New Super Mario Bros. 2 Review
The "New" series can still deliver, but loses a lot of its original charm.
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"How can New Super Mario Bros. be considered new if they're releasing a third game?" If we hear anyone ask this snarky question one more time, we're going to scream. Not because we're irritated, but because those people are right. From the get-go it's apparent that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is strikingly similar to New Super Mario Bros. and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
We enjoyed the game regardless, though for nine measly worlds we felt a little ripped off. Only a few levels could be considered memorable examples of the level design expected from the Mario series.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 has no shortage of the tight gameplay the series is known for, but has trouble evolving with the times. Mario is no longer the king of platforming, having to fight off contenders like Rayman and Sonic. Both recent platformers Sonic 4 and Rayman Origins have made drastic changes to their gameplay style, keeping their games fresh and enjoyable. After sampling these interesting concepts, NSMB2 comes off as stale.
The gameplay in Mario's latest adventure is just as tight as any other game in the series. Jumping feels good, whether Mario is crushing Dry Bones or bouncing on a Music Block. Or hitting a Coin Block... Or hitting a regular block, or a Secret Block, or a Switch Block. Mario sure loves his blocks.
Giant buzzsaws will try to carve Mario up as he dodges them by climbing up fences tacked to fortress walls. While moving platforms, dropping platforms, and tiny platforms are all well and fun, we wanted to see a different presentation for them all. Instead we just get the same old Mario levels we've been playing for years. Really, NSMB2 is just another Mario game.
Super Mario's World
Mario runs through his typical assortment of levels: Plains, underground levels, and clouds filled with pipes and pits. This is your standard platforming game, full of switches, bricks, coins and Goombas. You run to the end, maybe enter a secret pipe or two, and then hit the flagpole. We've done it before.
Ghost Houses, on the other hand, make a big comeback in NSMB2, and the design of each one is unique and fun. There's a Ghost House in almost every world. Inside these Ghost Houses you'll find fake doors, repeating rooms, and a secret exit that can be infuriatingly hard to locate. The team behind the game took a few risks here, making Ghost Houses our favorite levels to play (and re-re-play).
Towers and castles are tougher levels that let you know you're in for a boss fight. There are stone traps and enough lava to delight any Koopa King. We're glad that most of these levels prove to be real challenges, as the rest of the game is a cakewalk by comparison.
Cannon levels are the only new level type in NSMB2, and it's a shame there are only three or four of them. Mario is fired out of a cannon and forced to run at breakneck speeds through waves of enemies and pits. These bite-sized challenges make us hungry for Mario's own endless runner game. What say you, Nintendo?
You've got to love them, you've got to have them: Coins. Every level is chock full of glittery gold, and while the game teases you with a secret unlock once you've collected a million coins...they really don't count for much else. All that hard work nets you...a new title screen. Hooray.
Bowser doesn't even shoot the Mushroom Kingdom with a Gold-Gun or anything. The coins are just...there.
Koopalings Strike Back, We Guess
Remember those creepy bosses from Super Mario World? Bowser's illegitimate children are back for revenge, although it only takes one encounter to realize that they're all pushovers.
Example: The boss of World 5 rolls around on a giant ball, using his magic wand to shoot smaller balls at you, while you ride on a conveyor belt. At the top of the stage is a switch that reverses the direction of conveyor belt, so we thought that hitting the switch would cause the boss to slip and give us a chance to attack. ...Several deaths later, our strategy still wasn't working. Eventually, we realized that we could just jump on the boss at any point and kill him with no need for strategy.
The rest of the main bosses have the simplest of patterns, posing zero threat. The mini-bosses are even easier. Giant triceratops rotate around the room on giant coin blocks, asking nothing more than to run up and hit the block. On rare occasions the dinosaurs will shoot fire, but by the time they get a shot off we'd already killed all but one of them.
The final boss himself is just as much of a pushover. Mario defeats Bowser just like he did in Super Mario Bros.: By running underneath him and hitting a switch, just like you might have done in 1985. Mario then has to climb up a tower filling with lava, but this is almost as simple as the first part of the battle.
We know that Mario games need to be accessible to gamers of all ages and skill levels, but we were embarrassed by the sad state the villains of the Mushroom Kingdom are in. Why go through the trouble of saving the Kingdom if Bowser isn't even going to fight you for it?
Let's just skip to the part where we talk about Golden enemies, alright? This is where the game gets fun. Jumping through a Golden Ring in the sky will turn all the enemies gold, and as a result all bad guys begin vomiting coins at rapid pace.
Koopa shells leave a trail of coinage in their wake. Piranha Plants will shoot coins from their mouths, even Lakitus' spiky projectiles turn into wads of sweet cash. You'll find Golden Rings in enough levels to work on your gold-grabbing combos.
At this point, we don't need to stress the differences between Mushroom and Fire Flowers. The return of the Tanooki Leaf is relatively fresh, giving 2D Mario the ability to charge up a flight meter and take to the skies. The Mega Mushroom from New Super Mario Bros. makes a guest appearance in one level, and stars were also in short supply (or perhaps just well-hidden).
Remember the gold rings we mentioned? They also effect items: Jump through a ring and all the items will be replaced with gold variants. The most useful item in the game is the Golden Fire Flower, turning Mario into a big, fat C-3PO. The item feels a bit overpowered, as the fireballs will plate any enemy in their wake. Whole clusters of blocks will burst open at first touch, and enemies will net coins depending on their value and your stomping combo.
There's also a Golden Mushroom, which does not turn Mario golden. Instead you'll get a fat 50 coin paycheck (or 100 coins if you're already Golden Mario).
Another "New Super Mario Crutch" introduced is the Golden Tanooki Leaf, which is a handicap item that gives Mario invincibility status for an entire level. This item was put in to help Lil' Billy and Grandma take it all the way to Bowser's Castle without having to learn gaming the hard way. We kid, though nothing is more humbling than seeing that leaf appear after dying several times.
With all the ways to control 3DS games (including AR cameras and gyro sensors), we're glad that Mario can still be boiled down to one D-Pad and two buttons. You can touch the screen to switch worlds or use a backup item, and that's it. Mario still rules with its simplicity, perfecting its sacred formula.
Secret exits are nestled into every grimy corner of the Mushroom Kingdom, leading to item rooms and bonus worlds. Some are nigh impossible to discover without the use of a walkthrough or great deal of luck. You'll want to seek out these exits in order to unlock the secret worlds, as the development team tried a lot of different ideas that didn't make it into the "main game". After completing the six main worlds, a final "Star" world is unlocked, full of some truly challenging levels. Speedrunning through old levels looking for new secrets is good fun, but only counts for about two hours of gameplay.
Nintendo finally decided to give in and release DLC for their games. Out now are three brand new three-level packs of Coin Rush levels, explained in greater detail in the Multiplayer section. Considering how much we enjoyed Coin Rush, we're very excited at the prospect of more level packs.
Nintendo plans to release another set of level packs at the end of October, and a third set at the end of November.
Pacing & Flow
NSMB2 is an easy game to pick up and play. With simple controls and quick levels, the Mario formula is a natural fit for a handheld game. This game is meant to be played over a few road trips. The developers understand that gameplay comes first, and they sacrificed a lot of trimmings to make sure players can grab some Mario wherever, whenever. We might not agree with this choice, but Nintendo stuck to its guns.
Each world has only eight or so levels, with few variations on each world's "theme". While one world is the "jungle", you might end up in the clouds over the jungle in one level and dig underground in the next. Fans of Mario understand that there will always be a desert world, a lava world, etc., and although there is comfort in the familiarity, we would have liked to see a radical new world to change up the pace.
Nintendo doesn't even pretend this time. Just go get the Princess.
You know the deal: Peach gets kidnapped, Bowser and his Koopalings are to blame, and Mario's got to get the girl. At the end, Mario saves the day (spoiler), and then he unlocks the secret worlds to explore. Two bookending cutscenes are all that's there to remind you that there is a princess and yes, you saved her.
What's sad is that there's no mention of gold at all. For a game that's "all about the gold", we figured Mario's greed might have been explained in greater detail than one popup at the game's first start.
Graphics & Atmosphere Overview
We've seen and heard it all before, Mario. We know your theme songs, your forest levels, your underground caverns and your mushrooms. We had to look up levels from the original New Super Mario Bros. to make sure we weren't playing the same game. You had a few original ideas to bring to the table, but they came and went so fast that we barely had time to enjoy them.
Most of what you'll see has been seen before, whether on the original DS or the Wii. Literally, the same tilesets have been recycled from previous New Super Mario Bros. games. We've been playing these levels for twenty years now, since Super Mario Bros. 3 came out in 1988.
That being said, there are a few new art choices that impressed us. As simple as it sounds, having all the enemies turn gold is just plain fun to look at. We know they're just recolored sprites, but the fact that they sparkle appealed to our inner Wario. Luigi turns a cool shade of silver whenever he grabs a Gold Fire Flower, making him our brother of choice over boring "golden boy" Mario.
A few levels have some interesting new creatures: One Boo House is home to a giant Boo (Boolossus?) that is about as plump and adorable as can be. He even peeks through his hands to chase you, overcoming his crippling shyness. Near the end of the game, Mario has to ride a giant cackling Dry Guy through a river of lava. These were the highlights of the main campaign, which is sad to say for a Mario game. Nintendo needed to create some innovative, crazy characters instead of recycling Koopalings and golden Goombas.
If you're looking for graphical innovation, we'd easily recommend Super Mario 3D Land over NSMB2. Little is done to push the new hardware, making NSMB2 look more like a regular DS game with very smooth edges. That being said, the game runs flawlessly, ensuring that each level runs without hiccup.
It's almost embarrassing to see how little 3D affects the game, and how big of a headache it gave us. The only benefit to switching on the 3D is to actively watch backgrounds fade out or snap back into focus. Save the headache and play this title in 2D mode.
Kidz Bop is a terrible series of compilation albums where kids massacre Top 40 radio hits. If that doesn't sound bad enough, other children will join in by injecting "Yeahs" and "Woos" into songs like a gang of pre-teen hype men. It's enough to drive anyone insane, and we're embarrassed to admit that NSMB2 does the same darn thing.
The first two New Super Mario games had such different and interesting soundtracks, and the fact that NSMB2 only has a few remixes to its name really shows (rather, sounds). If players are expected to run through some rehashed levels, the least Nintendo could do is add in some fresh songs that do the original Mario theme proud.
On a final note, the "BAP BAAHP" noises do serve a small purpose: While playing through levels, some enemies will do a cute two-step in time to the remix. Very cute, but hardly groundbreaking.
Sound effects aren't even a concern for Mario games anymore. The classic coin, jump, and shell-kick sounds have become the standard for platformers, and we're glad to hear them again. It's especially comforting to hear the odd sound effect that plays when you pick up a Tanooki Leaf, straight out of the original Super Mario Bros. 3. We couldn't ask for anything more.
A unique, Mario-style take on high-scoring speedruns.
NSMB2 embraces online through asynchronous multiplayer. We wouldn't recommend playing the main game with multiple Mario Bros., but Coin Rush is by far the best new addition to the innovation of Mario.
At last, something fresh that takes advantage of the 3DS' cool features. We never guessed that StreetPass would end up being far more functional than glasses-free 3D tech. Instead of sharing hats and secret wishes, players will be sharing their high scores for the new Coin Rush mode.
Coin Rush turned out to be our favorite part of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Once you clear a world you'll unlock its levels for play in Coin Rush, where the goal is to get as many coins as possible. The beginner "Mushroom Pack" pulls from the easier worlds, the "Flower Pack" provides a more intermediate challenge, and the diabolical "Star Pack" will have you struggling just to finish.
Players are given only 100 seconds to complete three randomly selected stages, with a few collectable checkpoints that can extend the timer. This turns typical Mario platforming into a frantic, strategic speed-run. Beating the stage with time to spare will add coins to your total, and clearing the top of that mysterious flagpole will effectively double your current coin count. You've also got to complete all three stages with just one life. Mama mia. Even the Mushroom Pack has its panicked moments, forcing players to decide whether to farm coins or just move on.
After you've set a world record (or flopped like we did), you can save your best high score to StreetPass. When you link up with another 3DS owner, they'll give you the option to play the three stages they played to get their own high score. Only problem is, you don't know what their high score is! After beating the final stage, your grand total is compared to their grand total, and then both totals go into your grand total. It's a fun way to asynchronously challenge friends and strangers.
Like we mentioned earlier, Nintendo has just recently announced brand new level packs for Coin Rush as downloadable content, giving us more of exactly what we want.
There isn't much to say about the co-operative world of NSMB2. You and a friend have to gather in the same room, you have to share the same screen, and you will get into fights in-game. Having to deal with just one pesky Mario brother on your cramped 3DS screen is enough. We couldn't imagine having four players running around a la New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Still, if you have a kid or a pesky younger brother (hopefully adorned in green!), Mario multiplayer won't be too bad. Just make sure to let the kid win.
Super Mario Bros., like any blockbuster game series, has had its share of sequels. Super Mario Bros. 2 expanded upon the original by providing a variety of new levels, along with three new, unique characters to play as! Super Mario Galaxy 2 proved that Nintendo could put out more Mario and still keep it fresh. Heck, even Super Mario World 2 threw players a curve ball by making the game about Yoshi. Why didn't NSMB2 get the same star treatment?
If you love Mario, get this game. Even if you only sort of like Mario, get this game. Just don't expect any thing new in this "New" game. We'll be looking towards Super Mario Bros. U on the Wii U for innovative gameplay, but for now consider our faith in Mario shaken.