Review: New Super Mario Bros. and Nintendo DS Virtual Console for Wii U
Let’s-a go again!
Sometimes simple works.
A common quarrel I’ll find myself involved in is whether or not Donkey Kong Country is a good game. I tend to favor it, not just because it’s the only game in the Super Nintendo Entertainment System trilogy in which you actually get to play as the eponymous ape, but also because I enjoy the simplicity. I take nothing away from the numerous added skills which accompany the improved graphics and excellent soundtracks in the games that followed, but the core simplicity of the original always keeps me coming back.
Then there are those who feel that New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS was a step backward because it didn’t feature some of the skills Mario had acquired over the years, such as flying or riding a dinosaur. Again, I’m not one of those people.
New Super Mario Bros. is a game I am grateful for, one which came about when the late Nintendo president and chief executive officer, Satoru Iwata, saw something of a gap in their game development plans where he felt a Mario game should be. As such, following a drought of 14 years without a new side-scrolling Mario game (15 if you don’t include Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins for the original Game Boy), the team responsible for porting the original four console games to the Game Boy Color and Game Boy Advance put what they’d learned in the process to use for what was then Nintendo’s latest handheld, the Nintendo DS.
In a fascinating sort of way, New Super Mario Bros. feels like a separate evolution of the series from the original Super Mario Bros. While the technological advancements such as zooming and multidirectional scrolling are still readily apparent, the true evolution is in Mario himself (or Luigi, should you find out how to use him, though he plays just the same). Rather than expand on what our perky plumbing protagonist can do when by acquiring a power-up, Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development Group 4 gave more power to the player directly by cribbing some of Mario’s newer abilities from his 3D adventures.
Running, ducking, and jumping are still the way to go to rescue Princess Peach from Bowser, but Mario now can ground-pound enemies and blocks (replacing Super Mario World‘s potent spin-jump with something slightly less broken), use a triple-jump to gain extra height, or employ a wall-jump to reach new heights or — perhaps more importantly — save himself from a nasty demise.
Mario may not be able to fly, but he can still move, and it feels good. The 80 levels found here are actually laid out really well, and if you know what you’re doing, you can develop a flow to going through the levels that’s just a lot of fun. More experienced players may find it easy, but even so, there’s just a smoothness to the action that runs through most of the game that is a lot of fun.
It feels like the core platforming mechanics made famous by the original Super Mario Bros. taken to a whole new level — one I’m actually not sure that the subsequent New Super Mario Bros. titles have been able to match. Sure, those other games excel in other fashions, but upon mastery, there is a certain poetry in motion to this game that I don’t think the other installments bring.
Part of what defines a Mario game — one might argue a 2D Mario game in particular — are the power-ups which await, and New Super Mario Bros. is no exception. However, much as the developers seemingly took Mario back to basics to rebuild him from the ground up, so too did they evolve his arsenal from that base material.
The three core staples remain, of course: the Super Mushroom makes Mario bigger, allowing him to break brick blocks and take an extra hit; Fire Flowers add one more hit while adding a ranged attack that is rather potent this time, especially compared to the likes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. There, Mario’s iconic pyrokinetic powers took something of a backseat, but returns here in all its glory. And of course there’s the Starman, which not only makes Mario invincible, but more acrobatic and possibly fast enough to keep pace with a 16-bit hedgehog on a straightaway.
Rather than offer all-new forms, the new power-ups instead tend to build more on what came before. Whereas a Super Mushroom makes Mario bigger and able to break certain blocks, a Mega Mushroom makes him bigger still and allows him to devastate the landscape and even bosses in a nigh-invincible state. Meanwhile, the Mini Mushroom makes Mario smaller than his normal form, so much so that he’s not only unable to break blocks at all, but he’ll bounce off of enemies — even Goombas — unless he performs a ground-pound on them. The trade-off is that this smaller form can move faster, stay in the air for longer, and even run across the surface of the water.
Finally, there’s the Blue Shell, which sends chills down players’ spines here just as it does in Mario Kart, but for a different reason. By gaining speed, Mario tucks into the shell and careens through any enemy in his path, but just like a kicked Koopa Troopa shell, it bounces off of blocks and obstacles it hits. And as an added bonus, it also aids Mario in swimming more easily; it’s no Frog Suit, but it’s still an improvement.
This is a master’s weapon, with power and defense unmatched by any other non-timed (i.e. Mega or Invincible Mario) form, but it requires a lot of skill to use effectively. Do so, and you’ll devastate anything in your way with a sleekness which calls back to the whole “poetry in motion” gameplay I mentioned earlier.
One of the great things about how the power-ups are implemented here is how it opens up much of the game to your whims. While there are a few annoying spots exclusive to the Mini Mushroom or Blue Shell (the items usually aren’t found in the same level in these cases, requiring you to find them and bring them with), the ability to store any item short of a Starman in reserve allows for a lot of fun possibilities.
Having trouble with a certain boss? Bring along a Mega Mushroom, and use it when the encounter starts — the battle will be over in seconds, and in some cases (such as Monty Tank), you’ll even get a unique animation of their defeat. Want more challenge? Use a Mini Mushroom! One hit and you’re out, and you can only beat most bosses with a ground pound (a tricky endeavor), but it’s a speedrunner’s dream. And then there’s the Blue Shell, which by its very nature changes the dynamic of a battle entirely.
One of my favorite moments during the first run I ever had with the game came in a pipe maze of sorts which ran both above and underground in the fourth world. Now, I could have simply followed the pipes (and I would later to get everything), but that first time I had a Mega Mushroom with me, allowing me to forgo the maze and just run straight through the walls of pipes. These are the special moments.
Other elements return to a more basic approach, such as the non-connected world maps which more closely resemble Super Mario Bros. 3 than the later Super Mario World, and the fact that none of the worlds feature any particularly over-the-top gimmicks such as Super Mario Bros. 3‘s Giant Land or Pipe Land. For a return to basics, it was more acceptable and even forgivable at the time, but that it ended up being several games before breaking from that sort of norm, a bit less so. The new jungle/marsh and mountain range-styled worlds are welcome additions, though the latter felt a little lacking, particularly in terms of distinctive music.
This title took place before the return of the fan-favorite Koopalings in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and as such, has a more interesting mix of bosses. Some are less fond of Bowser Jr. always waiting in the towers at the midway points of a world, but even he keeps things varied, while those bosses at the end of each world tend to be much more varied if less charismatic than the Koopalings.
As noted, New Super Mario Bros. allows you a variety of ways to play to suit your own tastes. While a newcomer will probably find a good challenge, veterans may find simply rescuing the princess to be quite easy. Fortunately, in addition to playing with power-ups as noted above, there are also three Star Coins and numerous hidden exits to find, which add a bit to the overall challenge.
Since this review is specifically looking at the Wii U Virtual Console release of the game, there are some other things to take into consideration. While the fun (not exceptional, but fun) mini-games from the original are still intact, the 2-player mode is right out. You can still choose it from the menu, but that’s all. Given that the original game supports Download Play for those who don’t own the game, I was hoping it would work here, but alas; it was to no avail. I don’t expect Nintendo to construct a new online infrastructure for their old games, but local wireless? Since the Wii U can connect with the Nintendo 3DS, I was disappointed that didn’t work here.
The usual Virtual Console staple of Restore Points is here (handy, given this game only allows you to save at select points before you’ve beaten it), though custom button configurations are — for whatever reason — not. You can also choose from a wide variety of ways to display the two Nintendo DS screens, whether split across the TV and GamePad, or both on one screen in different ways. Personally, I had the top screen on the TV and bottom on the GamePad when using the TV; anything else seemed too small, which has me worried for some other titles. For Off-TV Play, I had both on the GamePad, of course. Incidentally, this game employs a kind of neat gimmick where going down a pipe on the top screen takes you to the bottom screen; it was cool on the Nintendo DS, but I found it slightly disorienting here for some reason.
While playing, I admittedly noticed some slight latency when playing on the Wii U, though I’m not sure whether that’s simply a casualty of using a wireless controller or the same strangeness some players have taken issue with for years, yet had never bothered me to this point. Either way, after a bit of practice, I found myself having little difficulty in that regard.
Another feature added to the Nintendo DS Virtual Console (also available for Game Boy Advance games) is Screen Smoothing, which basically blurs the image so that the pixelation doesn’t come through as much. In most cases, I’m all for going pixel-perfect… however, I find in cases where 3D models are used, such as this (or even the trickery used to make Donkey Kong Country), something a little blurrier actually looks better.
Here, a click of the right thumbstick at any time allows you to toggle this to your liking. It takes a little getting used to, especially compared to the crisp visuals of New Super Mario Bros. U, but shy of an actual HD remake of the game, this is the best option in my opinion.
On the music front, the tunes in New Super Mario Bros. are top-notch, and I think there are even a few unique to it among the series (such as one of my favorites in the stages leading up to the showdown with Bowser). However, the sounds seemed a little muted or otherwise lower-key here versus most of what I hear from my Wii U.
Overall, the Nintendo DS version of the Virtual Console seems pretty solid, though I think that with as vast and varied as the Nintendo DS library is, how well a game makes the transition to it may be more of a case-by-case basis now more than ever. As for New Super Mario Bros., it’s one of the highest selling video games of all time for a reason, and I’m honestly surprised it’s not the game Nintendo rolled out with the launch of the Nintendo DS Virtual Console.
Also, coming soon on PoisonMushroom.Org as part of the “Summer of Super Mario,” I’ll be talking about one way in which this title surpasses its successor.
New Super Mario Bros. was released for the Wii U Virtual Console on May 14th, 2015 at a price of $9.99.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.
Note: Screens with a Nintendo DS border were provided by Nintendo for the Wii U Virtual Console release; screens without the border are from the original 2006 retail release.