Genre: Platformer
Year: 2006
Developed by: Nintendo EAD Group No. 4
Published by: Nintendo
Platforms: DS
Feeling Like: The Old Me

I only played fifteen games on the DS. It was the last handheld console I ever purchased after I realized they weren’t for me anymore. The graphics typically were a turn off, and most of the games felt like a major step down from the ones I saw on my giant TV at home. Obviously portability is the main draw, but that was never enough for me to go all-in.

If I’d played more games like New Super Mario Bros, I might be singing a different tune. It has many things going for it, and very few things going against it. New powers, new levels and a slightly different control scheme were the coat of paint; the fundamentals of what makes Mario games fun are present and playing it resulted in a perfect mix of new and nostalgia.

2006 was at the last year of my employment at Prince of Whales, one of the local dozen whale watching companies. I got in through a referral of one of my school friends, and a handful of others soon followed. It was the best part about coming to work – nearly every employee in the office knew each other and got along great.

Dave, since we often shared the closing shift, was a blast to work with. We reveled in the absurd to break up the monotony of getting prospective travelers to sign waivers, suit them up and walk them to the boats. Downtown Victoria in the summer is an endless source of bizarre happenings; we shared the (at the time, only) public washrooms with the endless crowd of lost tourists, overly drunk partiers, drug addicts and desperate families. Martin, the vagrant sage of the inner harbor, would toil the causeway endlessly, muttering about how the city was a disaster, and how the upcoming changes would destroy the harbor. Armageddon conspiracy theories aside, Dave and I always had time for him. He looked like a character out of a Jim Henson movie, and I can’t decide as a Muppet or a human.

New Super Mario Bros. was introduced to me by Dave. He waltzed into the office with a fresh copy from EB Games and he announced he was going to play on his lunch break. One problem – we didn’t have official lunch breaks. So when the hell did he play it?

Basically anytime he could and a ton of that time was in the office when it got quiet.

I soon followed. Dave wasn’t the kind of person to gush over a Nintendo game, but he couldn’t stop claiming how fun it was. Who am I to argue with a good thing?

I think the secret lies in the game’s willingness to introduce new power ups and mechanics to a 2-D environment. The sprites themselves are 3-D…at least, I think they are. It feels a bit more floaty which, I will readily admit, I don’t love. It didn’t feel as precise or spot-on as the controls in Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3. But then again, what does?

Nearly everything else works. The triple jump, ground pound and wall jumping all make their 2-D debut here, each taken from Super Mario 64. It feels natural, because we’ve already controlled Mario in this manner. It also opens up a world of possibilities gameplay wise. Combine these new moves with the various new powers and you’ve got a ton of potential for fresh platforming, even for a Mario game.

I don’t recall much about the dual screen functionality, but it was intuitive and easy to tap places on the World Map, and see some information in the multiplayer modes that clears up any UI clutter on the main screen. Bonus marks there.

It really was one of the best games available for the DS. The fact that you could snap your DS shut at anytime meant it was perfect for clandestine sessions while trying to hide from customers asking the same four questions about whales (do you really see the whales? how close do you get? do you get a refund if you don’t see whales? how long is the trip? – sometimes, 100 meters or we get fined, no, 2.5-3 hours).

Did I even buy this? Or did I just borrow it from Dave (coincidentally, he’s currently got my copy of Super Mario Odyssey) after he’d completed it? The origins don’t much matter, what does matter is anytime I think of New Super Mario Bros., I think about the introduction to a variety of gameplay mechanics that took 2-D Mario games in an entirely new direction, for better or for worse. I also can’t help but remember Dave and I sharing Chicken Fingers from Milestones and watching each other try to find the final secret by shrinking Mario with a mini-mushroom.

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