Crisp, bright visuals, fun level design, secrets are well hidden, Coin Rush mode is surprisingly addictive, frantic multiplayer (provided you have someone to play with).
No online leaderboards or multiplayer, repetitive soundtrack, a bit too easy.
This may sound a little strange, but playing New Super Mario Bros. 2, I’m reminded of the popular Food Network show Chopped. Now bear with me here. In one particular episode, the judges were faced with a moral dilemma: one competitor produced a safe, but well-executed dish that was flavorful in spite of its unoriginality, while the other produced one that was less successful in terms of its execution, but far more imaginative in its composition. The judges mulled over the strengths and weaknesses of each plate, ultimately deciding that flavor is more important than creativity in a meal, as that is what entices one to eat it in the first place. Such is the case with Mario’s latest adventure: it may not differ all that much from the first New Super Mario Bros. (at least by surface appearances), but it’s certainly a lot of fun to play, which is what will keep you coming back to it after you’ve long cleared its last level.
Of course, that’s not to suggest that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is completely devoid of its own innovations; all throughout the game you’ll notice little tweaks to the New Super Mario formula (it’s safe to say that it’s become something of its own sub-series by this point) that help differentiate it from its predecessors. The traditional beach and forest levels have been combined into a single world, making way for a handful of thematically-free ones (not unlike the worlds found in Super Mario 3D Land); warp cannons now take you through a special “dash stage” in which Mario is locked in a perpetual sprint to the goal line; and some levels are even set against the dark of night (in a nice throwback to the original title). These elements, as insignificant as they may seem compared to the series’ earlier strides, add a sense of freshness to the game that go a long way in masking its familiarity.
Furthermore, the level design in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is some of the finest in a New Super Mario game, if not in the entire franchise. Each course introduces a new visual motif or gameplay idea to the mix, be it a distinct landmark (like the totems in level 2-2) or a new enemy type. Not only does this keep the experience fresh and surprising, but it also helps the game avoid the “samey” feel that plagued the first New Super Mario Bros. The stages are also littered with plenty of secrets to find, from the deviously hidden Star Coins to invisible blocks and alternate exits. You’ll spend hours combing each level for these items, and the sense of accomplishment you feel when you finally pick up that last Star Coin or stumble upon a secret exit is immensely satisfying.
You’ll need super quick reflexes to get through the new dash stages.
There’s also the game’s odd fixation with money, which I’m beginning to suspect may just be an extended metaphor for how Nintendo views the New Super Mario series these days. (It’s even funnier to think that this may be Nintendo’s way of paying Mario back for all of his contributions to the company, though with the cruel caveat that he must collect his earnings, cent by cent, himself. I can hear Iwata laughing now.) In any case, coins dominate nearly every facet of the experience; streams of them appear whenever you set foot on certain platforms, and you can even turn your enemies into money-spewing obstacles with a touch of a golden ring– and that’s nothing to say of the new Gold Flower, which allows you to transform bricks into cold, hard cash with every gold-plated fireball you throw. This may seem like a strange gimmick to impose on the game (indeed, I still half-suspect that it was a ploy to keep gamers playing the title long after they’ve cleared its final stage), but in practice it actually makes the adventure more compelling. There’s something viscerally satisfying about collecting as many coins as you can, likely because of that sweet, sweet chime that plays when you pick them up in quick succession, and the game does its best to ensure that you’ll be hearing it often throughout your travels.
Still, for every one of the game’s strengths, there’s something holding it back from achieving true greatness. The soundtrack is still as grating as ever, with its incessant “bah”’s and general lack of variety– though it’s still pretty funny to see the enemies dancing in time to the background music. The levels, as fun as they are to complete, are also a bit on the easy side, and collecting coins can only sustain your interest in the game for so long. The multiplayer, too, is a bit of a downer, if only because of the steep requirement of finding a friend with their own copy of the game in order to play it. This makes its glaring lack of Wi-Fi support all the more painful, as the game is just screaming out for co-op play, especially after the chaotic fun of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Even single-card support would have greatly remedied this issue, but as it stands, the multiplayer in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a luxury that not everyone will be able to experience. That said, if you are fortunate enough to have a friend with their own copy of the game, then you’re in for a riotous time.
It helps, then, that the new Coin Rush mode introduces a novel– and surprisingly addictive– way to play Mario. Unlike the game proper, the object here is to complete three sequential stages as quickly and with as many coins as you can, all on one life. Failing to do so will knock you back to the first stage, but all of the coins you had accumulated up to that point will be added to your running total, making it nothing but a boon to fans hoping to reach that one million coin mark. The mode also offers plenty of ways for you to multiply your earnings– touching the top of a flagpole, for instance, doubles the amount of coins you’ve collected– giving completists an incentive to play it as often as possible. It is, admittedly, a bit of a shame that you can’t share your records with friends via online leaderboards (another glaring oversight on Nintendo’s part, especially as the game already keeps track of coin totals by region), but you can swap and challenge other players’ data through StreetPass, which is an adequate compromise.
Co-op is great fun, but you’ll have to find someone else with a copy of the game first.
The game is also quite pretty, which may sound surprising considering how often the New Super Mario series is lambasted as being “bland.” The visual style, while not particularly different from the previous two games, is as crisp and vibrant as ever, with many of its new assets inspired by earlier titles, particularly Super Mario 3 and Super Mario World. The stereoscopic effects are also employed well; backdrops are now layered and gradually blur depending on the intensity of the 3D, while foreground objects like walls and trees recede into the distance. The effects aren’t quite as prominent as they are in some other 3DS titles, but they’re certainly noticeable and help give the aesthetics a bit more personality.
And in the end, this added bit of personality is enough to set New Super Mario Bros. 2 apart from its predecessors, making it another great installment in the long-running franchise. While it may not push the series forward quite like some of Mario’s earlier titles, that hardly matters in the long run; what’s here is a heck of a lot of fun to play, with enough content to keep fans busy for a long time. And history will prove its general lack of ambition to be something of a moot point; there’s still the upcoming Wii U version to look forward to, which is shaping up to be the more experimental of the two games. Between that title and this one, it seems there will be something for everyone who enjoys a good, old-fashioned platformer. It’s a great time to be a Mario fan.