Less than a year after Super Mario 3D Land added a bit of depth to the world of Mario, the perky plumber is back again with his second formal 3DS platforming release. Following up 2006′s DS rebirth and subsequent co-op based Wii sequel, the questionably titled New Super Mario Bros. 2 brings back the 2D gameplay that made Mario a household name to a system ostensibly designed to showcase a whole extra dimension.
At first glance, the game might seem like just another retread of the two previous “New” Super Mario titles. But beneath the familiar exterior are a number of new mechanics and gameplay variations that aim to keep the Mario formula fresh after all these years.
Is there enough that’s new here to justify the game’s title? Hit the break to find out.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 takes place over six main “worlds,” with a number of extra hidden worlds awaiting intrepid explorers. In the tradition of Mario 3 and Super Mario World, the stages within these worlds are arranged in a delightfully non-linear manner, letting you find secret exits and star coins in levels that unlock alternate paths to progress towards the castle blocking access to the next world. It’s a huge step up from the linear and thematically scattershot arrangement of levels in last year’s Super Mario 3D Land, and there’s an immense amount of satisfaction to be had as you scour levels one by one looking for that last hidden exit or star coin.
But the main goal in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is more than just discovery. This time around, those iconic gold coins are where it’s at. Each stage is now packed with tons of coins, and the game makes it clear that it wants you to try and grab as many as you can. Coins will be scattered everywhere – especially tucked away in hidden caches just off screen – and a running coin total on the world map tracks your treasure-hoarding progress.
To this end, most of New Super Mario Bros. 2′s new mechanics support this coin-collecting venture. Old school multi-coin blocks, if struck enough times, will now stick themselves to Mario’s noggin, generating additional cash based on how rapidly the plumber moves. Some rings, when jumped through, will turn enemies golden – gilded goombas will give you a nice coin bonus when stomped, while transmuted koopa shells leave coins in their wake after being kicked. Sometimes, touching certain parts of the screen will cause a long path of coins to appear on the screen, tasking you with making some tricky jumps in order to maximize your profits. Your highest coin score for a given level is saved each time, giving you incentive to improve over your previous best each time you attempt a stage.
There’s also a lot to be said about the variety offered in each new level. Despite being a 2D platformer, almost every stage in New Super Mario Bros. 2 seems to introduce some small, subtle twist on the game to keep things interesting. Some might be straightforward running and jumping affairs, while others (particularly the game’s several ghost houses) task you with slowing down and thinking a little bit about how to proceed. Most levels fall somewhere in the middle, keeping the platform action coming while tossing in obstacles like rising water levels, auto-scrolling stages, and pipe mazes.
Of course, being a Mario game, you’ll be collecting all manner of power-ups to give you an edge as you progress. Sadly, this is a bit of a weak spot, as the item variety on display isn’t nearly as compelling as it has been in previous Mario titles. Naturally, the fire flower and mushroom act just as you’d expect, and the return of Super Mario Bros. 3′s super leaf will please Mario veterans, especially since its flight-granting properties have been faithfully restored. Sadly, those are largely it when it comes to power-ups. On rare occasion, you’ll get access to a new golden fire flower, which grants Mario an area-of-effect projectile that turns blocks into coins; it’s fun to play with, but appears so infrequently that it’s often a non-factor. The mini and mega mushrooms from the original New Super Mario Bros. also make an appearance, but are both so rare that you’ll likely never see them more than once or twice playing through to the end.
The controls in New Super Mario Bros. 2 predictably follow the same, simple two-button scheme people have come to expect in a Mario game – one runs, one jumps. Despite the simplicity, control in the game is incredibly tight and responsive. You’ll never get the urge to blame the controls when you go tumbling into a bottomless pit, which is great for keeping frustration levels low. Advanced players will find a few moves from Mario’s 3D adventures intact as well, such as the triple jump and wall kick, which make the game feel quite fluid. An extra item can also be stored on the touch screen, and tapping it will cause it to drop down to Mario in a pinch.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 does offer a few additional modes for those looking for a break from the normal quest. Those looking to push their skills to the limit will be pleased with the all new Coin Rush mode. Coin Rush pulls together 3 random stages from different difficulty tiers of levels and tasks you with beating all three consecutively on a single life while collecting as many coins as possible. Further complicating matters is a drastically reduced timer, forcing you to make some snap decisions about how long you can dawdle about nabbing coins. The mode is something of a speedrunner’s paradise, rewarding those with a high level of skill and knowledge of each level’s layout. High scores can be saved to your profile and transmitted via Street Pass, letting you compete against your friends for high scores. Sadly, there’s no sort of online leaderboard, which would have been the perfect complement to what already stands as an incredibly fun mode. Those with a less competitive bent can play the entire game cooperatively as well, and the experience is (thankfully) far less of a mess than the pure chaos of New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
For all its high points, however, New Super Mario Bros. 2 does fall short in a few areas. Despite offering some genuinely new and interesting mechanics, it’s very difficult to get over the high level of sameness that permeates every corner of the package. Virtually every character model and environment feels lifted wholesale from previous New Super Mario Bros. games, making the game feel more than a bit stale. Compounding this with the fact that the game’s overarching premise doesn’t even try to mix things up at all (kidnapped princess, Bowser, Koopalings, yada yada) is enough to make even the most diehard Mario fans sigh and roll their eyes. Even the music consists of little more that barely arranged versions of tracks from previous games (now with 100% more “WAH”s!). The 3D effect is subtle, but there is an interesting depth-of-field effect in which the foreground elements come into sharper focus as the intensity on the 3D slider is increased. Still, the vast amount of recycled assets make New Super Mario Bros. 2’s presentation a pretty significant disappointment.
The game is also a bit overly obsessed with hanging on to a few outdated mechanics that really don’t work out so well, seemingly for the sake of tradition alone. You’ll still get an extra life for every hundred coins you collect, but in a game where you’ll be nabbing upwards of a thousand coins a stage, this means that extra lives are ludicrously prevalent, even by the standards of the New Super Mario series. Since lives are such a pointless non-factor, it’s bizarre as to why the game insists on kicking you back out to the overworld with every death. It’s simply not necessary, and it would harm the game’s flow far less to simply immediately respawn Mario at the last checkpoint, letting you get back to the action immediately. The world map is also dotted with item-granting Toad houses, but since the game lacks the inventory system found in Super Mario Bros. 3, there’s really little point to them other than a needless nostalgic callback – especially considering many of them require spending precious star coins to access.
Despite these shortcomings, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is still an incredibly solid platformer that makes for a great addition to any 3DS owner’s library – especially now that Nintendo has finally gotten with the times and offered the game as a digital download. It might feel a bit stale on the surface, but beneath the familiarity is a clever and engaging adventure that successfully blends tried and true mechanics with some new twists. The frenzied twinkling of coins collected in rapid succession has never sounded quite so satisfying.