Another example is the introduction of three big golden coins per level - perhaps something of Super Mario 64's legacy. SM64 comported itself differently - the jumping, the butt-stomps, the ice-slides, the snowmen, the ships underwater were the things you liked; the Stars were the things you loved. NSMB's coins don't end the level the way Stars did, but they do burn the same candle for you, and it's their placement in difficult-to-reach areas that makes the difference between completing NSMB at a canter, as you can, and doing your very best platforming to get the most out of it. Even the most boring gamer in the world's going to come over a little bit perfectionist here and there, angling for The Big Golden Coins because, well, why not? They're tangible golden progress. If nothing else, they build up a currency that gives you access to alternative routes home to bonus houses and uncharted levels.
You might argue that contrary to the lessons of Super Mario World it's too open about its secrets - particularly worlds 3 and 7, shadowed on the touch-screen world-map, neither of which is drastically hard to unlock. Secrets are more entertaining when you know they're there but simply don't know what they are or how to get to them until you do. So: know they're there. The keys to the properly hidden bits are invisible question-mark boxes you pump with your head when prancing over a row of visible ones, sprouting a beanstalk, or the hidden pipes just off-screen at the peak of your bounce-rope ascent. They're shadowed artfully. Available but inaccessible. Fun to reach. It's all there - there are just layers of secrecy, same as there were with SMW. It lacks a Star Field, but then, hey, maybe it doesn't. I've spent more hours than I can count chipping away at it in various places but there's no guarantee I've found everything. There's always something I want to do when I come back - that's one of the reasons I've given up taking it out of the game-card slot when I turn the DS off.
God - the DS. I suppose it's actually telling that I've gotten this far and haven't made any reference to the fact that this is a Mario game on a wacky two-screen touch-sensitive handheld games console. But then this isn't really about the DS features at all. You play it the traditional way - pad to move, A to jump and X to run or toss fireballs. You can keep an eye on your progress through each level thanks to a line of dots with a flag at the end on the touch-screen, with Mario's head showing you how far he's made it. On the map-screen, you can tap one of the eight world icons to transport yourself there and replay levels for more of the big coins, and so on. You can store one power-up, including the Giant or Mini powers, Mario World-style, in a box that you can access by tapping an icon.
That Giant Mario mode certainly looks nice in the screenshots, but actually the Mini-Mario one's the more interesting of the two. Giant Mario can stomp around smashing things - including useful warp-pipes if you're not careful - and he's handy to call upon when a golden coin lurks tantalisingly out of reach at the top of an area too broad to wall-jump, but whereas he's a temporary form like invincibility, Mini-Mario's something frail that you struggle to keep hold of because there are things he can access, like tiny pipes and secret level-endings, that no other Mario can.
Getting to the end, it's worth pointing out I've been quite conflicted about all of this. I realise it doesn't sound like it, but then you're not typing into a Word document overlaid on three others each full of conflicting prose I've spent the last three days polishing and ripping apart with escalating contempt and self-hate, so quiet you. I have been wrestling - brawling, really - with how much I like New Super Mario Bros. Whether it really is as good as the games it follows. Whether the fact that Mario chirps "bye-bye!" when you close the DS lid to suspend is delightful attention to detail or just retro-chic. Things like that. No I don't go out much. In the end, I'm just going to take a cue from the game's name - after all, it's hard not to embrace something titled with such jarring honesty. At intervals today I've opened the lid and gone after some golden coins I hadn't got. There's been one level that's annoyed me intermittently over the past two days - a sequence of jumps just after the halfway point involving a waterwheel that turns if you linger on it and a group of flying turtles that have to be artfully bopped in sequence to reach a big coin and then a swinging vine to a warp-pipe that holds another. And I've done this sort of thing before hundreds of times across thousands of days in what feels like a dozen Mario games. I still love it.
It has been more than ten years since Yoshi's Island. And it's easy to look around and say that the balance has shifted. Mario - this kind of Mario - is in some sense a relic from a past long forgotten. A period that saw Nintendo standing tall in every sense amongst its competitors. In the years since, Nintendo's star has fallen and Mario's has too, to some extent - with even the towering achievement of Super Mario 64 gradually slipping out of a memory once full of treasure upon which his subsequent outings on GameCube and GBA have heaped little interest.
Fitting, then, that Nintendo saved some of his finest moments for this diminutive game-card - which, along with the emergence of DS and Wii, some have marked as a bookend to a period of dynastic chaos. The balance could yet shift again. But New Super Mario Bros., with its faultless controls, effortless variety and deceptive simplicity, argues that while market ratios can sweep back and forth and erupt and diminish in unexpected ways, the balance of ideas can always be relied upon to settle in one place: in the welcoming arms of a friendly little company from Kyoto called Nintendo.
9 / 10