Review Score: 9/10
May 27, 2006
It's been 11 years since Yoshi's Island, and 15 years since Super Mario World. Those were the last two traditional 2D Mario games. After that, only two proper Mario games, one of which (Super Mario 64) is just about the greatest videogame ever made; the other (Super Mario Sunshine) is unfairly maligned for not meeting players' unrealistic expectations. Then there are various spin-off titles, like Luigi's Mansion, Yoshi's Story, and Yoshi Touch and Go, which are loved by a few, but dismissed, waved away by the masses. The Mario Brothers have become the Orson Welles of the videogame world.
So you can understand why New Super Mario Bros. has been positioned as a return to greatness. It's a magnificent game, clearly among the finest for Nintendo's DS handheld. It may even be the best, right up there with Meteos and Animal Crossing and Yoshi. From a technical view, every visual trick is used, from smoothly animated polygons to pre-rendered characters to all those little sprites and sound effects that hark back to classic Mario. This is clearly meant as a grand nostalgia trip for aging 30-year-olds who grew up on Nintendo. It's also a triumph for that other old dinosaur, the 2D platform game. Remember those?
Nintendo's belief is that the games industry has lost its way, lost in a sea of corporate consolidation and exploding budgets and horribly overpriced consoles. It's all down to The Sports Game, The Driving Game, The Doom Game, and The Game Where You Shoot Hookers. Is that supposed to be fun? Perhaps, for the overweight, lazy, stupid children of America.
So Nintendo's out to either take us back to their youth, or ours. Either way, they're promising games that are actually games, not Comic Book Guy's latest lousy pitch to Hollywood with Ken and Barbie dolls. The DS has been a great success, and New Mario is a perfect capstone to that success.
A bit too much thinking, I suppose, for something that never was meant to be more than lighthearted, imaginitive entertainment. But I've always suspected that Shigeru Miyamoto and his collaborators had something of an agenda up their sleeve. Somewhere between the nostalgia trips and thinly veiled psychedelic imagery ("magic mushrooms" were perfectly legal in Japan until a few years ago, didn't you know), there's an optimism. A belief in the brightness and magic of everyday life. We just need to reconnect with that sense of magic we possessed as children, before the world of the grownups tried their best to pound it out of us. There's a reason most adults end up in lousy jobs, dispirited.
Again, I'm thinking too much. Current events are on my mind a lot - can you tell? Maybe that's why I'm eager to revisit the worlds of the Mario Brothers again, eager to stomp on those Koopa shells, eager to consume the magic shrooms and watch the colors bleed. There has to be a better world out there; we just have to look around hard enough and find it.
We need Flower Power more than ever, kids.