I would not be the person I am today were it not for Mario. At some point in grad school, a friend of mine gave me an NES (during the mid 1990’s; I was a bit behind the times), and the original Super Mario Bros. and the third in the series completely blew me away, starting me on my path to console gaming addiction that I have yet to emerge from.

I skipped straight from the NES to the Nintendo 64, however, so I missed all the SNES classics. So I was happy to see Nintendo republish some of them on the GBA. But when I played the GBA version of Super Mario World, I didn’t think so much of it. I’m sure it was impressive enough at the time, but I’d gotten used to relatively open-ended 3D worlds instead of sidescrolling 2D worlds, and it just wasn’t the same.

But then they came out with a new 2D Mario game for the DS, it got good reviews, and I needed games to play while on vacation. So I picked up New Super Mario Bros., and it turns out to be rather charming.  A little more polished than the earlier games, in an unstated way.  They stripped out many of the items that were already a bit overwelming in Super Mario Bros. 3; they added a couple of new items, but you can safely ignore both of them unless you’re in a completist mood.  (In which situation they’re probably quite welcome.)  The game play is still solid, and at a good difficulty level for this modern era where we don’t have to use excessively difficult gameplay to cover up for the shallowness of other aspects of the game design of two decades ago.

So: score one for well-done nostalgia.  I’m not planning to devote more time in the near future to 2D platformers – I’d be happy to wait another decade before giving one a try – but I’m glad I finished this one. Not, to be sure, finished in the sense that I used to try to finish video games – I beat the final boss (“spoiler”: after you finish the castle in the last world, a few more levels will appear, and you’ll probably want to have at least 5 coins to create a save spot in the middle), but I didn’t look in every nook and cranny. Or even most nooks and crannies – there were two whole worlds that I didn’t play at all, and that’s fine with me.

Another surprise: it comes with fifteen or twenty minigames (that’s the single-player count, I didn’t look at the multiplayer ones), and those were surprisingly enjoyable. So if you’ve taken the game on a ride or something, have just hit a save point, and aren’t sure you’ll have enough time to make it to another save point, then give the minigames a look.

The minigames also gave me some serious Super Mario 64 nostalgia – several minigames used snippets of music from that game, and it all came flooding back. Sigh. I still don’t understand quite how Nintendo fell from platformer dominance, when it ushered in the 3D platformer era in such a spectacular fashion: no more followups on that platform, they didn’t even manage a followup for the Gamecube’s launch, and when we finally got one, it was rather underwhelming. It speaks to Nintendo’s strengths that, for their core franchises (Mario, Zelda), they don’t churn out slightly modified versions every year or even two years, but they went too far with that one. At least Super Mario Galaxy is getting a bit of a buzz, but even there I can’t say I’m optimistic – it looks like too much small-scale, maybe even gimmicky, gameplay to me. We’ll find out some time over the next year or so, I suppose.

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