There once was a boy who had done so well at school and gained such high grades throughout the year that by the time his final exams came around, he was more or less guaranteed a pass mark no matter what. Because the pressure was off, he started to put in less effort, eased up on the studying and submitted an exam paper that Ė while it did the job Ė wasnít up to his usual high standards. While he was happy that he got his pass mark, his teachers were pretty disappointed that heíd worked so hard only to go and get all sloppy at the end. I think you know what Iím getting at here...
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a guaranteed success for Nintendo, of that there is no question. The Nintendo DS original game sold over 28 million copies worldwide and the Wii follow-up shifted another 25 million, both critically acclaimed as some of the best games of the genre, so if you think this third installment will be a failure, youíve got another thing coming.
Before I continue though, hereís a disclaimer: this review will contain more negative points than positive ones. In spite of this shocking revelation, you may have already noticed that this game has received positive reviews and high ratings wherever you seek. Thatís because the main positive Ė the gameplay Ė remains so well-tuned, responsive and intuitive that even though it disappoints in some other aspects, itís still an essential title. I just donít feel like itís as accomplished as previous games in the series. Itís worth bearing in mind that a lesser Mario game is still an incredible platformer in the grand scheme of things. The physics, the level design, the soundtrack, the enemies and just the overall feel of the game are always incredible and itís no different here. Everything you loved about the previous New Super Mario Bros. gameplay is present and accounted for here and youíre guaranteed some fantastic platforming action, hence the high praise. But the final ten percent are so important when noting the difference between a great game and a truly sensational one, and here New Super Mario Bros. falls short.
The storyís a real shocker here. Brace yourselves guys, because this time around, Princess Peach gets kidnapped! And this time, Bowserís behind it! Wait, whatís that? That happens every time? Oh. The big emphasis this time around is on coins Ė theyíre everywhere. Now, hereís my 2 cents: Which Mario character is obsessed with coins, money-making schemes and greed? Who hasnít appeared in a decent traditional title in years? What characterís brother was rejected from Mario Kart 7 because of disinterest and may have a similar fate because of his underrepresentation? Wario. This should have been a Wario game. By all means, keep the same gameplay, but spice the story up and change the characters and youíve got yourself an instant classic that doubles as fan service if they included Waluigi. But as of late, Nintendo hasnít been in the most creative of mindsets, with its countless sequels and remakes. Anyway, back to the coins. No matter how ďintegralĒ they are to the gameplay, no matter how itís sold to us, the reality is that in the main adventure, all they do is serve to make the game easier. Thereís a coin counter that pushes you to get a grand total of a million coins (something that will take you dozens of hours and numerous repeat playthroughs before youíll even come close to it), but as you actually play through the game, the only difference youíll notice is the number of extra lives youíll get. A half-decent player will be swimming in lives by the mid-way point (I had 142 lives by the end of World 3) and while decent players will concede that they havenít seen a Game Over screen in a side-scrolling Mario game for some years now, it does seem like itís gone a little too far this time.
It isnít a Mario game without power-ups and New Super Mario Bros. 2 is something of a mixed bag in this respect. The golden flower (which lets you fire golden fireballs that turn everything into coins) is immensely satisfying to use because of its ridiculous power (similar to the sensation of Giant Mario from the DS game), while thereís something oddly addictive about putting a coin block on your head and running along as a stream of coins pour out. Finally, the return of the Ďproperí Raccoon Suit power-up is a welcome one for fans of the fantastic Super Mario Bros. 3. But unfortunately you donít actually get that many opportunities to fly with it Ė rather itís mainly used for floating slowly to the ground. In this way, it acts much like the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario 3D Land, allowing you to attack nearby enemies with your Tail Whip move, and once again making the game easier by being able to jump further by holding down the jump button.
Other than that, thereís nothing else. The Mega Mushroom appears one single time in the main adventure, and the Mini Mishroom doesnít see much more action than that. All thatís left are the standard Mushroom, Fire Flower and Star which work as they have always done. Itís just all so familiar. So too is the music, which is oddly limited. Hope youíre a fan of the main New Super Mario Bros. theme (the one that goes ďwaah waahĒ) because thatís the majority of the gameís soundtrack (albeit with a handful of variations). In fact, there isnít really much new music at all - only the ending theme comes to mind as a new track, and even then itís still based on existing music. Even the map screens have music from New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Musically, this game simply has nothing new to offer.
Visually itís an odd one too. When playing in 2D the backgrounds are full, detailed affairs that almost look like they have a very slight coloured-pencil effect filtered over them at times. As you slide up the 3D slider though, these backgrounds are deliberately blurred out of focus until Ė with the 3D slider all the way up Ė theyíre just a blur of colours, with only Mario and the forground platforms visible. As a stylistic choice itís an interesting one, but I just donít get it. Itís almost as if they wanted us to play it in 2D. Surely the switch to 3D would do enough to separate Mario from the background without having to lose any detail. As it is then, the best way to play the game is with the slider only half-way up. That way you can enjoy the 3D effect but still get in at least some background detail.
As with its console predecessor you can also play New Super Mario Bros 2 in co-op mode (though only with two players instead of four). One player controls Mario while the other plays as Luigi and it all works well enough for the most part, though itís a shame both players have to stick together, with roaming players being turned into a bubble and sent back to their partner. This made sense in the Wii version where everyone was sharing a single TV screen, but when both players have their own screen, they should be awarded a little more freedom. At least the leading player isnít always Mario Ė it changes at times throughout the course of each level.
Another addition to the game is the Coin Rush mode. This takes three random levels from certain worlds (there are various unlockable packs, each containing levels from different worlds) and tasks you with clearing all three of them without losing a life, at which point your total number of coins will be recorded and compared with others over StreetPass. This does put an interesting spin on things, even though the random nature of the levels does make it a little harder to perfect a high score. Still, this encourages the player to master every single stage in order to prepare for every possible combination. In time, Nintendo promises that new Coin Rush stage packs will be added at an extra cost. This is definitely a controversial move for Nintendo, but nonetheless itís neat to have more levels.
This is particularly true when you consider that the main game Ė as in the original New Super Mario Bros. Ė only had six main worlds, with another two hidden worlds, and the now-customary extra world at the end. Whereas the other hidden worlds were relatively straightforward to uncover in New Super Mario Bros if you had a keen eye during certain cutscenes, this time the hidden worlds are a nightmare to find, and as a result, many gamers (especially younger ones) may never find them.
New Super Mario Bros 2 is the very definition of bitter-sweet; giving with one hand and taking away with the other. Yes, itís arguably better that the original NSMB, but that came out six years ago, and in that time weíd really expected the series to have progressed a little further than just a 3D effect and Coin Rush mode. In my eyes Super Mario 3D Land remains the best Mario game on the 3DS so far, thanks to its more effective use of 3D, its greater longevity, and its wider range of experiences. Mind you, you should by all means still purchase New Super Mario Bros 2 because it still provides another serving of the Mario action you know and love. Itís just that in the grand scheme of things, it could have been so much more.