Remember when the phrase “another year, another Mario game” didn’t exist? It may seem like such a long time ago but, for quite a large era, the famous plumber did not bombard gamers the way he does now.
Sure he would appear in a number of spin-off titles, such as the Mario Kart, Mario Party, and Paper Mario franchises, but speaking of canonical platformers there really weren’t that many. Once the original Mario Bros. series ended in 1988 with Super Mario Bros. 3, Mario only starred in 7 new, main titles over the next 19 years, one of which only featured him as an unplayable baby.
Since the release of the groundbreaking Super Mario Galaxy in 2007, however, Nintendo has already released 4 more main Mario titles, a fifth of which is planned for the release of the Wii U later this year. It seems that the big N is trying to rival Activision’s Call of Duty franchise in amount of “new” content pumped out in every fiscal calendar. And, right on schedule, the company has released New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS.
The biggest problem with New Super Mario Bros. 2 is right in the title. No it’s not the ‘new,’ the ‘super,’ the ‘Mario,’ or even the ’2.’ Rather, the biggest problem is with the ‘Bros.’ From the opening levels and how they teach players to use Mario and his power-ups to the very familiar maps and world settings, New Super Mario Bros. 2 leans on the original Super Mario Bros. series as a crutch throughout the entire experience. And, while that nostalgia may have been cute in the first New Super Mario Bros game, it has become stale by this installment.
Most of the magic of Mario – from classic titles like Super Mario World and newer ones like Super Mario Galaxy – comes from the series’ ability to transport players into a new world. From a simple castle with interdimensional paintings to a galaxy filled with crazy planets or even a sun-drenched tropical paradise, Mario titles were able to intertwine a full, bustling world with gameplay that matched to create the video game equivalent of Disney magic.
However, because New Super Mario Bros. 2 is almost solely based around nostalgia, it never feels like it has a soul of its own. It feels less like a new Mario game and more like a very large level-pack. The “Coin” game expansion, if you will, adding new coin power-ups and a new collecting gimmick to your game. Nintendo will even throw in a free Racoon Suit with your purchase, oh valued customer!
To be fair, though, that’s not so much a problem with New Super Mario Bros. 2 as it is with the entire New Super Mario Bros. series. And, to be even more fair, this installment is not only the most well-made of the bunch, it’s also the most unique.
Mario controls just as you would expect the tubby plumber to. His movement is tight, his jumps precise, and the new power-ups he’s dealt effective. The levels are well-suited to accommodate everything his moveset has to offer and, though they are short (or “portable sized,” if you will), they feel longer and more content-packed than the other installments’ levels. In fact, the only area the levels fall flat are when they try to incorporate nostalgia, from the boring, “seen it already” backgrounds to the out-of-place mega and mini mushroom power-ups, the nostalgia only acts to take the user out of an otherwise solid Mario experience.
The new coin-collecting gimmick is both a fun and refreshing take on the classic Mario formula. Though the goal of a million coins is set a little too high (meaning that players who want to reach it are going to have a lot of grinding to do), the coins and the many secrets that use them feel well-integrated into the game world and finding ways to collect as many as possible and maximize your count for each levels is extremely fun and satisfying.
Finding all the ways to collect coins, as well as the many other secrets in the game, also reveals the title to be the most cognitive of the New Super Mario Bros. series. While finding secrets in the previous installments never felt too thought-wrenching, this game’s puzzles feel more involved and definitely require more thought. Though they are certainly nowhere near a series like Zelda or Portal’s puzzles in terms of difficulty, they do break up the run-and-jump pace in a way that is both fun and makes the game feel more substantial.
Despite how much fun it is, however, you never feel very rewarded for collecting all the coins. The story makes no mention of your mission and the end result is very anticlimactic. There is no excuse for this when the same company also made Luigi’s Mansion and Wario Land, two games which featured collecting money as a secondary task with far better rewards for doing so, both story-wise and content-wise. Though it doesn’t take away from the fun too much it does make you wonder why, exactly, you should collect all these coins.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 also introduces a number of new levels and modes that make the gameplay more intriguing than either of its predecessors. The first are hidden coin-filled rainbow levels that are unlockable using a trick revolving around each end-level flagpole. Though inconsequential, these stages are nice additions to the game and provides one of the few well-updated pieces of nostalgia in the series.
The most interesting stage-type introduced, however, are new cannon stages in which Mario is blasted out of a cannon at the beginning of the level and is unable to stop moving forward until he reaches the end, forcing him to rocket through stages filled with cool, minimalist graphics and the classic chiptune Mario theme. These levels are some of the most enjoyable in the game and, hopefully, will show up again in the series in some form. Who knows, maybe reaction to them will be so positive that Nintendo decides to use them as a template for future games, similar to how the F.L.U.D.D.-less stages in Super Mario Sunshine provided inspiration for many levels in Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2.
While New Super Mario Bros. 2 does offer multiplayer co-op, it is hardly worth mentioning. The levels are clearly not designed for two players and both other ‘New’ titles have better options available for multiplayer shenanigans. Rather, the big new mode in the game is Coin Rush, in which the player is thrown into random stages in the game and forced to collect as many coins as they can in only fifty seconds. The mode is a blast and, aside from upping the game’s challenge, makes the looming goal of collecting a million coins seem a little less daunting.
Speaking of challenge, the game is certainly not the hardest Mario title in the world, with dying becoming a scarce event and a few stages being quite forgiving. However, while many will cite the difficulty level as a negative, it most certainly is not. Rather, the game takes an approach similar to Kirby’s Epic Yarn. By making death a less-important factor than it has been in past Mario games, it makes seeing how many coins and lives a player can get a very fun activity. Within only a day of the game being released I’ve already seen multiple people battling to see who can rack-up more lives, and have even joined in some of this comradery myself. Even if it is easy the easiness is fun and, in Mario, that’s what matters.
In the end however, despite its many good points, it’s still very hard to recommend New Super Mario Bros. 2. While it is the best in the ‘New’ series, that’s honestly not saying too much when compared to the rest of Mario’s gaming legacy. There is so much nostalgia here that it muddies up what, in many respects, is a quality Mario adventure.
If you loved the other two games in the series or if you are craving some new Mario platforming then you will want to pick this title up. If you are indifferent, however, save your money and wait for one of the other great 3DS titles coming out later this year.
And if you are a parent looking to introduce your kids to Mario, do the right thing and download one of the NES or SNES classics for them on the Wii’s virtual console. Not only are they cheaper but they will show your children why Mario is worth loving far better than this title will.
A great Mario experience with some truly fun and unique ideas bogged down by it’s incessant reliance on older titles.
Images Used under Fair Use for the Purpose of Commentary