New Super Mario Bros. 2 Review
In 2006 Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros., the first side-scrolling platformer starring Mario since the Game Boy’s Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. At the time New Super Mario Bros. was an exciting nostalgia trip, evoking fond memories while still managing to feel fresh and new. Now just six years later, Nintendo has sent Mario into outer space (twice) and put him in 3D. In the process they have pushed the conventions of platform level design in new and exciting directions. With the level of creativity on display in both Galaxy games as well as 3D Land it is even more disappointing to see how safely they played it with New Super Mario Bros. 2.
Mario and Luigi are minding their own business when those bratty Koopa Kids show up and kidnap the Princess. From here Mario will run, jump and fly across six main worlds and three more secret worlds. Within each world Mario will overcome fortresses, ghost houses and castles. The core mechanics of each level remain the same; the fortresses require Mario to move vertically and the ghost houses focus more on puzzles and finding the exit. Each stage also has 3 hidden Star coins for Mario to find. It is a formula that works and Nintendo has stuck with it.
The game controls well, although the jump seemed a bit floaty. Overall it is tight and responsive. Mario moves fluidly and does what you want, when you want. Very rarely is a death caused by poor mechanics. Any failure can almost always be traced back to player error rather than dodgy controls. When you do lose a life it is evident what needs to be done differently and that makes it easier to step back in to try again
Visually the game looks fantastic, even in 3D. In 3D the game blurs the background and pushes the action into the foreground. It’s a nifty looking effect and is one of the few games where playing with the slider at maximum doesn’t cause severe eye-strain. The effect is purely cosmetic however, unlike 3D Land. There aren’t any perspective puzzles or sections where 3D is used in connection with gameplay. Without a gameplay reason for the 3D, playing the game in 2D was my preferred option, if for no other reason than to extend the system’s battery life. Even in 2D the game continues to showcase Nintendo’s ability to create gorgeous looking games on their technically inferior platforms.
Matching the bright and colorful graphics is a diverse set of power-ups. In addition to series staples like the Mini and Mega Mushroom, New Super Mario Bros 2 marks the return of the Super Leaf which gives Mario a raccoon tail and ears. Just like in Super Mario Bros. 3 the raccoon tail allows you to tail whip enemies, slow your descents and temporarily fly. While it is very nostalgic, flight is not very practical within the levels. Generally the tail is used to slow your descent and assist in making the more difficult jumps. Only a handful of secrets and Star coins are made easier by, or require, flight. Even then the more savvy players can usually find a way to manipulate Mario’s other abilities, such as the wall jump, to reach those areas.
The other new power-ups are focused on the coin collecting aspect of the game. The first, and much more common, is the coin head block. Hitting certain coin blocks fast enough will turn the block golden, jumping into it again will place it upon Mario’s head. Every step will produce coins, the faster he moves the more coins you receive. The effect is temporary; eventually the block will run out of coins and disappear. The second and much rarer new power-up is the Coin Flower. It turns Mario completely gold and allows him to throw large golden fireballs. These turn enemies into coins as well as exploding with and activating any coin or ? block it touches. Gold Mario reverts to normal at the end of every stage which is a good thing as it is extremely overpowered. The Coin Flower is also extremely rare; I can only remember three or four instances where I encountered it in the main game.
With such a heavy emphasis on coin collecting its implementation is underwhelming. Instead of working coin collecting into the core gameplay or level design, the levels simply have a few more coins. Nothing sets the majority of the levels apart and in fact if you could be forgiven if you couldn’t tell New Super Mario Bros. 2 and its predecessor apart. When the game does try something new, such as the cannon levels that mix Mario with one-button platformers like Canabalt, it does so briefly. The bosses are just as hit and miss as the levels. The mini bosses are the same as the fortress boss in Super Mario World. The castle bosses, while still sticking with the same 3 hits formula, at least try to be different. One memorable boss battle has Mario launching himself at an enemy swinging from chains on the ceiling. Most of the time however, even the bosses give the same sense of déjà vu as the rest of the game. The level design isn’t bad; they are all competent, if a little too easy at times, and some certainly have their moments. Safe is a better word. There is a formula Nintendo uses for these games and there is very little deviation from that system. Once the initial rush of being Raccoon Mario wears off the game becomes relatively tedious to play for more than a level or two at a time.
The coin collecting tries to give the game replay value. Most players will sit between 15 to 20 thousand coins after completing the main game, well shy of the 1 million coin mark. Strangely for all the press the 1 million coin goal has received the game never mentions it. The main game mostly ignores coin collecting, occasionally telling you when you pass certain milestones like 1,000 coins. There is a record of the highest coin totals for each stage, but there is little incentive to play the stages again to beat those records. The majority of coin collecting will be done in the new Coin Rush mode. In Coin Rush you are tasked with playing three random levels, either as regular Mario or an invincible version of Raccoon Mario. The goal is simple; collect as many coins as possible. The random level selection does make it slightly hit or miss, some levels have more coins or are easier to collect coins, but it still evokes that old arcade feeling of setting and beating a high score. It is a shame that the game only trades records via StreetPass instead of an online leaderboard. Unless you have friends who own the game you are going to have to be content with breaking your own records or carry your 3DS everywhere in the hopes of StreetPass picking up another player’s records.
New Super Mario Bros.2 is a difficult game to judge. As a platformer the controls are superb and the level design is solid. A newcomer to the series will definitely find a lot to like. For those who have played the other New Super Mario Bros. games it depends on what you want out of a sequel. If you are looking for a straightforward sequel that adds a few new tricks then New Super Mario Bros. 2 satisfies. If you are looking for an evolution of the gameplay introduced by the original you will be left feeling disappointed.