Insomnia | Reviews

New Super Mario Bros.


By Joe Dillon / January 16, 2008

I don't buy music often or watch movies, so I play videogames to fill that lonely, hopeless void. Everyone who plays games loves Mario. Anyone who says they don't just isn't doing it properly.

New Super Mario Brothers is notable mostly in that it's Nintendo's first go at having the stout Italian fucker scuttling around in two dimentions in, good golly, over ten years. And that's only if you're willing to include the magnificent Yossy Island (it was subtitled "Super Mario World 2" -- at least outside Japan), despite Mario's back seat role as a screaming infant [predictable paedo/automobile joke here]. If you think that's not "pure Mario" enough then trek back another three years to Super Mario Land 2. You with me? Hello! It's over thirteen years ago. Face it: We're old.

Nostalgia. You still love the old Mario games to this day, but you're playing them lovedrunk through Cabernet rosé-tinted specs. They remind us of when we were young and full of spunk [same predictable paedo/automobile joke, different perspective]. You can't really look at the new in the same way. We're old and we're jaded and we're cynical about everything our near-arthritic gamer fingers touch [predi... oh]. But Mario! Mario! It'll be just like old times!

It isn't. Something's been lost over the years since Mario's been out whoring his name. The structure is pure enough; progress is mostly linear through eight worlds, two of which are "hidden", and it's all nicely punctuated with fortresses and boss monsters and the like. Control of yer main man is pleasingly minimalist too; a run button which doubles up for fireballs, and jump. A butt stomp, wall jump and a mostly redundant triple jump and that's pretty much your lot. And that's how us oldies like it. Uncomplicated and easy enough to understand through the cloudy onset of senility.

But this simplicity means nothing, because Mario doesn't feel like he used to. And that's not just my rancid age talking or my dislike of the cheap, crude, charmless "2.5D" cardboard cutouts that serve as graphics -- control is less precise, less responsive, less fun. With this fundamental aspect, not broken, but imperfect, the unimaginative stage design combines and conspires to make playing through the quest a chore. New powers, mega Mario and mini Mario, are little more than gimmicks; the former used literally once, in the very first stage, and even than as mere spectacle, and the latter as a barely disguised "key" to the hidden worlds. The blue shell transformation serves the same purpose on a smaller, bonus-coin collecting scale, and comes with one of the most infuriating "powers" ever: an enemy-scattering slide that will see you rebounding off walls and down many a chasm until you boycott the awful thing in frustration.

The stages themselves. Before you've neared the finish, you'll already feel as if you've seen it all before. It's standard left to right fare, with none of Super Mario World's ingenious flair. And if you decide to reach the end, in those few hours or less, you'll see the one stage with inspired design, the last, and you'll rescue that goddamn princess for the last fucking time I swear to God.

If this game weren't Mario, if it were just some other bland character prancing around through the 60+ stages, I'd probably go as far as to say I enjoyed it. But it is Mario, and, yes, I'm probably a snob, but it really saddens me to see him used as anything less than the defining example of the genre.