Despite the sort of weird title, New Super Mario Bros. is exactly what it sounds like. It's a new Super Mario Bros. game that pulls off the series' classic 2D, side-scrolling gameplay without feeling contrived or like a needless nostalgia trip. While there's plenty of old memories referenced in this game, it is most definitely new. You rarely see 2D platformers at all these days, and it's even rarer when it's done right. While experienced players might blow through the game quickly, New Super Mario Bros. is still completely awesome and absolutely necessary.
The story is simple, provides just enough to get you going, then gets out of the way. Bowser Jr. kidnaps the princess, and Mario needs to save her by running to the right and jumping on the heads of his enemies. You'll cruise through up to eight worlds in the game, though the occasional use of Super Mario World-like secret exits and a few alternate paths mean that you'll only really have to play through six of those worlds. Of course, the quality of the levels means that you'll probably want to go back and see everything there is to see, but if you're bent on blazing through the game, you could burn up the minimum number of levels in a day or two.
You'll get a full SMB-like variety in the game's levels and worlds, including underground and undersea levels, as well as an ice world, a desert, a few forced-scrolling levels that may make you lose it, and so on. The visuals are fantastic, simultaneously reminding you of the older games while using polygonal graphics and effects very well, making the levels and characters all look really, really impressive.
The level design in the game is great, taking advantage of Mario's moves in a few key spots. Mario's move list isn't terribly deep, but he's got more than enough to get by. The game reverts all the way back to the NES games' two-button control scheme. One button jumps, while the other runs when you hold it down and shoots fireballs when you're equipped with that ability. The game includes some of Mario's 3D platforming acrobatics from Super Mario 64, too. You can cling to walls and slide down them or use them for wall jumps, which really comes in handy. Many of the game's secrets seem to be built on knowing exactly when and where to wall jump up to some otherwise-unreachable spot. You can push down on the D pad to execute a butt stomp, too, which is handy for busting through columns of blocks. The game's power-ups are roughly the same, too, though there are a few new options. The mega mushroom makes Mario grow to fill the screen, making him invincible for a short time and letting you just run right through obstacles. The mini mushroom makes you really small, letting you fit in a few tiny pipes. And the blue turtle shell lets you crouch and slide along like an empty shell, taking out enemies as you move. The new power-ups are interesting, but they don't really pop up very often, so you're usually just rolling with fireball power. Overall, the level of control you're given and the moves and power-ups at your disposal are put together very well and help make the game fun.
Fun, definitely, but not especially challenging. There are a few levels here and there that can get frustrating because they demand that you take your time, but for the most part, the individual levels feel a bit short, though there are plenty of them to go around. You'll get into several boss fights along the way, but some well-placed fireballs make quick work of your foe--and you keep facing the same foe over and over again in boss fights that feel like they were lifted directly from Super Mario Bros. 3, with some occasional twists that attempt to make the battles feel different. But you're really just trying to beat Bowser Jr. over and over again, usually by jumping on him unless you have fire power, making the boss fights pretty underwhelming. Though they're so short that they don't have much impact on the game one way or the other.
The initial single-player quest is the main chunk of the game, and it's the best part of the game, as well. But there are additional modes. There's a two-player Mario versus Luigi mode that puts you up against another player in a short level that wraps around. Big stars appear in the world, and you attempt to collect more than the other guy. If you can hit your opponent with fireballs, jump on his head, and so on, he'll drop stars. It's a fun little diversion. Also, the game has a mess of touch-screen minigames, just like the ones found in the DS remake of Super Mario 64. Some of these games are OK, but for the most part, they're a little tired.
The game really rides the nostalgia line very well. There's just enough old or remixed Mario music and sound effects in there to remind you of the older games, and there's just enough newer-sounding stuff to prevent the whole thing from feeling shameless. In short, the audio is another one of the game's many high points, containing plenty of great sound effects (both old and new) and the standard array of speech you've come to expect from Mario.
With its ability to recall the older games without leaning too heavily on its famous name, New Super Mario Bros. is an essential new classic that lives up to the legacy of the series quite well. If you're looking for a quality DS game, look no further.