Mario is rapidly approaching middle-age, which means he has been around for a lifetime in terms of gaming. The fact that Nintendo can wrest anything new out of the 2D Mario format is amazing. It’s true, however, that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a sequel in number only – this is essentially a large expansion to New Super Mario Bros. and not an overhaul of any sort.
Nevertheless, like New Super Mario Bros. DS and New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it’s a fun and charming game that is impeccably designed to make you smile.
Plot: Run to the right, jump on heads
I’m not even going to mention plot. There’s a bad guy, Bowser, and his underlings, all of whom Mario must defeat by jumping on heads. On the way he travels inexorably to the right, jumping on heads of goombas, koopas, lakitus and bullet bills, but not on Petey Piranhas. The new tweak to the gameplay in this release is the increased emphasis on coins. The only new power-up is the Gold Flower which allows you to throw fireballs that turn enemies and blocks into coins – this is designed to help you reach the goal of collecting 1 million coins.
It’s a massive target, although it’s helped by the inclusion of Coin Runs, and a new mode in the game separate from the main game in which you complete three courses in a row collecting as many coins as you can. Your high scores in each Coin Run world are saved and shared via StreetPass, which allows you to challenge people you walk past. Of course, the fact that only ten people in my city own a 3DS makes this pointless, but it’s a cool idea for those of you who live and work in a big, dense city full of people who own 3DSs.
Other than the Gold Flower, we do see the return of the Raccoon Tail from Super Mario World (or more recently, Super Mario 3D Land.) This is often a level-breaker because you can simply fly over things, but it does mean level designers can include little secrets in the sky that you might miss. As in every Mario game, just about every level has multiple methods of completion, with hidden nooks and crannies all over it.
Despite the lack of big new things, Nintendo has included many little fun tweaks that keep things fresh. Every level finishes with a slightly different approach to a final flag, for example, and some levels have hidden exits that lead to hidden courses. In fact, some hidden exits lead to special courses in which Mario is shot out of a cannon and can’t slow down, testing your jump timing skills. These cannon courses lead to whole hidden worlds which in turn have their own Coin Run versions.
Mario games are masterful in their pacing, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 is no exception. You can zoom through the game and defeat Bowser in less than four hours, but if you stop there you are missing most of the fun. There are still hidden worlds to find (there are clues provided for where they are hiding) and play through. Then there are alternate courses to discover by finding alternate exits from courses, then once you’ve completed all of those you can still go back and collect all the Star Coins you’ve missed.
Each level has three of them, and to find them is sometimes very tricky – either technically or because they’re so well hidden. There are always some clues provided, from a pattern that is not quite symmetric to a weirdly placed warp pipe to an odd gap in the wall. There’s always something to work towards, at least until you’ve done it all, which is going to take 15 hours or more. Then there is still 1 million coins to reach…
The use of the 3DS’s 3D effect in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is minimal. The effect does help you see what parts of the stage are on the same plane as Mario and what is the background, but there is not a lot of depth to the stages and the backgrounds are really just slightly blurred drawings. I would have liked to see an effect somewhat like in Steel Diver, where the foreground seemed to come out of the background.
The final boss fight utilised the 3D effect very well, but for the most part it hardly has an affect. The music on the other hand is surprisingly annoying. I still love the way goombas and koopas bop to the music at certain times, but a lot of the music is just a rehash of the DS game’s music and very repetitive. The sound effects are great and the controls are perfect, as always.
Large, fun map pack, but limited wow! moments
New Super Mario Bros. 2 can be played co-operatively with another 3DS owner – one player as Mario and one as Luigi. I wasn’t able to try this, but it’s a great feature if you have a good friend or family member who also loves Mario games. Other than this and the few new bits (coins! Raccoon Suit and Cannon Stages), New Super Mario Bros. 2 feels much like a very large map pack for New Super Mario Bros. instead of a real evolution (like, say Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario World was). It’s like Nintendo played it safe – after all, New Super Mario Bros. DS is the second most successful Super Mario game after the original.
I feel that this particular formula must now be finished and that using it again would be akin to drawing blood from a stone. As it is, Nintendo has managed to extract a lot of wonderful moments but it will need a big overhaul to retain the magic of Super Mario in the next game in the 2D series. Perhaps New Super Mario Bros. U will be that big overhaul? We don’t have to wait too long to see.