20 years ago the first Mario title brought games into a new era. As the first 2D entry in the series in ten years, New Super Mario Bros. has a lot to live up to. The first thing you notice is the game uses 3D models to create a 2.5D type experience. Unlike similar styles games from the early PS21 era the camera doesn't pan around. It stays firmly focused from the side but will occasionally zoom in and out depending.
The controls borrow heavily from SMB 64 (most notably the ability to wall jump, triple jump, and butt-stomp,) but gameplay-wise it's pure old school all the way. Stomp on mushrooms, collect coins, smash blocks, kick turtle shells - it's back and just as fun as ever. The fire flowers return (a power-up which we haven't seen in a while,) and you even get to jump on the flagpoles again. Thankfully all of the classic play mechanics are just as effective as they were before, and even come off a bit refreshing.
Actually if I have a complaint in this area it would be that we should see more new types of power-ups and such. The game gives us "Mega Mushrooms" (which also appear in Mario 64 DS) that make you grow gigantic and let you smash everything, as well as little mini-mushrooms that shrink you down (which for those of you keeping track actually first appeared in the Gameboy title Donkey Kong '94.) You also get a blue turtle suit which is actually pretty useless, as far as new crap goes that's about it. What about the Hammer Brother's suit? Or the Frog Suit? Or the Flying cape? It would have been nice to get a few more power ups.
Where the game doesn't disappoint is in length. There's eight worlds, each with ten different levels. The worlds follow the same format that we found in SMB3 and Super Mario world, pass any number of levels on an overhead map (some of which can be skipped,) then enter the castle, defeat the boss, and move on. Each level has three "Star coins," which get rather difficult to find in some places, by which the player can use to unlock alternate paths to different levels. Collect all the star coins and you can also unlock several backgrounds for the bottom screen. Two of the worlds have to be unlocked by defeating the boss of the previous world while in mini-mushroom mode, which adds a tad of difficulty. Bosses follow the usual Mario game model, some big huge monster that you have to jump on three times or so usually. While some of the levels can be pretty tough overall the game has a moderate difficulty level. Most people who are experienced with the Mario games won't have much trouble picking it up.
So is this game worthy of entry into the most popular series of all time? While it's certainly fun, I find a some compunction with use of the word "New" in the title. While it's certainly nice to see Mario in 2D again, there is in fact very little in the game that's actually"New." A lot of play elements have been borrowed from Super Mario 64, such as the aforementioned triple jump and wall jump, as well as most of the enemies - The giant eel Mega Unagi, the Dinosaur where you ride on it's head, the skuttle bug insects, whomps, wigglers, as well as the standard Goombas and Koopa Troopas, etc. The actual new enemy characters are few and far between. The powerups as mentioned before are somewhat uninspired. A few of the Boss battles are actually original (such as the Monty Tank boss) but it's not really enough.
This is not to say it's a bad game at all. The game is well put together and quite fun. Levels stand up to the intricate Super Mario standard - there is little "dead space," everything has a purpose, levels are laid out logically but without leading you by the nose, the game has a good learning curve and spot on control, everything you'd expect from a Mario game. But "New?" Not really. What we have here should really be called "More Super Mario Bros."
The Good stuff: Good graphics, great control, excellent level design, everything comes off right.
The Bad stuff: Not much "New" going on here, could use some different power-ups. You've played this game before.