Mario is back, and this time he’s in it for the money. Sure, New Super Mario Bros 2 still has the tubby plumber hopping platforms, rescuing the princess and smacking Bowser’s spiky shell-covered behind, but really New Super Mario Bros 2 is all about the gold. In this game, coins are everywhere, gushing forth from pipes, trailing behind fish and appearing as if by magic when you jump over designated spots. There are switches that turn ordinary bricks into shining coins, and rings that transform those tricky turtle shells into high-speed, money-making death machines. There’s even a power-up that turns everything Mario touches into a potential source of loot. If you love the classic chinking sound of a coin being collected, then New Super Mario Bros 2 is the game for you.
In fact, you might say that a love of classic Mario is essential for New Super Mario Bros 2. When the first New Super Mario Bros appeared on the Nintendo DS, its retro back-to-basics formula felt like a breath of fresh air. Now with New Super Mario Bros Wii behind us and New Super Mario Bros U on the horizon, it’s clear that Nintendo has divided the Mario series into two strands, with Super Mario 3D Land and the Mario Galaxy games in one strand, and the New Super Mario Bros series continuing the retro 2D theme.
That means that, underneath all the coin collecting, playing New Super Mario Bros 2 doesn’t feel a whole lot different to playing New Super Mario Bros, Super Mario World or even Super Mario Bros 3. You’ll find all of Bowser’s most stalwart henchmen, from the Koopa Troopas through to the Whomps, the usual platform types, the usual power-ups and the same levels we’ve been seeing since the beginning of the series.
In a way, this is a good thing. At heart, the Mario gameplay works. He’s still the most perfectly and intuitively controllable character in platform gaming, beating Rayman and Sonic into second or third place, and Nintendo hasn’t lost its ability to build storming levels, full of challenging moments and narrow scrapes. The classic Racoon and Fireflower suits have more than earnt their amazing longevity, and their floating and fireball-throwing powers are well-used here, while power-ups that shrink and grow Mario are deployed brilliantly, if a bit too sporadically. The cartoon graphics have never looked better, and all the classic Mario music and sound effects are here. There’s not a single moment when playing New Super Mario Bros 2 is not a lot of fun.
The downside of this is that it can feel too familiar. It turns out that there are only so many variations on the desert level, the ghost house and the ice level you can play before déjà vu begins to kick in. New Super Mario Bros and New Super Mario Bros Wii made the nostalgia factor work by taking the classic Mario designs and adding a cool new twist. They made playing the game seem like going to see a favourite band on a greatest hits tour, but with each song transformed in some great way that bought it back to life. In New Super Mario Bros 2 the levels play more like straight album versions, with all the coin-collecting the major change. It’s not bad or wrong, but it’s not exactly new.
Of course, a new generation of gamers won’t have this problem, and those who haven’t dosed up on every Mario in the last 20 years will still find a lot that’s fresh and exciting. Newbies will also love the easy difficulty curve, and the white suit feature, where if you fail over-and-over on a level the game will present you with an optional white racoon suit which makes you invincible while the level lasts (though this still isn’t proof against purple goo or flowing lava). New Super Mario Bros 2 is definitely accessible, though it might also feel a little bit too easy.
Some will also say that it’s too short. None of the game’s six main worlds should take you more than an hour to get through, and almost before you know it you’ll have dispatched a broken Bowser back to his lair, rescued the princess and enjoyed a slick, interactive credits sequence. This will be enough to put those in the mood to kick Mario to start dishing out a kicking. We’d say, however, that the haters are just wrong. New Super Mario Bros 2 isn’t over just because the credits have rolled. There’s still plenty more to see and do.
To keep things a surprise (and maybe because Nintendo kindly asked us not to) we won’t give much away. You’ll quickly spot, though, that each world has a map, and that parts of that map are locked off until you pay up a number of special star coins. Three of these can be found in each level, and you’ll need to grab as many of them as you can if you want to see all that New Super Mario Bros 2 has to offer. On top of this there are new levels and worlds to be uncovered, if only you can spot the secret paths that take you to them. In other words, the meat of the game isn’t in finishing it, but in what you do after you finish. Not everyone likes this approach, but if you do then you’re in for a treat.
There are other extras too. Completing a world unlocks a special Coin Rush mode, where you’re called to crack three random levels with a single life, grabbing as many of those coins as you can. Coin Rush scores can be shared with friends and strangers using the 3DS’s StreetPass feature, and the coins go onto your mounting overall tally. What’s more, the whole game is playable in a local co-op mode (though sadly we didn’t have a friend with a 3DS and a copy of the game to try this out).
Nobody sane is going to say that this is the best Mario ever made. In fact, it’s not even the best Mario on 3DS. It doesn’t break new ground like Super Mario 64, it doesn’t innovate like Super Mario Galaxy, and it doesn’t have the inventive energy of New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario 3D Land. This is as close as Mario has ever got to mediocrity.
But by close, we don’t mean that close. New Super Mario Bros 2 is still fun, infectious and addictive, and you’ll keep coming back for more star coins and more secrets long after the main credits have rolled. It turns out that one of the worst ever Marios is still a whole lot better than most other platform games.