New Super Mario Bros. GDC Hands-On

Mario and Luigi are back to their two-dimensional roots, and we've tried out the latest version of their new adventure.

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SAN JOSE, Calif.--Last E3, Nintendo gave us a lovely little nostalgic gift in New Super Mario Bros., the first core 2D Mario action game to hit a Nintendo platform in who knows how many years (at least, one that isn't a remake of an existing game). The graphics are polygonal and the gameplay is pure side-scrolling, but since any video game fan of age cut his or her teeth on the old Mario games back in the day, the game is sure to warm a lot of Nintendo DS owners' hearts when it hits stores in mid-May, just days after E3.

We were among the lucky few to check the game out early at the Game Developers Conference currently underway in San Jose, California. New Super Mario Bros. will feature three gameplay modes: a single-player game akin to the original NES version of the game; a two-player game that pits brother against brother in competitive action; and a variety of minigames, which fall into different categories such as action, cards, and puzzles. Nintendo has done a good job of including with its handheld Mario releases these last few years lots of different things to do besides the main game, and it looks like that trend continues here.

You don't exactly need a storyline to have a new Mario game, but Nintendo has gone ahead with one anyway in New Super Mario Bros. The game opens with a little cinematic intro in which Mario and Peach are walking along and spy the Mushroom Kingdom's castle being struck by lightning. Dutiful plumber that he is, Mario trots over to check things out, and while he's gone, Bowser shows up and steals Peach away--yet again. Time for a new Mario game!

The first two levels on display from the single-player game in New SMB were awfully familiar, since they look like they were taken right out of the NES classic. The first level looks a lot like the eminently familiar first stage, and the second is set in a similar dank, underground level as well (you're probably humming the music right now). You'll find the gameplay here quite familiar, as it's in the same run-and-jump vein created by this very series 20 years ago. You stomp on enemies, break blocks, and so on. You know the drill.

Then again, Mario has a lot more moves now than he used to. For one thing, you've got a new butt stomp, which lets you smash blocks downward, in addition to breaking them from below. There are a bunch of new power-ups to collect, such as blue coins, a super-duper mushroom that makes Mario about as big as one of the DS's screens, and a tiny mushroom that actually shrinks him, making him bounce off of goombas instead of squishing them. There's even a blue shell power-up that works like the tanooki suit from Super Mario Bros. 3. You wear this shell on your back, and when you duck, you'll pull it over your body so that when enemies run into you, they'll go back the way they came. The final icing on the cake is that you can save up some of these items and use them later, much like in Super Mario World. This time, though, you'll see your stored items on the bottom screen, and you can use them with a simple tap of the stylus.

Speaking of games like Mario 3 and Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. will feature a map-style over-world hub, much like the ones featured in those old classics. Previously, we'd only seen a sequence of side-scrolling levels, but the latest demo sends you back to the map after every level, and much like in Mario 3, there will be opportunities for you to access bonus stages and gain special items between the platforming levels when you find hidden elements on the map screen.

The game will be packed with plenty more gameplay besides the old-style 2D platforming.
The game will be packed with plenty more gameplay besides the old-style 2D platforming.

In the two-player mode, you'll pit Mario against Luigi in a heated side-scrolling sibling rivalry. The two of you will compete through an endless stage to collect the most coins, and you can attack the other brother to make him drop all his coins so that you can pick them up. But come on, he's your brother! That's not very nice. Then there are the minigames--of which we only got to see one--which had us rolling a snowball up a hill with the stylus. You'll have to move the snowball left and right to avoid traps as you go, and the fact that the thing gets bigger the farther you roll it doesn't exactly make it any easier.

By the way, if you've been waiting as impatiently as we have for the new DS Lite to hit stores in America, you'll be tickled to know that all of Nintendo's DS software at GDC is running on the new little handheld. Wouldn't it just be a marvelous coincidence if the redesigned machine came out in time for the New Super Mario Bros.' May release? Hmm? Wouldn't it, Nintendo?

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