E3 06: Super Mario Bros. - Hands On

You've probably heard people use the term "platformer" to describe games that involve running, jumping and item-grabbing. The first Super Mario Bros. defined that genre, and after an extended absence, the plumber brothers are out to save Princess Peach once again. After some hands-on time with the, um, literally titled New Super Mario Bros., we're ready to believe those two haven't missed a beat.

It's the sense of exploration that makes these Mario games so damn fun. Even though you're restricted to a single plane, there are hidden vines that stretch into the sky and elaborate underground pipe systems that house power-ups, extra coins and secret exits that unlock even more levels on the world map. In just the first few stages we soared through the clouds, walked a tightrope across blistering lava and dove into the rocky sewers of the Mushroom Kingdom - variety is well accounted for. Plus, each stage contains three gold coins you can dig up and use as currency to gain access to more goodies on the main map.

The earlier levels also revealed a new power-up to the side-scrolling games - the blue shell. Grabbing this dresses Mario up like a turtle, and taking off in a sprint causes him to tuck inside and roll through the level, flattening baddies in the process. Two new mushrooms showed up as well, one that shrinks you to micro size, and another that bloats Mario into a giant. When you're that large, nothing matters. You can just hold right and plow through everything.

We got a chance to scope out some of the plumber's new moves too. He's brought the butt stomp along from Super Mario 64, and a new triple jump that gives you an extra height boost - if you need to get even higher, Mario can grab onto walls and bounce back off in the opposite direction. The only problem we ran into was a slightly loose sense of jumping. It kinda feels like Mario grabs too much forward momentum while running, making it easy to slide right into those prevalent bottomless pits. You also can't throw turtle shells straight up into the air. What's up with that?

Everything else, from the cheery music to the extremely approachable gameplay, is top of the line. There's a reason this franchise kick-started not just the genre, but an entire industry as well. New Super Mario Bros. release is just a week away, so it's only a matter of days before everyone gets their hands on a series that still plays as good as you remember.

May 10, 2006