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Latest Super Mario takes tradition into a new era

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The New Super Mario Bros game, recently released in South Africa for the Nintendo DS Lite, not only makes for a richer experience than with traditional consoles on far larger TV screens, it also recaptures the magic of the first side-scrolling video game. It sticks to a venerable tradition, while taking the gamer into a new era, as ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK discovers when he puts it to the Gadget test.

Game: New Super Mario Bros

Publisher: Nintendo

Platform: Nintendo DS Lite

This is a mental health warning to families that acquire a Nintendo DS Lite: one is not enough. Once you go down the slippery slope of acquiring the device, you may need to buy one for each member of the family.

This was the unexpected conclusion to an effort to get each member of the family to give a perspective on the New Super Mario Bros, recently released in South Africa for the DS Lite. Each one found something that hooked them individually, yet which was not in turn of interest to every other family member.

Another conclusion was less surprising: this isn’t grandpa’s Super Mario Bros, which reinvented video games back in 1985 by introducing the first side-scrolling game with smooth-scrolling levels. This is in fact a bundle of games and options that turn one small games chip into an entertainment carnival.

Most significantly of all, though, is that the venerable old-timer is brought right up to date with 3D imges an animation, wireless communications and new moves, without sacrificing the old charm.

Our family saga begins with Dad (yours truly) poring over the manual to figure out which moves will get Mario to Princess Peach the fastest. When he turns round, he discovers that the ten-year-old is already halfway there. He scrambles around for the second DS Lite, before remembering there isn’t one.

The first twist in the tale, inevitably, is that when the ten-year-old has had game time, the six-year-old has to get her turn too. Dad leaves the older child to guide the younger through her Mario options. But instead of choosing the quest for the Princess, as would be entirely in character (she believes Cinderella is one of the finest role models of our times) she opts for the Mini Games, which give a choice between Action, Puzzle, Table and Variety. After trying out various mini arcade-type games, she settles on the Puzzle category.

Mom notices what fun her offspring is having with spot the character, match the wriggler, find the Boo, and follow the coins (instant names assigned to the games by the kids), and books the next timeslot on the DS Lite. By the time Dad realises he’s been had, she has mastered the Table games: Mario equivalents of casino games, with Mario dealing the cards on the top screen, and the gaming action occurring on the bottom.

Eventually, it’s Dad’s turn, everyone has got their high scores etched into the memory of the machine, and they watch expectantly to see how he struggles to catch up. But Dad didn’t spend his adolescence in video arcades for nothing, and he quickly turns this rich experience into a slew of high scores.

We tested the entertainment capacity of the new Super Mario Bros for Nintendo DS Lite by putting it through the Gadget Gamer’s Four Question test:

1. Is it easy to play?

If you spent ten years in games arcades, this is a cinch. For the main Mario Game, you may need to familiarise yourself with basic aspects of gameplay, i.e. the nature of the Items and Gimmicks you will come across in the game, but one very basic page in the compact three dozen pages of the manual will bring you up to speed. Four pages of Mario’s Basic Actions take you through the moves you need and how to use the Action buttons. The Action buttons are standard console game buttons, but newcomers to console gaming may need a 30-second refresher course from a 6- or 10-year-old. Experienced players of side-scrolling games will settle instantly into this one.

2. Does it offer instant gratification?

Almost always. The one shortcoming is the absence of a menu button that lets you skip the introduction every time you start the Mario Game, and the option to save at any time during the game. It really does rub salt into the wounds to have to sit through Bowser’s abduction of Princess Peach at the start of every new game. Some of the Mini Games are almost too basic, but then that’s what gets the 6-year-olds on board. The positive spin on this is that, while the New Super Mario Bros is highly entertaining, it is not addictive.

The games come into their own in multi-player mode, when you use the DS Lite’s wireless communication function to play against someone who also has the DS Lite. The beauty of it is that the second player doesn’t have to have the game loaded onto the second device: after establishing a connection, the player merely selects DS Download Play from the menu, and is in effect mooching off the first player’s game card. The Mini Games also have the option, with the player choosing the Vs Battle mode to engage with the enemy in the same room. 10-year-olds swear by it.

It is this wireless option that truly takes the old Super Mario tradition into a new era: it is easy to use, it operates as advertised, and it is seamless for even the most non-techie gamer.

3. Is it immersive? (Does it absorb the player?)

The Mini Games are not challenging enough to be totally absorbing, unless you start treating the table games as if they were real gambling. The sight of your Mario dollar winnings piling up ‚ or diminishing ‚ is a huge incentive to keep going. More than two-dozen Mini games means it will be a while before the novelty wears off, but it eventually will.

The Mario Game only becomes absorbing after the first level, an experience which hides one of the great rules of gaming: the more challenging, the more absorbing.

4. Can even an adult enjoy it?

The Mario Game tends to pale after a while for adults, but the Mini Games make for the kind of competitive spirit that the entire family can enjoy.

That said, anyone who played the original Super Mario Bros will feel they are revisiting an old friend ‚ without having to feel too old. It’s been updated with new gaming options like wall-jumping, a triple jump and power-up mushrooms that make you colossal for a while. New elements like 3D animation add to the enjoyment that Marion fans will get out of this platform. And the levels, beyond level one, take 2D gaming to a new, well, level.

In summary, the New Super Mario Bros is a worthy addition to the most successful games franchise of all time. On the Nintendo DS Lite, the dual screen sometimes makes for a richer experience than with traditional consoles on far larger TV screens, which will finally help you to justify the acquisition of this sleek little handheld device.

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