The sound of another gold coin added to Mario’s wallet has been firmly ingrained in our minds since the mid-80’s. Collecting coins is just as much a part of Mario games as jumping on Goombas and saving princesses, it just wouldn’t be the same without it. New Super Mario Bros. 2 takes this to a whole new level by offering more loot to collect than ever before, tasking you with eventually depositing a cool million in Mario’s bank account. So is this latest romp through the Mushroom Kingdom the start of a new gold rush or are we all being tricked by some fool’s gold?
The game opens with… you know what, I don’t think I have to repeat what happens next. In fact I’m pretty sure that everyone who picks up this game expects the princess to be kidnapped at one point. This happens so much in Mario’s world that it almost feels like it's being parodied in New Super Mario Bros. 2, but here we are. Bowser and the Koopalings (it’s so nice to have them back) have taken Peach to their castle and Mario is hot on their tail. The hook here is that the land is now littered with more gold coins than ever before and you will need almost all of them if you are going to unlock everything in the game.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, I’m sure you know the drill here: move to the right and jump on whatever doesn’t have a spike on its head, that simple. The controls are relatively unchanged from past titles in the New Super Mario Bros. series, my only complaint is that using the Circle Pad to control Mario can make for some awkward landings, although this can easily be avoided by switching over to the Plus Control Pad. Also, for anybody who’s played a lot of New Super Mario Bros. Wii (like me!) you might get the urge to shake the 3DS in hopes that Mario will jump just a bit further. Well trust me, he won’t - my 3DS’ hinge will attest to this.
If there is one thing that Nintendo has always delivered on in its Mario games, it's top notch level design, a fact that is well on display here. You simply will not find such well designed levels in any other franchise, especially on a portable console. The quality is definitely there, and the game’s 80-odd levels are all imaginative and don’t often task you with doing the same thing twice. The new coin-centric gameplay also makes for some brand new experiences within the Mario universe, like rings that turn all the enemies gold and make them spout coins once defeated to POW blocks that cause cascading coin waterfalls to drench Mario in loonies.
That being said, New Super Mario Bros. 2’s influences are very plain to see. From the very first level you will see that Super Mario Bros. 3 had a huge impact on this title. From little things like the bolted blocks dotting the landscape to bigger issues like the almost identical world layout the game is very lacking in the originality department, an issue that has been plaguing the ‘New’ Super Mario Bros. series since its first sequel on the Wii. And while some of these issues can be put on the backburner for now, they're just going to get more glaring as the launch of New Super Mario Bros. U approaches. It’s not all doom and gloom however, as the game also borrows somewhat from BIT.TRIP: Runner, one of the best 2D platformers in recent memory. Now the warp zones, which normally would just send you straight to a new world can only be unlocked by going through a ‘runner’ style level where you can only control Mario’s jumps. It’s not much, but these levels do standout in particular and make me wonder just how awesome a full ‘Mario Runner’ game would be.
One area where the game does attempt (and mostly succeed) to keep things fresh is in the powerups department, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 definitely isn’t short on those. Outside of the staple of the Mushroom, Fire Flower and Starman are recurring series favourites, the Mini Mushroom and the Mega Mushroom from New Super Mario Bros. One thing that I was happy to see return from Super Mario Bros. 3 is the raccoon leaf that allows Mario to fly in pretty much the same style he did back in 1989, annoying sound effect and all. The game also adds its own powerups, though they’re used more for amassing coins than defeating foes. The first is a block that Mario wears on his head and when he runs causes dozens of coins to spill out. The second, and my personal favourite, is the gold flower which obliterates everything in its path, rewarding you with coins for every enemy it downs and turning every block into a coin.
In addition to the single-player quest for a princess, New Super Mario Bros. 2 also features several new gameplay modes and while none add anything groundbreaking to the formula, it’s still nice to have the options. The first and best of these modes is the Coin Rush mode. Here you are given a short amount of time to run through three random levels collecting as many coins as possible. In fact all the coins you collect in the game, whether in the story mode or Coin Rush are added to an overall tally with the eventual goal of reaching one million coins.
Coin Rush mode is essential if you are planning on collecting that hefty sum since a standard run through the game netted me in the neighbourhood of 25 000 coins. The problem here is that some of the levels just don’t offer that many coins to collect and when the game randomly selects three you might be stuck with one or two stinkers in your lot. Now this may not seem like a huge deal but these scores can be transferred via StreetPass to other users and if you have a higher coin count then them you will ‘win’ that round and earn even more coins. So getting ‘good’ levels with upwards of 500 coins per level is essential.
Returning from New Super Mario Bros. Wii is the (love it or hate it) co-op multiplayer. However this time instead of the four-player throw your mom in the pool of lava while your brother ruins your carefully timed jump ordeal that was New Super Mario Bros. Wii (sorry, family issues), it’s just Mario and Luigi set to tackle this adventure. Unfortunately this co-op mode has one of the most frustrating design elements that I’ve ever seen. You see, despite the fact that both you and your friend each have your own screen; the game still forces the camera to follow the ‘lead’ player. To top that off, the camera doesn’t pan out when you get separated and you still occupy the same space, so all the head bouncing and pushing into crevasses from the Wii outing is still here in full force, just on a smaller playing area.
I’ve spent a fair bit of this review talking about the games that have influenced New Super Mario Bros. 2. Well one of the biggest knocks I have against this game is that the art style and graphics are nearly identical to what we saw in New Super Mario Bros. Wii which of course was heavily based on a Nintendo DS game from 2006. Now don’t get me wrong, this game does not look bad, in any way, it just doesn’t (and ironically) look new. A few new frames of animation and backgrounds are nice but after looking at basically identical levels for almost six years a change in art direction would be greatly appreciated, though from the looks of it, it seems I’ll just be repeating myself once New Super Mario Bros. U releases later this year.
The same could be said about the game’s soundtrack, which apart from a few variations on older tracks is basically the same as it has been since New Super Mario Bros. This leaves me completely bewildered as every main Mario game has added its own ‘sound and style to the franchise yet the ‘New’ series seems completely stuck in the past. Again though, and I want to be clear on this, the music isn’t bad, in fact it’s pretty catchy and Charles Martinet as Mario and Luigi is still impeccable and will bring a smile to even the most jaded of gamers. The problem here isn’t the quality, this is a good soundtrack - the problem is that the very same soundtrack was good in 2006.
One thing which I did find to be pretty terrible here is the 3D effect, in that there barely is one. A 2D platformer should be the perfect genre to pop off the screen and add a real sense of depth to the game. Instead what happens when you turn your 3DS’ depth slider to the max is that the (admittedly nice) backgrounds get all blurry and distorted giving you a faint ‘3D’ effect. This is so far the only 3DS game that I played with the 3D mostly turned off which is a huge disappointment considering how great Super Mario 3D Land looked when running in the full third dimension.
Another thing that got to me is just how easy this game is, especially when compared to its most direct predecessor; New Super Mario Bros. Wii. It’s a combination of several things that make this one of Bowser’s least threatening obstacle courses yet. The long countdowns (600 seconds?!), the tried and true gameplay (we all know how to jump on Goombas), the plethora of green mushrooms and of course, the fact that 100 coins still grant you a 1-up. Now in the first level alone I collected well over 500 coins and finished with nearly 25 000. That’s 250 lives right there! I honestly doubt that I will ever see this game’s Game Over screen, and yet the game still offers a Super Guide in the form of a golden leaf suit to get you past hard parts. I don’t understand why they kept 100 coins as the cost of an extra life but it really did suck a lot of the challenge out of this game, whatever little there was.
Simply rescuing the princess and restoring order to the Mushroom Kingdom’s six main worlds won’t last you more than five hours, which is an awfully short time, especially when compared to a couple of recent titles: Super Mario 3D Land and New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Of course there is much more for you to do, like looking for the secret exits, collecting all the star coins and most importantly finding the three hidden worlds. Nintendo has also promised to offer downloadable content in the next few months to keep your game file going, so don’t worry about not having enough of a 2D Mario fix on the go just yet.
‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ has been the benchmark of curmudgeonly old folks for as long as I can remember; unfortunately it also seems to be the philosophy behind Nintendo’s handling of the ‘New’ Super Mario Bros series. Now I’m not saying the game itself is bad… per se, in fact I doubt you will find a better crafted portable platformer on any system. It’s just that this ‘new’ series is frankly starting to feel old, choosing instead to borrow heavily from Mario’s past than to invent and push the series forward in a meaningful way.
This review is based on a retail copy of New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS.