It's amazing that after 25 years, Mario is not only still relevant, but a dominant force in gaming. While he's starred in countless platformers, we've never tired of them because each new title brought with it surprising innovations. Last year's Super Mario 3D Land, for example, remains one of the only games on the 3DS to justify turning the 3DS depth slider on. Unfortunately, New Super Mario Bros 2 fails to live up to its name; it brings nothing new to the table. By failing to innovate, NSMB2 is easily the stalest game in the mainline Mario franchise.
That doesn't mean that NSMB2 is a bad game. In fact, it still outclasses many modern platformers. In typical Mario fashion, the controls are excellent and always responsive. The level designs encourage exploration, as every stage is littered with secrets to uncover. Mario remains at the pinnacle of platform game design.
Unfortunately, we've seen it all before. The introduction is a carbon copy of the previous two New Super Mario Bros games: Princess Peach gets kidnapped by Bowser for the umpteenth time. It's not cute anymore, Nintendo. Once you get to the world map, you'll see the standard staples of a Mario map: castles, ghost houses, pipes, and Mushroom houses. Each level plays pretty much as you'd expect. Minus one, there aren't even any original boss encounters; the Koopa Kids return and do what they've done since Super Mario Bros 3 on the NES.
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The original New Super Mario Bros for DS surprised gamers by introducing them to a number of new power-ups, specifically the Blue Koopa Shell, Mega Mushroom, and Mini-Mushroom. The latter two were truly surprising and introduced some exciting new gameplay opportunities. The Wii follow-up, New Super Mario Bros Wii, added four-player co-op. So, what does New Super Mario Bros 2 have to offer? Gold.
But, getting the Gold Flower isn't as exciting as it should be. Yes, it lets you turn bricks (and enemies) into coins. But, it functions identically to the Fire Flower. From a gameplay perspective, it offers nothing new. And don't be fooled by the art--it doesn't really come into play that often. New Super Mario Bros 2 also offers two-player co-op, but the levels don't reflect any cooperative opportunities like the Wii game did.
In fact, the whole gold theme of the game feels rather half-assed. While there are a number of coin-collecting tricks you can discover, only a few levels provide any real coin-collecting opportunities. Towards the game's end, it feels as though Nintendo completely forgets the gold theme.
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Not that it actually matters. Going for a million coins is a completely arbitrary goal, as your coin total has no influence on anything in the game. Why does Mario want a million coins? Unfortunately, the game offers no explanation--and no potential reward for going after such a lofty goal. And while promotional videos make it seem like a doable feat, it will require a lot of grinding. I completed 100% of the game, unlocking every exit and finding every Star Coin, and I managed to get about 50,000 coins total. That means I'll have to replay the game about 20 times to get to the one million goal Nintendo has been advertising.
Perhaps I'd want to attempt besting my score, but NSMB2 offers little reason to bother. Every level shows you the most number of coins you've collected. While some will want to constantly best their own scores, it's sad to see that Nintendo couldn't be bothered to include leaderboard support for the game. What if you could see not only your own best score, but your friends'? It would have made coin collecting a far more meaningful experience.
There is a local leaderboard, of sorts, but it's relegated to the game's "Coin Rush" mode. Essentially, this is Mario on "Shuffle" mode. In Coin Rush, you have 300 seconds to complete three randomly-selected levels. Your goal is to collect as many coins as you can, while surviving on a single life. Your scores are transferred via StreetPass.
By removing checkpoints, restricting the time, and giving you only one life, Coin Rush is probably the only real "challenge" the game has to offer. In the main mode, you still get a 1UP for every 100 coins you collect, meaning your life tally will skyrocket rather quickly. I ended the game with 750 lives--and very rarely had to use any of them. Considering how generous the game is with the coins, you'd think Nintendo would entertain the possibility of making a more difficult game. Instead, barring a few levels towards the end, NSMB2 is pretty much a cakewalk.
With 16 games before it raising the bar ever higher, perhaps it's unsurprising that Nintendo finally stumbled. New Super Mario Bros 2 isn't a bad game, but it certainly is a disappointment. Newcomers to the franchise may not mind (or notice), but long-time Mario fans have no reason to go on this trek.
This review of New Super Mario Bros 2 is based on retail 3DS code provided by the publisher. The game was tested exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS XL, with 3D selectively turned on and off. The game will be available on August 19th.