Review: New Super Mario Bros. 2 for Nintendo 3DS

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the latest Mario title in what almost feels like a flood of them. Following the 2006 release of New Super Mario Bros., we saw Super Mario Galaxy for the Wii in 2007, New Super Mario Bros. Wii in 2009, Super Mario Galaxy 2 in 2010, Super Mario 3D Land in 2011, and now this game, with New Super Mario Bros. U to follow when the Wii launches later this year. That’s a lot of Mario, and that doesn’t even look at side-games!

One might even wonder if it’s too much Mario. On the other hand, we got Super Mario Bros. in 1985, then Super Mario Bros. 2 in 1988, Super Mario Land in 1989, Super Mario World in 1991, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins in 1992, Super Mario All-Stars (with The Lost Levels) in 1993, and if you want to include it, Yoshi’s Island: Super Mario World 2 in 1995 before Nintendo cut things down to one per generation with 1996’s Super Mario 64.

We didn’t complain then, and it seems comparable to that now. Nonetheless, some people are wondering if there is an oversaturation of Mario, or if the developers might be losing their spark. Does New Super Mario Bros. 2 possess anything to change the minds of the skeptics?

The answer… is sort of mixed, and a lot of it is based around the mindset of the player. But overall, New Super Mario Bros. 2 feels very safe, but enjoyable.

In the “safe” department, we have the scenario. Overall, it’s just disappointing, truth be told. Nintendo has been hyping this game almost exclusively on the idea that you want to collect a million gold coins, with the shiny oversized pocket change quite literally everywhere. As the game begins, Mario and Luigi set out with the returning classic Raccoon tails from Super Mario Bros. 3 (I preferred that to the Tanooki Suit, honestly, and am very happy to see it return) to stuff their pockets as Princess Peach sees them off from atop her castle.

With all of these coins around, one might expect Wario to be involved. Instead, the two land right before a Koopa Clown Copter stuffed with the Koopalings comes crashing down on top of them, throwing them aside and costing them their Raccoon powers. And then the twist is revealed: They’ve taken Peach! Off the Koopalings go, with the Mario Bros. in hot pursuit.

So, no Wario, then. One might then think that maybe the Koopalings would want a ransom or something with all of the coins you collect, but one would be mistaken. Instead, the coins have absolutely nothing to do with the scenario; there’s no explanation for the sudden overabundance of gold, nor does it play any role in what little story there is.

I’m not here to argue that Mario games need a deeper premise or anything, but compared to titles such as Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, Super Mario Land 2, and the Super Mario Galaxy titles, a bar has indeed been set for the series that this just doesn’t even attempt to match. Even the original Super Mario Bros. built up the same general idea with a bit more interest, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii at least gave us the set-up of Peach’s birthday as an excuse for the Koopalings to throw a giant cake on her before running off with her in it.

Again, one generally doesn’t play a Mario game (RPGs aside, perhaps) for the story. And yet, this feels rather indicative of the game as a whole, somehow: The same basic idea with a slight twist and a gold coin thing thrown on top. Fortunately, despite this, the game as a whole fares quite a bit better than any sort of in-world motivation you’ve been given.

At its most basic level, if you’ve played New Super Mario Bros. or New Super Mario Bros. Wii before, you know what to expect here. In fact, it feels as though it falls between the two in some ways, such as difficulty. It’s not as difficult as New Super Mario Bros. Wii was, while not quite as easy as New Super Mario Bros.

Still, the difficulty feels layered. Odds are that if your goal is to simply reach the end and see the credits roll, you probably won’t have a terribly tough time doing so. I died on occasion, generally not through any fault of the game; I’d then take note of what I did wrong, play again, rethink my approach and not do the same thing, and get through. More often than not, lost lives were because I was careless or clumsy.

Of course, it may be worth nothing that I’ve been playing Super Mario Bros. games since about 1987 or so, whether there were new ones or not, so experience might play a little into that. Suffice to say, I still find New Super Mario Bros. Wii rather challenging at points, while having beaten the original New Super Mario Bros. in literally just about every way possible.

Someone whose first Mario was New Super Mario Bros., however, might arguably have a more difficult time (don’t worry, the special Invincibility Leaves from Super Mario 3D Land are back), but it should be a cake walk for veterans.

But that’s where the layered metagame starts to come in. Sure, rescuing the Princess may be a breeze (though in fairness, I’m only on Bowser’s doorstep at the moment), but it’s all of the extra things to do which add more to the game.

For starters, there are the series’ Star Coins, with three hidden per level. Some of these are fairly easy to come by– I’ve gained a good few without going out of my way. Others, I’ve seen and missed, having to go back for, and still others have eluded me completely. As before, these unlock secret paths to Mushroom Houses and sometimes extra levels.

Speaking of extra levels, there are some stages with more than one exit leading to secret pathways and stages. Unlike Super Mario World, you have no idea which levels have secret exits; you can spot the destinations tucked away at the edges of the map, but figuring out how to reach them can be very tricky and require some unconventional thinking.

Then there are the hidden worlds. Like New Super Mario Bros., the world map branches at points, but rather than hiding away Worlds 3 and 5 unless you beat certain castles with Mini Mario, you must instead find the hidden exit which leads to a Cannon level. In this level, Mario (or Luigi, when you get him) are shot out of a cannon and run non-stop to reach the end. They aren’t terribly long, but timing and how long you hold the jump button is all that stands between you and retrying, providing a pretty good challenge.

Rather than numbered worlds, these levels are named for power-ups: World Mushroom, World Flower, and World Star, which is unlocked in a different fashion than the first two. Strangely enough, getting to these worlds– well, World Mushroom, anyway (I’ve yet to get the other two open)– is far more difficult than beating them.

One thing which may rub some players the wrong way, however, is the very nature of these special worlds. They don’t appear to be part of the regular Mushroom World, which has now been reduced to six worlds to make room for these, whose maps slightly resemble the World 9 map from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, or perhaps even the maps of Super Mario 3D Land. Now, instead of a beach world and a forest world, both are combined into one, as are the sky and mountain worlds.

(As an aside, it’s weird to move past a special world, go back and unlock it, then see another Koopaling rush off with the Princess to the castle after another one has already done so further down the line.)

Still, with over 80 levels full of hidden exits and three Star Coins apiece, there is plenty to do if you’re interested in more than merely reaching the end and moving on. Plus, there is the whole coin-collecting thing.

The coin collecting makes the game more interesting, given so much revolves around it. There are so many ways to collect coins, it’s difficult not to want to partake in it– at least a little– while playing. The Gold Blocks Mario wears on his head generate coins as you run, Gold Rings turn enemies into coin factories (especially satisfying when the Hammer Bros. and Lakitu’s normally-lethal weapons are replaced with life-giving cash), and the shockwave-generating Gold Flowers are all a blast to use.

On top of that, exploring tends to reveal even more money. If you’ve played Mario before, you’ve probably noticed all sorts of nooks and crannies which look like they would have something hidden in them, only to find nothing. Here, many of those same spots– or even just places one wouldn’t normally go– will trigger a batch of coins to swing in out of nowhere when you step into them. In terms of exploration and discovery, it’s rather satisfying.

It’s weird; one might think they aren’t going to go for coins when they read about the game, but when you’re actually in there, it can be difficult to help yourself. Some of those accidental and clumsy deaths mentioned above were the result of trying to cash in on a big score; it’s infectious, especially when you know there is an actual goal in mind for all of it (just don’t ask me what it is yet; I’m only at 32,934 as of this writing… and 344 lives, if you were wondering).

For those who do have their eye on the prize, it may please you to know that the coin total comes from all files being played, and includes not only the regular single-player mode, but the multiplayer and Coin Rush modes as well.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 introduces a new mode for StreetPass players called the “Coin Rush.” In Super Mario 3D Land, players merely exchanged bonus rooms with 1UPs inside; useful, but actually using them got a little dull after you got through the regular rotation of rooms.

Coin Rush, on the other hand, challenges you to get through three randomly-chosen levels from a series of “packs” with only one life and a small, small amount of time. Your goal is to get as many coins as possible, with 1UPs replaced by Gold Mushrooms which give you even more coins, and a chance to multiply your score by jumping as high as you can onto the flagpole at the end of each stage. The levels are taken from the main portion of the game, which gives good incentive to practice, while new levels for this mode will be available in the future.

With StreetPass, you’ll be able to share your scores with others, as well as challenge theirs. There are even two ways to play: One under normal Mario rules, while the other allows you use of the Invincibility Leaf, allowing you to plow through and focus on coin collecting without worrying about enemies.

Plus, if you turn on SpotPass, you can share your accumulated wealth with the rest of the world as a “Worldwide Coin Total” is tallied.

While the whole coin thing adds a lot to the game, when you pull that back, there isn’t a whole lot “new” in this New Super Mario Bros. game. Most of the power-ups are returning, including the Mega and Mini Mushrooms and the Super Leaf (though, as Nintendo of Canada’s Matt Ryan points out, a lot of today’s gamers weren’t there for that the first time out). The Gold Flower is new, but relatively rare and only temporary, as you revert to regular Fire Mario at the end of a level.

Incidentally, Raccoon Mario has been tweaked a little bit. His tail seems more powerful and will hit enemies and objects on either side of him, more like the Cape in Super Mario World than the version of the tail seen in Super Mario Bros. 3. And unlike the power the leaves grant you in Super Mario 3D Land, you can fly again! Also like World, you needn’t mash the button repeatedly; instead, you can just hold the button to ascend and slow your descent, making it even easier to use and more valuable than before.

As we mentioned, the worlds don’t really offer much new to see, either. There are a few twists here and new turns there, but most of it feels quite familiar. One level in World 2 features a variation on the bouncy mushroom-top levels with giant totem poles, but there isn’t anything as surprising or thrilling as seeing a world of giants or a land filled with tons and tons of pipes in Super Mario Bros. 3 after playing its two predecessors.

One aspect I’ve made no secret of looking forward to, especially after reading about it in Iwata Asks, is seeing some new levels which take place at night or with sunsets. Unfortunately, even these are scarce and hidden away in the secret worlds, one of which (the nighttime level shown in the trailers) comes after the end of the game. There are a few hidden areas I’ve yet to reach, but I don’t have a lot of hope they’ll show more of that, leaving us with one sunset level and one nighttime level.

The funniest thing, truth be told, is that there is an embargo on discussing World 6. But, at least up to you-know-who’s doorstep, we don’t even need to.

Similarly, there is little in the way of new enemies. Going by Super Mario Wiki, there is a whopping total of five new enemies in the game– one is the super-sized Boohemoth (who honestly gives me the creeps– I don’t know why), a miniature version of another past enemy, and three undead versions of past enemies, one of which being a super-sized version of the other.

As noted, the Koopalings are back in town– and to the delight of many, I’m sure, Bowser Jr. is seemingly nowhere to be found (so far in my journey, anyway, and he’s not mentioned on Super Mario Wiki’s entry). The Koopalings themselves have a bit of variety to them, as each has their own battle plan and appear in a different order than previous games. Some, like Roy and Larry, take another stab at what they did in Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, while most have devised new strategies.

You only fight each Koopaling once, however. In the mid-world towers, the Reznor make their return from Super Mario World, and unlike that game, they do mix things up in a few different ways, though the overall strategy remains the same.

From a sound standpoint, the music is generally the same as it was in New Super Mario Bros., though perhaps with a slightly higher quality and some subtle remixing. The fortress music seems to have a more pronounced “ba!” for the enemies to dance to, which feels slightly jarring for the otherwise cryptic sound and somewhat-epic feeling it evokes.

There are some neat effects, though, such as added drumbeat or twinkling sounds when Mario has a Super Leaf or triggers a Gold Ring. Plus, if you get Raccoon Mario to fly over the top of the screen, the music fades out, as if it were following him.

Visually… well, if you’ve seen one New Super Mario Bros., then you have a good idea of what to expect. It’s a bit sharper than New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS, though maybe not quite as sharp as New Super Mario Bros. Wii is on a large screen television (as one might expect).

The 3D effect is very subtle, and isn’t even really necessary. Turning it on blurs the background, with the effect increased as the slider is moved up, while the foreground remains sharp. Going midway strikes a nice balance, keeping some of the background detail while adding a sense of depth.

What’s really disappointing, however, is that this would have been a perfect opportunity to employ some of the cool visual tricks utilized in Yoshi’s Island, such as when giant doors and Chomps fell out of the background at the player. Unfortunately, there does not seem to be anything of the sort going on (unless they saved it for the very end), and it feels like a tragic waste of an opportunity to fully realize an idea first put into practice over 15 years ago.

There is one exception to this, around the end of the game. It’s a cool moment, but it’s just that: A moment (a big one, but still just one). After a game full of such moments in Yoshi’s Island, it just feels like more of a shame that Nintendo didn’t bring the concept fully to bear here.

In the end, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a really, really good game. It doesn’t do a lot to earn that “New” in the title, particularly at its core, but that in no way makes it a bad game. Frankly, I’m having a blast with it, and I’ll probably be playing it for a long time– at least until my job forces me to play something else for a while, anyway. Incidentally, with it downloaded to my Nintendo 3DS and not having to carry a spare game card around, I’ll probably be playing it even more than if I had a retail copy.

Looking beyond the coin collecting, which along with the Star Coins and hidden exits adds a ton of replay value– there just isn’t a whole lot of new content here. In a way, it’s very much like Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels was to the original Super Mario Bros., minus the soul-crushing difficulty. There were some new twists and features– perhaps not even as many as in New Super Mario Bros. 2, admittedly, but it all felt very much like the same basic game, and then some. Even disregarding the four-player aspect of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, that game felt like it offered more new than New Super Mario Bros. 2 has.

If you love Mario, the 2D style in particular, this is a great game to pick up. Just be aware that it really feels more like they built on to the first game than created a full-blown sequel like Mario fans have come to expect over the years from such titles as Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, or even the recent Super Mario Galaxy 2 over its predecessor. Perhaps New Super Mario Bros. U will be the game to offer more in the “New” vein.

On one final note: Without someone to play the two-player simultaneous mode with, I’m unable to evaluate that aspect of the game. I will update once I get a chance to try it out.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 will be released for the Nintendo 3DS on August 17th, 2012, and is priced at $39.99 at retail and in the Nintendo eShop. A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.


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David Oxford

David Oxford is a freelance writer of many varied interests. If you're interested in hiring him, please drop him a line at david.oxford (at) nyteworks.net.