You might think Mario had never gone away, but you'd be wrong. Sort of. Long before he started making guest appearances in EA Sports games, he was famous for all the right reasons - because until the mid-'90s, practically every single game he starred in was universally acclaimed as the Best Thing Ever. Mario was videogames. And now he's back.
Looking for the love
But can New Super Mario Bros possibly scale those unreachable peaks? It's very much a retro affair - so retro, it's as if Super Mario World, or even Super Mario Bros 3, never existed. If you want to ride Yoshi, or glide, hawk-like, through coin-filled skies, you're looking at the wrong game.
In fact, from the moment we first picked up a stomped Koopa shell and found that Mario could no longer toss it straight up in the air, only left or right, we suspected something was amiss. And the further we progressed through the eight worlds and 70+ levels on offer, the more our fears were confi rmed. This new Mario game offers considerably less variety than the 16-year-old Super Mario World.
Bearing in mind that Super Mario World is the best platform game ever made, perhaps it's churlish to expect something equally grand in scope from a title pitched as a follow-up to a much earlier game. But when we've been waiting so long for a new 2D Mario, having been spoiled in the meantime by the incredible feats of imagination that were Yoshi's Island and Super Mario 64, it's hard not to feel disappointed on finding that New Super Mario Bros is a comparatively limited affair.
Of course, if your experience of Mario doesn't range much further than a couple of joyless Parties and that godawful football thing, prepare to be impressed. And re-educated. When you fire up the cartridge and grab yourself a Mega Mushroom within the first ten seconds of the opening level, you'll feel as though Nintendo has declared a public holiday in your honour.
And there's plenty more to admire in subsequent levels. Despite certain parts of Mario's heritage being written out of the game, it's still packed with what we at NGamer like to call Nintendo Love1. You can almost smell it, wafting out of the DS, when you're riding on the back of a supersized Wiggler, dodging the most ridiculously ginormous Banzai Bill, or evading an entire school of Blooper squid in search of another Star Coin.
Everywhere you look, you'll see little snapshots of Nintendo history. One level has platforms that bend when hit from below, just like the ones in the original (pre-Super) Mario Bros. Others feature those pink pond-skaters from Mario 64, and the random Hammer Bros from Super Mario Bros 3. All of which makes it doubly annoying that they based the actual gameplay on the most basic of the Super gang. Grrr.
Anyway, we award a big Thumbs Up to the retro acknowledgements, which are fast becoming as obligatory as the opening - ba-ding! - Nintendo logo, and we certainly appreciate the effort the designers have made with the new bits. The amazing Mini Mushroom is by far the best addition, shrinking Mario into a tiny speck that can skim over water and leap for giddyingly satisfying distances. He's almost defenceless in this state, although you'll have to risk butt-slamming a couple of bosses if you want to see the two worlds located on alternative routes on the map.
Mega Mario is like a minigame where you have a short time to smash everything within reach, although you'll regret it if you accidentally destroy a pipe you wanted to go down after returning to normal size. Still, it's the best way to teach Wigglers exactly who's boss. And then there's Shell Mario, which isn't anywhere near as great, something Nintendo seems to acknowledge by only rarely bringing it into play. When it does arrive, you frequently end up falling off the bottom of the screen because Mario turns into a funny-but-uncontrollable speeding shell as soon as he hits running pace. It's the 'chocolate teapot' of powerups.