So far, New Super Mario Bros. isn’t as annoying as I expected. Kind of flavorless, yes. Well-made, though. Some nice ideas in here.
I like how they’ve stripped down everything except the mushrooms, fire flowers, and turtle shell — and then refocused the game so it’s basically all forward momentum. There’s plenty of stuff to dink around and find; that’s kind of peripheral, though. The overworld map pretty much drives the point home: it’s a straight line from the first level to the final castle, with only the occasional tangent to access an alternate route or a special item. The levels themselves are much the same. And the way the secret routes and items are hidden is nice and old-fashioned; reminds me of Mario 1 and Sonic 1.
Likewise, the focus on Mario’s size-changing is interesting. In past games (except Mario Land), there’s never been much point in being small. Here, not only is being small occasionally of value; you can also be smaller than small. And to trade it off, you can be bigger than big. Conceptually, it’s definitely got its stuff together; this is kind of like how Gradius V focuses on the Options. In execution — well.
The problem, as Toups pointed out earlier, feels like a lack of confidence. That seems to be an issue with a lot of Nintendo games these days. A shame. I mean. With more confidence in its own ideas, Wind Waker could have been really amazing. And again, whoever conceived of this game was a really clever person. You want to revive an imporant series, you break down what defines it and you build upon that. In this case, you focus on Mario’s growing/shrinking ability and on forward momentum; ditch all the suits and playground design and as much clutter as you can get away with, then slowly build back up with an eye toward the central themes.
Even the level design is often quite snazzy. Same with the very limited treasure hunt aspect, and how that ties into the world map: spend the coins however you like, whenever you like; go back and dink around to find the other coins whenever you feel like it. No pressure to complete everything; to the contrary, the game’s constantly pushing you forward. Yet it allows leeway if you want to explore. Again, sorta reminds me of early Sonic. Heck, Mario even runs like Sonic now.
Partly because of all that, I really wish this thing felt less generic. Less… cardboard. Whereas Gradius V and OutRun2 almost supplant Life Force and OutRun, this comes off more like a tribute game than something important in its own right.
EDIT: Actually, I want to say it reminds me a lot of a milquetoast follow-up to Super Mario Land. You’ve got some of the same ideas in it: better use of Mario’s size and working it into level logistics; more thematic enemies, and levels with memorable one-time quirks. I keep expecting the fireball to work like the Power Ball, and bounce all over, allowing me to collect coins. Instead, it just creates coins. (Not sure of the in-game logistics there. I think the Mario Land model would have fit better.) What Mario Land has that this doesn’t is a bizarre and quirky personality of its own, allowing it to stand as a response to Super Mario Bros. rather than just a new take on it.