Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo EAD / Price: $39.99 / Played on: 3DS / ESRB: Everyone [Comic mischief]
The name “New Super Mario Bros. 2” is pretty ironic, considering that there is very, very little about this game that’s really new at all. If you played New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS, or even New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you know pretty much exactly what you’re in for. But despite my disappointment over the utter lack of innovation or twists on this franchise’s familiar formula, I can’t deny that the formula is as entertaining as ever.
Gameplay and Control
Mario runs, jumps, and head-stomps his way through the Mushroom Kingdom. Each level is broken up into several stages that usually adhere to a loose theme, like the desert, forest, islands…you know the drill. The main thrust of the game is still a healthy combination of survival and exploration. In order to fully unlock every nook and cranny of Mario’s world, you have to find the three star coins hidden within each level. Plenty of levels also have alternate routes to get Mario to the end, which in turn open up new stages.
While blowing through the main game isn’t overly hard—though some levels were painfully tough on my fingers—making sure you’ve collected and unlocked every bit of the game is where the real challenge lies. Fortunately, the game’s tight controls make trying to meet that challenge fun and rewarding. And when you turf out and fall to your death, you know that the fault lies with you, not with busted controls. Better do some finger-stretches.
Mario’s familiar bunch of power-ups are also back, while two new power-ups add a bit of coin-themed variation to the proceedings: a gold-brick helmet that generates coins as Mario moves, and the gold flower that turns bricks and enemies into coins. Nintendo’s hyped up the coin-collecting theme in the time leading to the game’s release, and while there are more coins to grab and a tally of how many coins you’ve snagged throughout, I was actually a bit surprised at how little the coins actually mattered overall.
In some ways, the abundance of coins makes the game easier: as is tradition, with every hundred coins collected in a stage, Mario gets an extra life. I crossed the hundred-life threshold pretty quickly, and the pressure to make sure I had enough lives to finish the game simply didn’t exist. The game also offers an optional invincibility leaf to players who die repeatedly on a single stage. But those concessions don’t diminish the fun and challenge found throughout Mario’s latest outing.
I didn’t have a chance to test out the cooperative multiplayer, since it’s restricted to local wireless connections. This is pretty disappointing, considering none of my friends in town have a 3DS, and the only person I know who does have a system and the game—Lawrence—lives over 900 miles away. Being able to connect over the internet with in-game chat would’ve been huge. I understand that the latency issues in a platformer so reliant on twitch reflexes might’ve been too much to overcome, but its absence still stings.
Princess Peach has been kidnapped, and you have to save her. That’s it.
Now, I understand that in a franchise that’s never bothered much with story there isn’t much reason to start working up an engaging (or existent) plot now. Even still, as I mention above, I kind of figured there’d be some kind of story-based conceit to explain why Mario’s all about the coins this time around. But there’s nothing, and that’s a bit galling when you think about how easy it would’ve been to explain it away in a brief introductory cinematic.
Picture this: Mario and Luigi are hanging out with the Princess, and then Bowser swoops in and steals Peach…and the Kingdom’s gold! Coins fall from his super gold-magnet as he flies away. Boom. Done.
I concede that even that little bit of “story” would have zero actual impact on the game itself. But can’t help feeling a little annoyed over the fact that Nintendo didn’t even try to justify the only new game mechanic that’s been introduced to the series.
The only explanation I can come up with is that it’s some sort of consumer-trolling meta-commentary about Nintendo itself: Mario represents Nintendo, while the coins symbolize all of the money they’re vacuuming up with this game. Fortunately for them, it’s definitely worth the coins.
Visuals and Sound
Mario looks as good as ever, and I never missed a jump or an enemy because of visual issues. I didn’t play on the new 3DS XL, but everything still looks great on the regular-sized 3DS screen.
The 3D visuals never really come into play, though, considering this is a 2D side-scroller. It might’ve been nice to have some hazards fly in and out of the background, shooting out at the player and forcing Mario to jump or evade. I played through about half of the game with the 3D turned off, since it didn’t make much of a difference and my eyes were getting tired more quickly with it turned on. The added depth looks kind of nice, but it’s not an integral part of the gameplay like it was in last year’s Super Mario 3D Land.
The music is still catchy and tons of fun. It’s impossible not to enjoy the tunes and classic sound effects pumping out of the 3DS, and I found myself whistling along as I played. In short, it sounds like a New Super Mario game, with much the same music that’s been in all the other games in the franchise. If you like that, and you probably should, you’ll like this.
Nintendo clearly took an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality to this sequel, and given how good this game is, I can’t fault them for it. There are those few little niggling details that get my goat a bit, and I’m still not totally convinced that online multiplayer couldn’t have been a possibility. But when all is said and done, this is a fantastic game. The only thing trickier than finding every hidden coin is finding a way to stop playing.