In many respects, it’s like going back to the very beginning of the platform game, and yet New SMB never feels that old. Maybe it’s because, from the start, Nintendo got control and movement right in a way few rival platform franchises ever managed. There’s a responsiveness to the controls – a way of finessing Mario’s leaps, falls and slides – that’s actually a pleasure in itself. And it means that, no matter how hard the going gets, you always feel that you live or die by your own skill, not by some flaw in the basic game mechanics. The game even incorporates moves familiar from more recent platformers – triple jumping, wall jumping, sidling and ledge dangling – in ways that makes them feel perfectly natural, like they’ve always been there. And best of all, the usual cast of critters is back to give Mario a hiding: Hammer Bros, Bullet Bill, Lakitu, Piranha Plants, Boos, Bob-ombs, Chain Chomps, Goombas, Paratroopas and Thromps are all present and accounted for.
Just as importantly, New SMB never looks that old. Yep, it’s 2D. Sure, it seems to be using a combination of 2D and 3D sprites and backgrounds. But its bright, beautifully shaded visuals seem a perfect marriage of the style of Mario World with the characters and effects of Mario Sunshine. What’s more, New SMB has followed the lead of Yoshi’s Island in bringing 3D elements into play. We’re not just talking background eye-candy, but elements that actually help make the game what it is.
These start with Mario himself. As always, hitting certain blocks will release a collectible upgrade; the mushroom makes Mario larger and stronger; the fire flower gives him a natty white suit and the ability to throw bouncing fireballs. However, New SMB adds too new ones. The first, a tiny blue mushroom, transforms him into Mini Mario – a pint-sized plumber who can squeeze through small gaps, leap further and higher, and even run on water. The second turns him into Mega Mario: a screen-sized monster that bulldozes everything that stands in his way. The sight of Mega Mario on the rampage is always a spectacle, and one that’s especially satisfying when you see a particularly irritating baddie trampled into dust.