You won’t find many new things about New Super Mario Bros. 2.
Six years after Nintendo resurrected the old-school Mario platformer that had laid dormant for quite some time, gamers have been blessed – or cursed, depending on who you ask – with Mario titles with astonishing regularity.
And yet, it’s still hard to dislike New Super Mario Bros. 2, even if you try really hard. Nintendo’s polished its flagship series to a mirror-like sheen, showing (or reminding) everyone else in the industry how to make the perfect 2D platformer. It’s gaming in its purest, most understandable form, and a must-own for anyone with a 3DS. It’s still a shame, however, that in hammering out the format to a science, Mario may have left behind some of the art.
Describing a Mario game feels like describing the latest New York Times Crossword. Nintendo hasn’t pretended to push ahead with the storyline or format of its main games for a long time, so why should we expect it to now? Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach, either to cause havoc in a constitutional monarchy populated by mute Toads or simply to antagonize Mario and his brother Luigi. The plumbers take time off from doing whatever plumbers do on vacation to romp through the Koopa Troop and rescue the Princess. The Koopalings are in tow, you’ve got Goombas to stomp and Big Boo ghosts to irritate. There isn’t much more to it than that.
The hook this time, according to the copious amount of advertisements and marketing, is an overabundance of golden coins. Coins have always been important in Mario games, but they’ve never been as gameplay-critical as, say, in Sonic games. But this time coins are everywhere. POW blocks literally make it rain gold coins from overhanging pipes; golden flowers turn blocks into a shower of coins with the power of a Midas-enchanted fireball; stacks of coins fling themselves at you at the merest suggestion. The Mushroom Kingdom can’t be suffering from any economic crisis, surely, if the surplus of gold here is any indication.
New ways to procure the coins are abound and they’re incredibly satisfying to use. The aforementioned golden fireflower shoots fireballs that cause huge explosions, their shockwaves turning blocks into coins and granting cumulative coin bonuses for any enemies caught in the blast zone. Coin blocks occasionally transform into “helmets” that Mario or Luigi can wear, turning him into a freakish Minecraft-like avatar that spews coins the faster you run – adding a delicious risk-vs-reward element to speed running levels and leaping over dangerous obstacles just for that sweet gold reward.
Besides the new obsession for coin, New Super Mario Bros. 2 plays it safe with its overall level design. The game doesn’t exactly suffer from this, of course – Nintendo’s formula for creating a 2D adventure in 300 seconds or less is basically perfect.
Think of the flagpole at the end of every level in a Super Mario Bros. game. Its structure is like the level itself: getting past the obstacles and enemies in your way is relatively simple. It’s the bonus items, secret areas and Star Coins that entice you to take further risks and poke around the entire play space to get the most out of it. Anyone can walk up to the flagpole and finish the level. But can you avoid the Big Boo, position yourself from the edge of a disappearing platform, and time that perfect jump to hit the top?
The Nintendo team’s years of experience pays off significantly – this time around the levels are perhaps the most impressive that they’ve ever been. You’ll get several playthroughs of every level, not to mention the times you’ll tread again just to find the hidden Star Coins and hidden exits to unlock new stages in the eight worlds (two of which need an alternate exit to unlock).
You’ll see elements appear in new and surprising ways – we always do in each new 2D Mario game and it’s always a delight. But even that isn’t new, is it? The backdrop of the latest Mario game has started to wear thin in the last few years, and this one doesn’t do much to help the decline. You’re still going to deal with the same enemies, level types, and environment styles. Grassy world? Check. Desert world? Check. And so on.
The 3DS SpotPass feature has been utilized well with the Coin Rush mode: you play through a semi-random selection of three levels with one life and gather as many coins as you can. You can swap records with other players via SpotPass.
It’s bewildering considering how much creative capital the Mario franchise has built over the years. There are few vestiges of the superbly experimental Super Mario Galaxy games – fewer certainly than in New Super Mario Bros. Wii – and when compared to the excellent Super Mario 3D Land it’s clear that this game is playing it safe. Compared to mining the possibilities of the series’ decades-long history, the focus on coins feels depressingly like what marketing or accounting experts in the company think would make children squeal with joy. Why not include Rosalina or other elements from the Galaxy games? And why, for heaven’s sake, do we not see the bevvy of characters and locations from the Mario Kart and other spinoff games?
So here we are, as I begrudgingly recommend yet another Mario game. For the eight or so hours it takes to play through every level, collect every coin and batter other players’ Coin Rush records into oblivion, I can’t help but wonder what else it can be. I don’t want to save the Princess again. I want to try to save Bowser from whatever repetitive self-destructive disorder he’s clearly suffering. I want to bombard whatever kingdom Wario’s running into economic ruin. I want to roll open a map of the Mushroom Kingdom and see something as detailed as Game of Thrones’ Westeros, not The Simpsons’ Springfield.
Somehow, the mountains of coins put the exclamation point on the current problem with Mario games: it glitters of gold, but does it light the spark in one’s eyes, mind and heart?
- This is the first full retail game also available via download on the Nintendo eShop. It works perfectly, which is to be expected. But it’s another example of Nintendo just getting the hang of the online space where its competitors have lapped ahead. The entire PS Vita library – as well as the PSP back catalogue – is available via download on the PlayStation Store.
- 3D effects in this game are essentially worthless. You’ll get a tiny bit of depth in the background, but it’s actually blurred out when you turn the slider up. This is a 2D Mario game, in every sense of the term. Leave the 3D off – except for the final Bowser fight, when the effect is singular in its brilliance.
- A counter keeps track of your total coin count, and you’ll get a modest reward once you reach the herculean goal of one million coins. Don’t hold your breath for Yoshi to appear, though. It’s mostly a quaint meta-game designed to spur you on throughout multiple Coin Rush rounds.