Three decades have passed since the world first fell in love with a chubby Italian plumber named Mario and his lanky brother, Luigi. Over those years, technological advancements have significantly altered the way that games are designed, purchased and played; however, Nintendo’s two iconic mainstays haven’t bowed to any sort of pressure and have not changed their platforming ways much. It all boils down to the fact that the series tends to sell incredibly well, meaning that there hasn’t been a need to shake things up. As a result, store shelves have received an assortment of similar titles starring the two overall-wearing Mushroom Kingdom protectors, especially in recent years. To some, that isn’t an issue, but it’s starting to become a worrying trend for others who feel that creativity has become an afterthought as a result of complacency. Both arguments are valid because, in truth, we’ve been playing variations of the same formula since the early 1980s.
Continuing along with its relatively new plan to release one branded New Super Mario Bros. title during each system’s lifecycle, the Big N has picked this summer to debut the retro-revamp series’ latest offering, New Super Mario Bros. 2. Available exclusively for the company’s revolutionary three-dimensional DualScreen handheld, it offers a trip back to yesteryear through the use of modern technological advancements. So, instead of running through 8-bit locations as a crudely detailed plumber, players are tasked with making their way through lush environments as an impressive-looking rendition of the red and blue-clad Italian phenom or his green and blue-clad sidekick.
From day one, the Japanese gaming giant’s plan became easy to guess. By infusing the classic Mario Bros. formula with added visual pop and a few new upgrades, highlighted by the option to make the heroes grow and shrink substantially, it hoped to create a memorable hit that a new generation of gamers could grasp onto. Now, of course us old fogeys who possess fond memories of the golden years of the NES were not left out of this plan, but we were certainly thought of as a secondary target market. Why? Surely, Nintendo would have figured that those who grew up with its platforming heroes would be driven to at least test out their modern return to form, especially since it’d been years since a true two-dimensional platforming Mario vehicle had hit store shelves. And, judging by the game’s sales numbers, that marketing plan was a thorough success.
With New Super Mario Bros. 2, the franchise’s first true sequel release following the wildly successful debut of a Wii-exclusive iteration, it’s apparent that the company’s overall goal was to give fans more of what they seemed to want instead of going back to the drawing board and reinventing the wheel. As a result, the game is remarkably similar to those it follows. Unfortunately, that means there’s next to nothing here that we haven’t seen before, creating an experience that suffers from complacency. There’s simply no wow factor of any sort, and the sequel’s focus on coin collecting feels like more of an afterthought than a well-developed focus.
For some reason, Mario’s latest outing takes place during a time where the Mushroom Kingdom seems to be experiencing a gold rush of some sort. That’s the only way to give reason for its incredible amount of red, blue and gold currency, because it’s never explained. The only dialogue-based descriptor is placed at the beginning of the six-world campaign, and it simply says to try to collect as many coins as possible – that’s all. After that, you’re thrown into the wild where gold greatly outnumbers bad guys, and the series’ well-documented challenge is decreased by the ease at which players can earn 1-ups. Getting to one hundred lives will be a cakewalk, even for those who end up dying a lot throughout their left to right travels.
Although tons of attention must be paid to the never-ending golden showers that emit from every level’s orifices, it’s important not to lose sight of the end goal, which is, once again, to save Princess Peach from her captors. As per usual, the glowing blonde has become the target of Bowser’s minions who’ve decided to kidnap her during a picturesque summer day. Now, we all know what happens after Mario’s girlfriend has been taken from him: he makes his way through one world after another in an attempt to return her to safety – at least, for a limited time. That’s exactly what occurs within New Super Mario Bros. 2, and it doesn’t introduce anything new. In fact, its presented storyline is quite possibly Mario’s most uninspired and least memorable one thus far, but it does get the job done.
Throughout a campaign that can be completed in one four hour-long sitting, players must traverse six unique worlds before they can hope to battle for Peach’s safety. Within each land, one will find an assortment of themed stages, plus haunted houses and boss-featuring castles. Going further, secondary paths and prize-awarding huts can be unlocked or purchased using the game’s giant collectible coins, providing a bit of pathway customization. Regardless, every world boils down to the same formula where Mario must complete a handful of levels before he can take on a mini-boss. After that, the same formula is presented en route to the world’s final boss. It’s standard fare and contains some decent Koopa bosses, but its presented mini-bosses are some of the worst gaming has ever seen.
Instead of offering unique mini-bosses for Mario and Luigi to take on, the game’s development team at Nintendo EAD decided to go the easy route, greatly marring what should’ve been one of the game’s more memorable aspects. I don’t get why it was thought that battling increasingly complex assortments of rhinos positioned on question mark platforms would be enjoyable, but it isn’t. There’s no real challenge to them and, most of the time, I was able to finish a battle before they would even offer any sort of damage-dealing attack. Sure, they could make the platforms I was standing on fall, but that was easy to avoid, especially when the same ones would drop each time. Of course, considering that they can be defeated by a simple head-butt, it’s no surprise that their encounters lack longevity.
Now, before it starts to sound like I completely disliked New Super Mario Bros. 2, it’s time to shift the spotlight onto its positive facets, of which there are a healthy amount. First off, it offers more of the great Mario Bros. platforming that just about every gamer out there knows and loves. The iconic formula is included in beautiful fashion, although the popular giant and mini mushrooms have become a bit of an afterthought. Those power-ups can be picked-up in special huts and can be saved for future usage, but they’re rarely offered during basic level progression, and they’re seldom required. That’s because collecting coins has become the new focus, and new power-ups accentuate that fact, although the two designs can, and do, coexist occasionally. It’s strange, considering how much the first New Super Mario Bros. game focused on employing extra large and extra small heroes.
This title’s focus on filling Mario’s overflowing pockets is further emphasized by the inclusion of unlockable rainbow stages, wherein the only thing to do is collect coloured currency. Included as rewards and for only one reason, those cloud-based levels help players add to their coin totals via dramatic fashion. Furthermore, despite their linearity, they provide a nice change of pace.
Sticking to the positive side of things, it’s important to note that this much-anticipated 3DS exclusive not only offers a two-player co-operative option, but also contains a secondary mode known as Coin Rush. When it comes to the latter option, most of the necessary information can be gathered through its title because it’s very straightforward. Simply put, you choose to play as either traditional Mario or as an invincible version of the character who has been bestowed with a Tanooki suit, the iconic raccoon suit which makes a welcomed return in this outing. Once that decision has been made, three random stages are presented, wherein you must attempt to collect as many coins as possible. It’s basic, but does include Street Pass record sharing, while the core game offers Spot Pass accessibility.
Lastly, what stands out above everything else in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is its presentation. Simply put, the game looks beautiful, employing a vivid colour palette and detailed visuals, in addition to great-sounding audible elements. From a technological standpoint, it’s top-notch, but it doesn’t take advantage of the handheld’s much talked-about 3D capabilities. The extra dimension is only used to give stages added depth, accentuating its visual design instead of being a primary focus. When the slider is turned off, the difference is noticeable, but it never becomes a case of night versus day. Then again, it’s tough to really expect more from a game that celebrates two-dimensional gameplay.
Now that every facet of Mario’s latest handheld journey has been dissected and analyzed, it’s time to discuss the project as a whole. Doing so means weighing its iconic design and impressive visuals with its noted downsides, of which there are a surprising amount, thanks to obvious complacency. It’s that latter term which is most troubling because it adequately explains the non-revolutionary game that this is, as it simply does not offer anything that can be seen as a noteworthy gameplay advancement. Additionally, while some of the old-school Super Mario Bros. charm is still alive within New Super Mario Bros. 2, it’s buried underneath a great deal of deja-vu.
In the end, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a disappointing offering from a video game giant that needs to rest on its laurels less. Still, although the previous statement is a strong one, that’s not to say the game is bad, as it still offers more of the classic platforming that a large amount of our population previously fell in love with. However, its development team failed to think outside of the proverbial box, and the result is one of the most unremarkable interactive vehicles starring the familiar Italian plumber and his slender brother.
This review is based on a copy of the game that was provided to us.