The lights are on
With the 2012 Olympics having recently come to an end, you would think we could all put our “go for the gold” attitudes to the side for a while. But just as we all attempt to quell our gold lust, New Super Mario Bros. 2 tempts us into relapse. As the sequel to 2006’s New Super Mario Bros. for the DS, New Super Mario Bros. 2 continues the series’ 2.5d side scrolling gameplay, but with a twist. As you travel through the game’s six worlds in pursuit of Bowser you will also be collecting as many gold medals… err coins as you can, in an attempt to eventually amass 1,000,000 coins (take that Michael Phelps). While this quest for gold certainly adds something new to the gameplay and level design, it isn’t enough to set the game apart from the other games in the series.
The story revolves around Mario’s journey to rescue Princess Peach from the clutches of Bowser and the Koopa Kids. Yes, this is the same story presented in nearly every Mario game, but Mario games have never been known for their stories. Mario is all about the gameplay, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 delivers it masterfully. As always, controlling Mario is a dream. By keeping the controls simple (Run, Jump, Move left and right) the game retains that “simple to learn, harder to master” gameplay. The game is easy to pick up and play, and it is unlikely you will ever feel that a death wasn’t your fault.
As usual, the level design is top notch, and even though the world themes are all retreads (Desert, Swamp, Snow) the coin collecting manages to keep the levels feeling fresh. You will rarely find yourself on a screen devoid of at least a few coins, and there are usually hidden coins just waiting to be unveiled. Enemies drop coins when killed, and there are three special star coins to find in every level. If all of that isn't enough, new coin related power ups have been added to facilitate your new found addiction. Coin blocks can now turn into coin block hats, which award you coins for moving at a fast click, and golden rings scattered through the levels will turn all enemies golden for a short while, awarding you extra coins for defeating them and sometimes making them leave coins in their wake. There is even a new Golden Fire Flower that turns your fireballs golden, and causes them to turn blocks and enemies into more gold coins. These are only a few of the many new ways to collect coins, so be sure to tinker with the new mechanics and figure out what works best to maximize your gold count.
The Coin Block Hat is definitely the most satisfying new item
However, despite the new features, upgrades are one area where New Super Mario Bros. 2 falls short. Your arsenal consists of three main power ups: The Mushroom, The Fire Flower, and The Super Leaf. Having been recently resurrected in Super Mario 3D Land, fans will enoy finally be able to use The Super Leaf in a 2D Mario game again, but it isn’t enough to carry the game through six worlds. Where are the Penguin Suits and Propeller Caps from New Super Mario Bros. Wii? Or the Frog and Hammer Bros. Suits from Super Mario Bros. 3? The Mini and Mega Mushrooms make a comeback, but they are rarely used. The game sorely needs more item variety, even if it is only five to six hours long.
In an attempt to keep you playing past those five or six hours, the game also features three secret worlds, two player co-op, and a new gameplay mode called Coin Rush. The three secret worlds are welcome additions, as they can add a few more hours to the painfully short game. They also inject a dose of difficulty that the main game rarely provides. You can connect wirelessly to a friend locally (sorry no online) for two player co-op, but it is plagued by many of the same problems as New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Mario and Luigi Bump into each other, and bounce off each other’s heads when they collide, which makes precision platforming nearly impossible. This is a problem that could be easily solved by allowing the characters to pass through each other. Also, for some reason the second player must always stay on the same screen as player one, despite the fact they are playing on different screens. This bizarre decision makes co-op a mess, and it is unlikely you will want to play through with a friend. Then there is Coin Rush mode, which is the best reason of the three to keep playing. In Coin Rush, you are tasked to complete three randomly selected levels with a single life, all while collecting as many coins as possible. You are also only given about one half the regular time to complete each level. You are given coin multipliers for completing levels, which allows you collect an insane amount of coins in a short time. This mode is very stressful, but also a lot of fun. High Scores can be traded through Street Pass, allowing you to challenge others.
Luckily the game looks and sounds great, even if none of it is new. The game’s graphics are comparable to those of its Wii counterpart. Very colorful and very detailed, you will feel right at home if you are a veteran fan of the series. If you are especially attentive, you will notice the small details such as Mario turning his head to look at bosses, enemies dancing to the music, and platforms that wobble when you walk on them. The biggest issue is with the 3D effect. When the 3D is on the graphics attempt to give a sense of depth by creating distance blur in the background. However all this does is make the background art look muddy and it hurt my eyes. I recommend playing the entire game in 2D, except for the final boss encounter, which actually looks pretty cool. As far as the soundtrack goes, expect a lot of remixes of classic Mario songs. I don’t think there is a single original song in the entire game, from the level music to the boss themes, and if there was one it didn’t catch my attention. This isn’t really a complaint since the Mario series has amazing music, but I must admit I have grown tired of a couple of these songs.
Co-op is a nice addition, but it still needs some work
To be honest, those last few complaints can be applied to the game as a whole. It just isn’t original. Every single Super Mario game has dared to be different, dared to try something new, whether it was full 3D levels in Super Mario 64 or four player co-op in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. New Super Mario Bros. 2 seems to be content with being nothing more than a level pack for the New Super Mario Bros. series. That being said, even a middling Mario game is better than most other platformers, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 is still a lot of fun. The coin collecting doesn’t really change up the gameplay enough to make it feel like something different, but it is a fun distraction, and isn’t that all you want out of a video game anyway?