditional Mario sidescroller, with Luigi even boasting a similar sprite to that of Super Mario World (though his overalls look more purple here than blue). There are even Koopa Troopas running about the place.

That’s about where all similarities to anything relating to a real Mario game stop though. The environments, as you might expect, look as similar to their real-world counterparts as they can, given the 16-bit limitations. More alarming are the presence of five generic passersby in every level (always the same five passersby mind you. These people really get around). Luigi still has to jump on Koopa Troopas though, as three randomly-placed Koopas on each level contain an “artifact,” which are necessary to move forward in the game.

Mario is Missing
“You must be this tall to talk to me.”

Here’s where things get really baffling. In order to return these artifacts to their rightful places, Luigi must find the landmark they belong to and speak to the woman at the information booth (who looks suspiciously like Princess Peach) at each landmark. But Luigi can’t just speak to the woman at the information booth at any time, with the presumptive reason being that he’s too short to reach her window. The Mario Bros. were never that short! And why does it even matter? It’s not like he’s trying to get on a roller coaster or something.

So how does Luigi reach the window? By riding on top of Yoshi, of course! And how do you get a hold of Yoshi? By first discovering where you are on Earth so Yoshi can find you! You can find out your current location by asking the aforementioned passersby where you are, to which they always drop a hint (because why give a direct answer?). If you’ve figured it out, then you pause the game, go to a world map menu where you control Yoshi, and bring him to your current whereabouts (or if you’re playing today, you can read up the locations online and save yourself this cumbersome first step).

Mario is MissingI will admit, this world map is one of the few things in the game I like, because it is literally a map of the continents of the Earth reworked into the style of Super Mario World’s world map. The cleverness stops there though, since the game doesn’t bother to do anything creative with Yoshi whether you get the location right or wrong. You just un-pause and either Luigi will suddenly be riding Yoshi or not. And all Yoshi does is make you move slightly faster and boost you high enough to talk to the woman at the information booths.

Once you’ve reach the required height to communicate, you can return the artifacts you’ve found to the information booth if you can at first answer two questions about the landmark. At this point you can enter the landmark to snap a photo. Once all three artifacts are returned, you need to backtrack to the blue pipe you came out of at the start of the level (Bowser’s doors apparently lead to pipes), and then you repeat this process ad nauseam. It is one of the most tedious setups I have ever seen in a game, and it’s made all the worse by the mechanics of the game itself.

For starters, there’s Luigi’s jumping. You would think with all the Mario games that the developers could have referenced for smooth jumping controls, that it shouldn’t be so difficult to pull off. But Luigi’s jumping here feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point that you may wonder if anyone involved with the game’s development had ever played a Mario game before. Another weird thing about the jumping is that the perspective doesn’t seem to mean anything, as Koopa Troopas often appear to be in the background behind Luigi, yet you can still jump on them as if they were right in front of you. You can’t die either, so I guess the Koopas can’t hit you from where they are, even though you can hit them.

Even worse than all of this are the mechanics involving the stage progression. As if the process of it all wasn’t convoluted enough, the levels themselves are almost maze-like, with Luigi getting to the different sections of a stage by crossing the street to go into the background or foreground. You must be standing directly in the center of the sidewalk when you do this though, which just makes things that much more tedious. To add insult to injury, in order to remember where you, the landmarks, the passersby and the Koopa Troopas are, you have to repeatedly pause the game and look at a map. This level map is different from the Yoshi one, mind you, and looks a lot more cluttered.

Another annoyance comes from just trying to talk to people. You would think you would just have to press a button when you’re close to them, like in any reasonable game, but you’d be wrong. You have to stand directly in front of them, while facing them, and then press the button. This isn’t so easy considering these people are constantly moving. Luigi just can’t catch a break when it comes to talking to people, can he?

Once you’ve finally managed to get the artifacts and Yoshi, some of the most frustrating mechanics of rear their ugly heads. For one thing, Luigi can only trade the most recently obtained artifact. So let’s say you’ve picked up artifacts A, B and C, and are right next to the landmark that relates to artifact B, you can’t trade it in right there. Instead you have to drag yourself all the way to landmark C and trade that one in first. You do have the option of getting one artifact at a time and trading them in piece by piece, but that also means after you’ve completed one artifact you have to backtrack, find the right Koopa Troopas, and repeat the process all over again. No matter how you tackle it, it’s obnoxiously tedious.

Even the questions at the information booth can be a pain. Yes, this is an educational game for kids, so the questions are generally really easy. But every now and again they’ll throw you an odd one like “Amazingly, the pyramids of Egypt were built without —-” with some potential answers being “nails” (the correct choice) and “air conditioning.” So if “nails” is the the only correct answer, does that imply that ancient Egyptians did indeed have air conditioning? That’s real educational. Worse still, if you get the wrong answer to a question, you have to wait about ten seconds before you can talk to the woman at the information booth again, which just drags this whole mess out just that much longer.

Perhaps worst of all is that, when a world is all done and you think you may be rewarded with a boss fight that may resemble something fun, all the bosses do is go back and forth over and over and over again. They also can’t kill you, so they’re basically just waiting for you to jump on their heads a few times while they run around aimlessly. It’s exactly the same for all three bosses: Ludwig, Iggy and Roy. Yes, Roy is the final boss, and Bowser is just taken out in a cinematic. He didn’t even want to bother this time around.

In short, Mario is Missing fails tremendously as both a video game and an educational experience. It’s unrelentingly tedious, and doesn’t even play well. There have been other bad Mario games through the years, but even they usually have some redeeming attributes. But it is honestly difficult to find much of anything to praise about Mario is Missing (though I suppose I did enjoy some of the music tracks, which humorously remix Super Mario World themes in the styles of particular countries). And it’s made all the more painful by the fact that it drags the Mario series into this mess.

I’m starting to think Mario purposefully went missing, as a means to avoid starring in this stinker of a game.

 

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Mario Kart: Super Circuit Review

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Though every Nintendo console and handheld since the SNES has had its own iteration of Mario Kart, the Game Boy Advance’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit is the only entry that plays like a direct sequel to the SNES’ Super Mario Kart. If you’re a fan of the original, then Super Circuit may be worth a revisit. Just know that it hasn’t aged quite as well as Super Mario Kart, and its transition to the Wii U Virtual Console has removed some key features.

Super Circuit retains the play style of Super Mario Kart, where courses are mostly flat and straightforward when compared to the other sequels in the series (though they retain the fun Mario themes). Much like the original game, it feels more like the tracks are moving instead of the character, which can take some getting used to, especially when one realizes the turns are much sharper and the vehicles more slippery than in Super Mario Kart. It doesn’t feel as immediately fun as the SNES game, but for those with the patience for it, Super Circuit ends up being a similarly entertaining experience.

There’s also a good sense of balance with computer AI and the items. Playing on 150cc will still prove incredibly difficult, but playing on lesser difficulties make things feel more fair and less random than in some entries of the series. The items consist of all the basics like bananas and shells, and lack the more overpowered weapons of later Mario Karts.

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe character selection is identical to that of Mario Kart 64: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Toad, Donkey Kong and Wario are all playable, with no secret or surprise characters making the roster. Even back in 2001 when the game was first released on GBA there was no shortage of Mario characters to work with, so the recycled selection is a minor bummer.

The visuals are the aspect of the game that have been most affected by age. Though the game is colorful and the game’s merging of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64’s art styles is interesting, it looks neither as lively as the former or even as visually pleasing as the latter (normally you’d expect an early 3D game like MK64 to have aged worse visually than a 2D game like Super Circuit, but somehow the exact opposite is true). The game’s Virtual Console release is also better suited for off-TV play on the Gamepad, since playing on the TV stretches the visuals and exposes its datedness all the more. Some of Super Circuit’s rotation effects might even prove bothersome to those with sensitive eyes.

The single biggest drawback to the Virtual Console release, however, is that it no longer has a multiplayer option. That’s right, it’s Mario Kart without multiplayer now. If you can track down an original GBA copy of the game and a couple of link cables, you can still have some multiplayer fun. But without a means to replicate the link cables, or a split-screen option to make up for it, the Virtual Console version of the game lacks the series’ defining feature.

Still, there’s fun to be had with the core gameplay. And additional single player modes like Time Trial and Quick Run (a more customizable VS. mode) ensure that there’s more to do than the Grand Prix mode. You can even unlock all twenty tracks from Super Mario Kart on top of the twenty tracks introduced here, giving Super Circuit more courses than any entry in the series up until Mario Kart 8 introduced DLC into the mix. So despite the limitations, there’s still plenty to do for solo players.

If you cherish the gameplay of the original Super Mario Kart, then Super Circuit is still worth a spin, though preferably in its original GBA incarnation. For those who feel the series has improved for deviating from the SNES game’s blueprints, you may want to hit the brakes before downloading Super Circuit.

 

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Super Mario Galaxy 2 Review

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2, more so than any game I’ve played, loves video games. It loves video games in their purest form, putting gameplay and invention above all else, and polishing it all to the greatest of extents. Galaxy 2 takes many of the bells and whistles of modern game design, and tosses them out the window. That’s not to say that Galaxy 2 is a backwards game – that couldn’t be any further from the truth – but where most of today’s games are trying to prove they are more than just video games, Super Mario Galaxy 2 proudly lets players know that it is a pure, unadulterated video game, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.

The original Super Mario Galaxy was a triumph of design that showcased Nintendo’s abilities at their most imaginative. Galaxy 2 is nothing short of Nintendo trying to outdo themselves at their best. They succeeded.

The game’s sense of control is identical to its predecessor, and it remains one of the most fluid control schemes in gaming: Mario’s movement is performed with the Wii remote’s nunchuck attachment, with the remote itself being used to perform Mario’s signature jumping maneuvers. A quick shake of the remote has Mario performing an ever-important spin attack, which not only stuns enemies, but gives a vital boost to Mario’s jumps. Additionally, the Wii Remote’s motion controls are used to collect Star Bits, which can be used against enemies with an onscreen cursor as well as collected to unlock additional stages.

While Galaxy 2 controls similarly to the original, it’s in its design and progression that Galaxy 2 becomes its own creation.

The hub world of the previous 3D Mario games is abandoned. In its place is the simpler Starship Mario, a mini-planetoid that humorously resembles Mario himself. Starship Mario works closer to a miniature playground for players to test out their abilities than a traditional hub like Mario 64’s castle or Galaxy’s Comet Observatory. Through Starship Mario players traverse a world map akin to the 2D Marios, giving Galaxy 2 a more instantaneous sense of progression.Super Mario Galaxy 2

Mario must still collect Power Stars, which he gains from completing missions within the game’s many levels (referred to here as “Galaxies”). These Galaxies mostly consist of linear series of planetoids that tinker with various levels of gravity, but some larger, more grounded open worlds as well as 2D stages also show up from time to time. Acquiring Stars never becomes tedious or repetitive, as Galaxy 2 is constantly throwing new ideas into the mix to keep the game fresh throughout its entirety, never slowing down with its restless creativity.

Throughout his adventure, Mario will race down giant tree trunks, traverse a haunted pop-up book, and compete in a series of mini-games against a blue chimp, to name but a few of the odd ventures Mario partakes in.Super Mario Galaxy 2

Even the stages that house multiple Power Stars feel wonderfully varied within their return visits. One such galaxy initially has Mario braving an obstacle course of moons while avoiding the maws of giant lava hippos, but the second time around the famed plumber must use one of the game’s power-ups to become a bowling ball and make his way through a bowling alley suspended in the sky. Galaxy 2 even finds the time to recreate events from some of Mario’s past adventures, and add its own spin on them to make them feel new all over again. Super Mario Galaxy 2 upstages even its predecessor with its wondrous sense of invention.

It isn’t just the level design that separates Galaxy 2 from the original, however, as new elements are added to the core gameplay to ensure the experience is its own.

The most obvious addition to Galaxy 2 is the return of Yoshi, who was better utilized here than he had been in any Mario game since his debut in Super Mario World. Yoshi not only has a more floaty jump to help Mario across more dangerous chasms, but he also provides the game’s best use of motion controls, as Yoshi’s whiplike tongue is controlled by pointing the Wii remote to gobble up enemies or interact with objects.

Super Mario Galaxy 2Yoshi even gets three power-ups of his own this time around: The Dash Pepper allows Yoshi to run so fast he can sprint up walls and glide on water. The Blimp Fruit causes Yoshi to turn into a balloon to float to out of reach heights. Finally, the Bulb Berry is one of Galaxy 2’s greatest gameplay innovations, as it causes Yoshi to illuminate dark places and reveal ethereal platforms, which slowly disappear as the effects of the berry wear off.

Although Yoshi is not present in every stage, his addition to the game is used to its fullest, and he adds an even greater depth and variety to an already deep and varied game.

Besides Yoshi, a plethora of power-ups add to the gameplay, with most of the first Galaxy’s power-ups making a return: The ever-present Fire Flower allows Mario to throw fireballs, the Bee Mushroom gives Mario small bursts of flight and the ability to climb honeycombs, the Boo Mushroom grants Mario the ability to float and disappear through walls, the Spring Mushroom wraps Mario in a coil that – although humorously muddling his controls – allows him to jump to greater heights, and the Rainbow Star gives Mario temporary invincibility.

Three new power-ups were introduced here, however, giving Galaxy 2 Mario’s best array of abilities yet in the long-standing series.

Super Mario Galaxy 2The Cloud Flower, Galaxy 2’s most prominent power-up, allows Mario to create three cloud platforms, which becomes an invaluable contribution in more challenging stages. The Rock Mushroom turns Mario into a boulder that crushes everything in its path. Finally, the Spin Drill is used to dig through and into the ground, adding a whole new layer to Galaxy’s wonderfully dizzying level design.

Some power-ups are found far more frequently than others, but much like the other aspects of the game, Galaxy 2 brings out the best of its toybox of power-ups with their every use. You’ll rarely be using them the same way twice.

Super Mario Galaxy 2Galaxy 2 outdoes its predecessor in two other key areas: One is the difficulty, which has been upped from Mario’s first intergalactic adventure. It’s never painfully difficult, but it has a more notable difficulty curve than the first game. Then there’s the boss encounters, which are far more frequent, creative and challenging than the first Galaxy, with a new and inventive boss fight seemingly around every corner.

Some may lament that Galaxy 2 undoes much of what the first Super Mario Galaxy did in terms of narrative. Although the original didn’t have an Earth-shatteringly new story, it displayed it with a much stronger cinematic presentation, and the character addition of Rosalina provided not only the series’ most fleshed-out character, but also brought a genuinely touching side-story to the table. Galaxy 2 abandons these concepts, with the story now being minimized to the point of self-parody. Rosalina’s role is also largely reduced, being more or less replaced by the cute but basic Lubba, who provides little to the game outside of some light humor.

Galaxy 2 may not match the first game in terms of it cinematic approach or heartfelt side-stories – with Bowser seemingly invading the Mushroom Kingdom and taking the Princess to outer space on a mere whim this time around – but the change is ultimately for the best. Simply replicating those aspects from Galaxy may have felt recycled, and introducing a new character with a similar story to Rosalina would not only feel rehashed, but it would cheapen what the first game accomplished with Rosalina. Galaxy 2’s insistence of pure gameplay over all else differentiates it from its predecessor, thus not cheapening either title.

Super Mario Galaxy 2In terms of presentation, it’s hard to imagine Galaxy 2 could look or sound better. The visuals were the absolute best to come out of the Wii, pushing its hardware to its limit and even improving on the sheen of the first game’s graphics with more colorful visuals, fun character designs, detailed environments and ridiculously fluid animations. Its soundtrack stands as one of the very best in gaming, using most of the orchestrated tracks from the first game with a host of new ones by Nintendo’s orchestra man, Mahito Yokota. Galaxy 2’s soundtrack perfectly combines a sense of awe and beauty while still sounding distinctly Mario.

To say Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a hefty package of gaming is an understatement. The main adventure alone will take close to twenty hours to complete. Long after Bowser is defeated there are secret levels to unlock and more Power Stars to find. And once you’ve gained that 120th Power Star (traditionally the series’ maximum since Mario 64), a whole new, more challenging goal is unlocked within the game’s stages.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a triumph of game design and imagination: It’s constantly inventing, reinventing and perfecting not only what the original Galaxy started, but the very foundations of the Mario series itself. It never stops introducing new ideas and gameplay concepts, keeping them long enough to showcase their brilliance but never letting one of them overstay their welcome. Galaxy 2 takes the blueprints of its brilliant predecessor, turns them upside down, and scribbles all over them, coloring outside the lines.

Super Mario Galaxy 2The Super Mario series has remained a consistent force in gaming since its inception, producing some of the most memorable and beloved games of all time. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is so full of invention and exudes such quality in its execution that it puts up a strong argument to being the best game in the illustrious series. Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a celebration of video games, and the end result is not only the best 3D platformer yet made, it’s also one of the finest video games of all time.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 is a video game through and through, and because of that, it’s so much more.

 

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New Super Mario Bros. Review

New Super Mario Bros.

When New Super Mario Bros. was first released on the Nintendo DS in 2006, it was something special. It was the first Mario sidescroller in nearly a decade and a half. NSMB resurrected the core Mario gameplay in its purest form, introducing a whole new generation to the fun of Mario sidescrollers. It’s no wonder that New Super Mario Bros. would become one of the best selling video games of all time.

Nine years and three sequels later, and New Super Mario Bros. has reemerged through the Wii U’s Virtual Console. Although it remains a fun game, time has proven that New Super Mario Bros. doesn’t quite measure up to Mario’s greater adventures.

New Super Mario Bros. takes the Mario series back to basics. Sidescrolling stages are complimented by a world map, with a fortress and a castle waiting in the middle and end of each world, respectively. Toad Houses return, where Mario can gain additional lives or power-ups. True to the series’ lineage, the game has a grand total of eight worlds to traverse, though NSMB added an original touch by making two of those worlds optional.

New Super Mario Bros.The core gameplay remains largely similar to the 2D Mario’s of old, though Mario has retained some of the moves he learned in Mario 64 such as the triple jump and wall jump. Power-ups include the returning Super Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman, but New Super Mario Bros. also introduced three power-ups of its own.

The Mega Mushroom works like a more extravagant Starman, with Mario becoming an invincible giant who crushes anything in his path for an allotted time. The Mini Mushroom adds a fun twist to Mario’s power-ups by downsizing the plumber. Whereas the other power-ups make Mario more durable, the Mini Mushroom makes Mario even more vulnerable to enemy attacks. But Mini Mario also jumps farther, can run on water, fits in small spaces, and is required to unlock the aforementioned optional worlds, so it has its perks. The Blue Koopa Shell is New Super Mario Bros’ best addition to Mario’s arsenal, and it’s shocking it still has yet to make a return appearance in the series. Mario can withdraw into the Blue Shell to become an unstoppable force, bouncing off walls and plowing through enemies with ease.

The level design is fun and varied, with some later stages introducing fun gimmicks to keep things fresh. But it is with these levels that New Super Mario Bros. falls short of its predecessors. As fun as the game is, the stages lack the intricate challenge of Super Mario Bros. 3 or the boundless imagination of Super Mario World. The stages of New Super Mario Bros. boast the series’ trademark sense of polish, but lack the genius and creativity of Mario’s best.

New Super Mario Bros. also ranks as one of Mario’s easiest 2D platformers. You can get through the game in a few short hours with very little effort, with only the final world and some of the optional stages providing any notable difficulty.

The game’s real challenge comes from tracking down three Star Coins on every stage. The Star Coins become progressively more difficult to find, and in some later instances require some clever maneuvering in order to nab them. The Star Coins are used to open up branching pathways on the world map and gain access to the Toad Houses, so they’re necessary if you’re seeking one-hundred percent completion. Finding every last Star Coin adds some replay value to the package, but it’s a shame the stages themselves don’t have the depth to hold their own.

The game features some nice aesthetic touches, with the then-new 3D character models allowing for more dynamic animations than its 2D predecessors. The music, while one of the lesser Mario soundtracks, remains catchy nonetheless.New Super Mario Bros.

For those who want to take a break from the platforming adventure, New Super Mario Bros. also features an assortment of mini-games that provide some quick bursts of fun. A multiplayer Vs. mode is present in the game’s original DS incarnation, but absent from the Virtual Console release. It was a simple multiplayer addition, so its absence isn’t a game-breaking loss, but it is a downer nevertheless.

New Super Mario Bros. is still a very fun title for its tight gameplay and smooth progression, and it serves as a great introduction to Mario games for beginners. But for those who know what else Mario has to offer, there is a notable shallowness in its imagination. At the time of its original release we may not have noticed, we were just happy to see Mario return to his roots. But with a much meatier Wii U sequel available, and some of Mario’s best games at the ready on the Virtual Console, the nostalgia factor of New Super Mario Bros. can only benefit it so much. It remains an entertaining piece of game design, but it is humbled by Mario’s own past and future.

 

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