Developer: Nintendo EAD
We’ve all been there. That fateful day your Super Nintendo disappeared into the hands of some stranger along with a bucket load of game cartridges – so painstakingly built up over the years – at some crumby car boot sale. Yes, the money was nice, but it never consoled you for long. And as the years passed and those more advanced games grew boring and monotonous, it wasn’t long before you were looking back to the past. Yearning for the good old days when entire summer holidays were spent ducking and weaving your way through the mushroom kingdom. When all you needed for complete videogame bliss was a humble 2D platformer.
Or at least, that’s how it seems looking back years later.
But truthfully, Nintendo’s decision to resurrect the classic Super Mario format and revert back to the series’ 2D origins is just like the time you begged your dad to get the SNES down from the loft (providing you didn’t flog it of course). The idea seemed like pure genius until after the first few hours of gameplay when it suddenly dawns on you how the past, so flawless in your memory, rarely lives up to your expectations. And while Nintendo’s efforts to preserve as much as possible from the classic Super Mario series are undoubtedly one of New Super Mario Brother's greatest strengths. Their fidelity to the old format is, at the same time, one the game’s biggest drawbacks.
Because for all of us weaned on Mario throughout our childhood, who dedicated all those evenings, those weekends, those skived days off school, New Super Mario Brothers appeals because it offers the chance for a nostalgic jaunt back through time. Everything is just how you remember it. The legendary music - which has gone on to become something of a cult phenomenon - is as cute, catchy, and vaguely mocking as ever. That sense of giddiness, panic, and those sharp stabs of adrenaline as you launch between precipices are just as acute now as they were fifteen years ago. About the only real difference is in terms of visuals where, with things like cloud mist that obscures the whole screen, New Super Mario Brothers far exceeds the capabilities of the obsolete SNES.
Suddenly confronted by all these references to their gaming childhood - Yoshi, the flagpoles, Mario’s mushroom munching, the princess-rescuing-storyline etc - the player feels almost like they’ve just walked into their primary school for the first time in a decade. Apart from a new paint job and some new curtains in the assembly hall, everything is just how you remember it. But however much we all like to evoke the past; the truth is New Super Mario Brothers doesn’t have all that much to back up it up when the initial sense of novelty inevitably fades. And after you’ve indulged your nostalgia, it becomes difficult to persevere, especially when the lure of other games start undermining your resolve to continue.
It’s not that Nintendo don’t try to keep you going. New Super Mario Brothers is far more forgiving than its predecessors. In the old days, extra lives were so precious that the sight of one of those green mushrooms would have you practicality hyperventilating. But now extra lives are so abundant that by the end of the game, a good player can bank more than fifty without ever coming close to the ‘Game Over’ screen.
There are also a few new features like the ice flower, which allows you to throw snowballs that encase enemies within blocks of ice, and a penguin suit, which gives you supreme swimming skills. However, by far the most significant is multiplayer, where up to four players can tackle levels simultaneously. But although this is hilarious for about the first hour as you bash, throw and constantly kill one another, it isn’t long before you've had enough, and your excitement gives way to that ‘I am not playing anymore…’ sense of frustration.
Overall, there’s no question New Super Mario Brothers is a worthy revival, and providing some form of innovation without fundamentally changing the format must have been a difficult balancing act for Nintendo. Understandably they chose not to mess with things. The authentic Mario experience has been preserved while any signs of aging have been airbrushed with some stylish digital re-mastering. But for me, the effects of time became only too clear once I was done reminiscing, and by the end, found myself persisting more out of a sense of loyalty to my childhood-videogame-hero than because I was genuinely engrossed. It’s interesting to think how a game like this would go down if stripped of the Super Mario brand, and although this is of course missing the point, New Super Mario Brothers does play on that temptation to overrate anything retro.
For those of us brought up on the classic Mario format, it's a pleasure to see it rejuvenated, but also sad when you find yourself fitting the game in for a bit of light relief between those more modern titles. Deep down I can’t help but wonder if 2D Mario was actually better off happily confined to my memory where he'd always be untainted and supreme. After all, when it comes to childhood legends, sometimes it's better to remain blissfully ignorant of their flaws.