When New Super Mario Bros. released for the Nintendo DS back in 2006, it had been roughly 15 years since the portly plumber starred in a proper 2D platformer. Not only that, but side-scrollers in general had been largely ignored since 1996, when the Nintendo 64 hit the market and assured us that 3D gaming was the way of the future. While the majority of us were too busy hopping in and out of paintings in Princess Peach's castle to care, it would be wrong to think that the style of game that saved the industry in the '80s and made Nintendo a household name wasn't missed. So when New Super Mario Bros. was announced, you'd better believe it was a big deal.
Following up on Super Mario World, which many consider to the Mario's finest outing and one of the best games of all time, is no easy task. But instead of aiming to be a true successor to that 16-bit masterpiece, in a lot of ways New Super Mario Bros. (referred to as NSMB from here on out) feels like an evolution of the original Super Mario Bros. for the NES. This is because NSMB shares many visual similarities, themes, and conventions with that game in particular. Even the level layouts often give the impression that they were birthed of design philosophies from that era; although there's plenty of evidence sprinkled here and there that proves the development team didn't just limit themselves to drawing inspiration from a single game in the series.
Now, don't think we're implying that NSMB is a primitive game without its own distinctions, because that's not the case. Not only have some new power-ups been wahoo'd into the fold (like Mega Mushrooms and Mini Mushrooms, which, respectively, let Mario grow or shrink), but Mario is also more animated and moves in a much livelier manner; there are also some neat, modern environmental scenarios to work through, ones that really expand upon the series' established formula. From running across water, swinging from ropes, shifting across and hanging from ledges and wall jumping, the way Mario reacts to the world around him is more dynamic than it's been in prior games, and that's great. It's nowhere near what we've seen in games like Donkey Kong Country Returns and Tropical Freeze, but let's be honest – few side-scrollers contain that level of detail.
Something else that NSMB does differently than its predecessors is offer a few alternate paths through its traditional eight worlds. These can be accessed by finding secret routes out of certain stages, often requiring keen exploratory skills or deft maneuvers – often both. In a way, this change lessens the experience, because the game can be beaten by visiting only six worlds. On the other hand, it enhances the challenge and makes things feel a bit more adventurous and complex. Between the Star Coins – there are three in each level – and the franchise's signature difficulty that comes with momentum-fueled platforming, completing NSMB to 100% isn't exactly an easy task; although, if you're a triple-jump veteran at this point in your gaming career, you should be straddling the tops of flagpoles without losing too many 1-ups.
If you think of NSMB as a sequel or re-imagining of the original Super Mario Bros., it's great. If you compare it to its lineage of mobile Mario outings, it's even better. It's only when it stacks up to the exemplary Super Mario World – or even Super Mario Bros. 3 – that it can feel somewhat inadequate. But the comparisons don't really matter, because on its own NSMB is a blast of a platformer, one that was especially refreshing back in 2006. The big question, however, comes down to how necessary it is on your Wii U when it has four (including New Super Luigi U) sequels/instalments on the market that have arguably tweaked and improved the formula for the better. Looking at it from this angle, we'd say it's worth your attention if you just want more Mario-style platforming in your life. But if fresh and memorable is what you're after, NSMB, while still certainly a great game in its own right, might be a little too familiar to consider an important purchase. It all depends on how much of the New Super Mario Bros. series you've consumed in recent years.
For those of you that simply want to revisit NSMB and don't still have access to a physical copy for your DS or 3DS, this is a fine alternative. Believe it or not, even with the conspicuous amount of chunky pixelation that results from expanding a handheld game to fill a television screen, NSMB looks acceptable enough not to cause any serious problems. Like other DS games on Wii U, there's an option in the Virtual Console settings that smooths out these hard edges, but it creates a blurry, unfocused effect that we weren't very fond of – so we stuck with the default look. Just know that NSMB was made for a small screen, and unless you're strictly playing on the GamePad, the visual quality is going to be a bit degraded.
And, actually, when it comes to the screen formatting options allowed by the Virtual Console settings, there's only one that works ideally: "Upper Screen on TV." This keeps the primary screen on the television and the touchscreen – which usually contains maps, inventory, and general information – on the GamePad. But why does this choice work the best? It's because when Mario travels underground through a pipe, the gameplay shifts to the bottom screen, and most of the other formatting options present a second screen that's too small for safe platforming – it's as simple as that. Don't get us wrong, a couple of the other layouts are doable – like "Upper Screen Focus" and "Standard Nintendo DS" – but we commonly felt there were circumstances that worked against them.
Lastly, those addictive touchscreen-based mini-games that were found in the original game have made their way over as well, but unfortunately all multiplayer functionality has been lost. It's a shame, too, because many of these were a riot with a few friends or family members. They're still enjoyable when approached solo, but chasing only your personal high scores, as opposed to going head-to-head with actual humans, certainly diminishes their appeal. From variations of whack-a-mole and Where's Waldo, to basic card games and more, at the very least Nintendo proves it has a knack for making compelling bite-sized games that anyone can enjoy (which is nice to be reminded of considering the recently announced mobile-focused partnership with DeNA).
If you've been keeping up with every entry in the series, the original New Super Mario Bros. may give off a "been there, done that" vibe that many people won't care to get past – but that shouldn't take away from the fact that there's a great game here. It's not the pinnacle of the series, nor is it essential, but it's still one of the best handheld platformers around, and it comes recommended to anyone looking to be reacquainted with or introduced to Mario's oldest new adventure.