The best part of New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the opening scene the first time you turn it on to play. Suddenly the realisation hits: you’re about to play an entirely new 2D Mario game.
Those memories of childhood come flooding back, and though the graphic style is looking resplendent using the modern technology of the 3DS, though simple 3D effects give the game a new sensation of depth, and though the music soundtrack is pleasantly modern, the first enemy remains a hapless goomba, and the first pickup remains a growth mushroom.
By the end of the too-brief running time, that initial nostalgic thrill has well worn off and you’ll have come to realise that there’s nothing particularly memorable about this game, but only if you fall into the same long-time gamer like me – or to put it another way, you’ve now played too many of these games. I’ve clicked through quite a few reviews of New Super Mario Bros. 2 and I’ve come to realise something rather sad about games criticism: there’s a real lack of empathy there. Putting yourself in the shoes of someone who has only had limited exposure to Mario games puts the game in an entirely different light: this is a spectacularly-designed game.
Sure, the level design is a retread of what we’ve ever seen. Mario games have become easier over the years in terms of actual platforming, but while the pixel-perfect jumping has thankfully gone the way of the dinosaur, the joy of exploration through the levels remains the same; especially if you haven’t seen New Super Mario Bros 2 tricks too often in the past. Go in with a fresh mind-set, and grabbing a raccoon Mario leaf then finding a bit of flat land to use as a runway and soaring into the sky to look for hidden treasure troves remains as compelling now as it ever did back in the day. The game’s pace might have slowed to the point where twitch reflexes are no longer needed, but the developers has replaced that with a far less frustrating and yet far more rewarding goal – collecting a million coins.
With that goal in sight you’re going to find yourself replaying levels over and over to find ways of weaselling in to the hard-to-reach treasure rooms. You’ll spend hours in the coin rush mode – where a strict timer and one-life-only policy brings the game the closest to a “traditional” Mario challenge that we’ve seen in years. The quest to rescue the Princess yet again (seriously, Nintendo, that was kosher two decades ago, but it’s starting to become cringe-worthy in terms of political correctness) is quickly forgotten as those shiny yellow coins gracefully twirl around in the sky, glittering and beckoning Mario like a moth to a light.
Every so often a little message pops up telling players that they’ve accumulated a certain number of coins. This passes as the game’s achievement system, and though it feels weirdly like an RPG grind at times, any negative feelings that realisation may generate are offset by a highly social feature. Every so often Nintendo through SpotPass sends players a message telling them of the global coin total. Presently it’s well over five billion. There’s no in-game counter for that number, but the simple thought that you’re participating in a group-shared experience amongst millions of others turns good level design into a compelling activity, in order to leave your own little anonymous mark on the coin total.
Less compelling is the multiplayer mode, which allows one other person to play along as Luigi over local wireless. Online would have been preferable, and though the game does work fine in multiplayer, there’s sadly few levels that take advantage of the camaraderie in any meaningful way.
Whether solo or with a friend, by the time you’ve reached that final level, Mario has well in excess of a hundred lives, and if he ever runs into genuine trouble, there’s an invincibility powerup that pops up after a few consecutive failures to help prevent the young-ones from giving up. And because of all these concessions, I get that this game is a bit of a disappointment for long-term Mario fans. This is a game that looks traditional, sounds traditional and has all the traditional trappings of a Mario game.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is clever like that. It looks traditional, but really it’s the most progressive game Nintendo has made to star the red-hatted plumber in years. With such little fanfare it’s difficult to even consciously register, New Super Mario Bros. 2 really is a new game.
The real problem this game created for itself is not making more of its own innovation. It’s a real shame that so few critics even noticed that.
For everyone else: give this a go and pretend for a moment you’ve never played a Mario game before. That fantasy makes New Super Mario Bros 2 irresistible.
– Matt S
This game gives me such hope for Mario's future. The newcomers to the series worked mostly on this game while the vets worked on the Wii U game, and the newcomers crafted a brilliantly designed game. (Those hidden block beanstalks should be used in moderation, though.)
Regardless, tonight I got all five glittery stars on my save file. Now it's time for my brother and I to see about getting to 1 million coins.
I was just glad to see Nintendo pushing the envelope and coming up with genuinely new ways to play Mario, while not making a "different" game as such, and risk alienating traditionalists.
This game has hit a fine balance we rarely see in long-running franchises now.
Excellent analysis, Matt!
It seems to be a nice mix of traditional and modern. I'm not a huge platform fan (I'm still working away at on NSMB1, slowly) but I'm tempted to pick this up now. Might go for Super Mario Land 3D first, though, as it seems to offer a fresher experience.
Just thinking I'd really like to see some of the enemies from the original Super Mario Bros 2 make a comeback, or maybe a game that mixes them in with the Koopa clan. And how about Wart? One and done for him?
Solid review – it touches on a few things I was curious about – like if the various goals make things a bit tired after you play and replay, and I have to say that a lot of what I saw about this title initially had me worried it was 'more of the same' – but it does look like a lot of fun. 🙂
You know, I've been hearing so many varying opinions about this game. Some are calling it a great game, some are calling it disappointingly passable, and others are saying that Nintendo has run the New Super Mario Bros. train into the ground. I want to pick this game up on make my own opinion on the matter, but I'm playing other things and I want to finish those before I dive into a new game.
Im actually kinda excited for the Wii U now, I really want to play a good mario game again.
Yeah, I reckon amongst the Wii U launch line up, New Super Mario Brothers is my most anticipated game.
I felt empty playing this game. I loved the level designs. But when it comes to it, they should have done more to emphasize 3D. How about Mario launching into the background like in Donkey Kong Country Returns, Paper Mario and Mutant Mudds? Of course, I don't want them to completely change the formula. But throwing adding some neat tricks would have been good- especially coming from Super Mario 3D Land. The coins aspect- they should have expanded on that concept.
Guess Nintendo played it too safe. Then again, the team that made this game were NEW people. They did a fantastic job with level design. If only they took things a bit further.
3D isn't necessary. Yet, it would have added a nice "wow" factor.
Good review. Oh, and I went digital for this game. Perfect to have with me everywhere I go. I may also invest in a 128GB card in the future so I can all have them on my 3DS- no clutter or anything. At least, for the games I want with me all the time.
Yeah, I'm enjoying having these games downloadable as well – Art Academy works brilliantly as a retail download too (review incoming in the near future).
Thanks for the input!
This would probably be a day one purchase if I were to get a 3DS system, but as I was commenting to superphillip32 about it, I don't like that the touch screen functions can't be mapped to other control options.
We have been playing the DS version, and for some odd reason the touch screen doesn't recognize any input. We have attempted to calibrate it, but nothing. What's that mean? Well, you can't access stored items, but more importantly, you can't change worlds. There's no way to choose a different world if the touch screen stops working, at least in the DS version, and superphillip thinks it's the same with the 3DS version.
I mean, we didn't even play the DS very much (less than 200 hours probably), and the touch screen doesn't function right now? Kind of odd…I don't know.
While it may be "safe" I wouldn't be buying it for myself, I would be buying it for Bean 1 since he is enjoying all the different Mario games so much, and I think he may enjoy/like the "coin" aspect of the game a whole lot.