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However, New SMB arguably goes beyond even Yoshi’s Island in the way it harnesses its technology throughout the game, not just in set-piece battles or chase sequences. There are whole levels where the tides ebb and flow, the water level rising and dropping to make new platforms accessible or bring sunken baddies to the surface. There are levels full of giant mushrooms that grow, tilt and shrink while you try to make your way across; levels with sea monsters to ride or terrifying monster eels to run from. Throughout, there’s a feeling that whatever has come before, just wait – you ain’t seen nothing yet.
You see, it’s all about invention. The average platformer tends to dish out its main elements in the first few levels, and then simply re-present them harder and faster than before. With the Mario series, Nintendo has always taken a different path: adding new dangers or new mechanisms with every level, then – just when you think you’ve got them licked – finding ways to combine them that make you exercise your brain, not just your reflexes. What’s more, the difficulty level is nigh on perfect; victory is always just within your grasp, it might just take a few more goes to grab it.
Of course, Mario wouldn’t be Mario without secrets. The levels themselves are full of them: hidden blocks that trigger stars or power ups; concealed areas and pathways; warp-pipe shortcuts and hidden cloud sections. But New SMB goes further. While Sonic has always had alternative routes through each level, it’s always been a linear experience, one stage leading to the next in predictable progression. Mario gives you a little more choice. Like Super Mario World, New SMB arranges its levels into worlds, each a map with the different stages and paths picked out. There’s always one main road to take, but collecting special star coins in each stage allows you to unlock additional routes and stages which may or may not be easier or more rewarding. And let’s face it; you’ll probably want to play them all anyway.
And while you’re at it, you’ll soon realise that there are two whole extra worlds to uncover – you just need to find the way in. All of this means that there’s more game here than you might initially think. I’m not usually one for the endless replaying of levels in order to extract every last secret, but with this game I’d make an exception. Looking for clues and hints becomes a fascinating exercise in detection – what does that switch do? How the hell do I get in there? – and you find yourself not just working your way around the levels, but trying to think your way into the designer’s mind. In fact, if you don’t revisit levels and unlock all the cool stuff, you’re kind of missing the point.