Next on my pile of shame list is a couple of Nintendo DS games featuring the behemoths of 90s platformers, Mario & Sonic. Before the turn of the millennium, Mario & Sonic were untouchable. Competing for kid’s pocket money and always trading blows. 6 Golden Coins was countered by Sonic 3 & Knuckles. Nintendo had Super Mario All Stars, Sega had Sonic 3 & Knuckles. When Super Mario World came out, Sega retaliated with Sonic 3 & Knuckles∗. It was a bloodbath of sprites.
Fast forward to 2005/6 and the landscape is very different. Mario went from strength to strength with his jump into 3D. Sonic fared poorly. With the Nintendo Duel Screen handheld storming the world, both Sega and Nintendo went back to what they knew best – 2D platforming.
I bought both New Super Mario Brothers and Sonic Rush on release and never finished either. Until now†.
First up New Super Mario Bros. This is the first time I think Nintendo ever bowed to pressure by the fans. After Super Mario 64 and Mario Sunshine fans wanted the big N to take Mario back to his 2-dimensional roots. It was a massive hit and one of the biggest sellers for the DS.
With my various attempts at completing the game, I could see why it was popular. The level design is incredible, and the learning curve is finely balanced to give experienced players a challenge, while not completely alienating those with less skill.
New Super Mario Bros doesn’t succumb to what later titles in the series do – over saturation of powerups. For the most part you have your standard mushroom/fire flower combo. The new massive mushroom (does exactly what it sounds like) is rarely seen with power stars even less frequent. It is a back to basics game with fancy 3D models.
It sounds great doesn’t it? For the most part the game is excellent. I loved the stripped back feel, the aesthetic, and the ways each level put up fight. It was tough to complete them. However, once I’d got into a rhythm of timing jumps and taking risks, each level inside the 8 worlds fell quickly. So quickly, I finished the game in 4 and half hours.
I don’t profess to be the best at 2D platformers and there was a lot of dying involved, but I think it was pretty good going. The game is programmed to allow people to take risks rather than think about your next move. I also think this contributed to giving up. Sometimes a new approach to a game is all you need to push through.
Overall, New Super Mario Bros was an enjoyable, albeit brief experience.
Sonic on the otherhand…
Sonic Rush on the other hand is built for speed. Hell, the title might as well be Faster, FASTER! As always, the aim of the game is to get our blue hedgehog from the start of a zone to the end as quickly as possible.
Like NSMB, Sega poured everything into the level design. However, they utilised both screens to do this. As our hero runs, he can be led up into the top screen or flung below, which opens a lot of possible routes through each course. The draw back to this is the overall look of the game. Sonic looks choppy, even by DS standards and there is a lot of slowdown throughout. It’s not game breaking, but it is irritating.
There are 7 levels, each split into 2 acts and a boss. Each level also contains a special stage where you can nab a sparkly Chaos Emerald. Again, Sega uses the touchscreen to guide Sonic down familiar half pipes (hey Sonic 2!).
For me, the standout factor in Sonic is the difficulty. Unlike Mario, Sonic is nice for the first 2 acts. Once you get to the first boss, the gloves aren’t just on the floor, they are covering in blood. You’re given no help to beat the boss and it only gets harder as the game progresses.
Out of the two then…
If I had to choose between the two, it’s a no brainer. New Super Mario Bros looks better, has more levels, isn’t as infuriating, but Sonic Rush will win out every single time. The level design borders on artistic, the special stages are a nightmare but are easily replayable, and the bosses test my patience like a fox on heat. It is a beauty of a game and one of the Blue Blur’s best.
∗Sonic 3 & Knuckles is the greatest 90s game ever made, even Sonic 2 which is good, has nothing on this beast of a game.
† Well about 12 hours before I started writing this.