Mario’s had himself an eventful life. He’s saved a princess in the Mushroom Kingdom, he’s saved a princess in Dinosaur Land and he’s even saved a princess in MarioLand. He’s a well traveled guy! Born into the Nintendo family, Mario had an outstanding start in life with Super Mario Bros., a game that placed him firmly in the head of his class. Through his adolescence his creativity and polish only heightened his title as video gaming’s mascot, as games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World built off of the now famous Mario’esque gameplay and aesthetics.
In his teens the emboldened plumber broke into the third dimension, showing the rest of the gaming industry that a 2D translation into 3D was even possible, and again, setting the bar higher while he was at it. Recently, Mario has begun to reach middle age, and like all middle aged men he has been desperately grabbing onto and recreating what made him great in his early years. Yet unlike most middle aged men, he has a corporation behind him. So instead of having to see him trudge around the Mushroom Kingdom in his high school jersey, or scoot around town in a Corvette, we have to watch him use and reuse classic Mario game mechanics and characters in a desperate attempt to evoke nostalgia, at the cost of innovation.
Peach is once again stolen, from her castle, making the Toads who inhabit it, the least effective wardens in all of video gaming. Luckily the culprit isn’t Bowser this time – although you can be sure he’ll show his face eventually – instead it’s the Koopa Kids; the seven children Bowser seems to have forgotten in liue of Bowser Jr. They, appear to have, stolen their father’s “clown-head helicopter thing”, as well as some of Kami Koopa’s wands and begun running amok in the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, being Mario, sets off to defeat the Koopa Kids and free Peach before it’s too late.
If you feel like you’ve heard this story before it’s because you have, like fifty times now. Peach getting kidnapped is nothing new to the franchise and has become a sort of running joke in the series. As far as plot goes, that’s where it stops. It does set up the game’s context well, albeit unoriginally.
Mario games have rarely been story driven, usually leaving that job up for spin-off series like Paper Mario. However, they usually add to the Mario universe in some way. I cannot say the same for New Super Mario Bros. 2, or any games in the New series. The settings, characters, and enemies are all recycled versions of past incarnations; namely from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. The game borders on ripping off its predecessors. Remember the Triceratops from Mario World, the four dinosaurs on the ferris-wheel? Well now you get to face them seven more times, in the exact same way as in 1991. Be prepared for many of these little nods to past games; the novelty wears off quick.
If you’re like me, you know exactly how a Mario game operates. You know the buttons, and the way Mario jumps. You know how fast he runs, and how certain power-ups work. Nintendo has burned this into our brains since 1985. New Super Mario Bros. 2, is no exception. The controls are tight and responsive; Mario has a great feel to his movements and gives a great sense of weight and momentum. Again, none of this is new to anyone. Of course the newest game will have spectacular controls, but what can be done with them?
To answer that I have to ask, again, “What do you expect?” The bad guys are goombas and koopas. The playfield is filled with bricks and pipes. All work incredibly well in conjunction with the controls. All serve a purpose and make for incredibly diverse and intricate linear level design. The few new elements added to the game are power-ups and coins. The emphasis is to grab as many coins as possible. And while there have always been coins scattered about in these games, this one may have gone a little overboard. When entering a room full of coins back on the NES, there was a sense of accomplishment. There was a thrill to sprinting along grabbing as many as possible, because you were rarely able to. It was more of a reward for finding a secret area or performing a special move to reach them, than just something to grab along the way. In New Super Mario Bros. 2, that excitement is thrown out the window.
Now everything seems to give you tons of coins. Every brick, gives a coin, POW blocks, give massive amounts of coins, buttons turn all sorts of object into coins, and lastly a slew of new power-ups are only used to collect, you guessed it, coins. The golden fire flower allows Mario to fire a golden fireball, that, when contacting a surface or enemy, turns them into coins. I understand taking something that worked in old games and adding to it in a new game, but overflowing the screen with coins isn’t the way to go about it. It’s like when you get to eat a lot of that one rare food you never used to get, and now it lost its novelty and even maybe your taste for it. But, you know, with coins.
The sparse few new enemies and game mechanics were a welcomed sight and make for truly enjoyable gameplay. There’s a few new skeletons in castles such as, skeleton goombas and piranha plants which have thankfully mixed up the cliché lava castle levels we have all grown so accustomed to. New level features such as cannons and new types of platforms make for varied routes through levels and give the game a slight uniqueness when compared to others in the series.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 looks great on the 3DS. The colors are striking, with a fantastic and diverse color palate. The 3D aspect of the game is visually apparent compared to 2D, in more ways than just making 80’s kids scream, “It’s like I can touch it!” While the foreground isn’t affected by switching into 3D, the background drops inward giving a great depth to the environment. Also the background when in 2D is as sharp and detailed as the foreground, but while in 3D the background elements blur realistically as they would if you were to focus on something near to you. It’s a nice touch and goes a long way in making the game a worthwhile 3D experience.
However, I did not find any occurrence when the 3D was ever implemented into gameplay. Unlike Super Mario 3D Land where using 3D gave the player the ability to differentiate between objects by their location on the Z axis, possibly hiding objects behind them, New Super Mario Bros. 2 never uses this mechanic, most likely due to only having a 2D playfield to operate from.
Like the gameplay I’m sure you know most Mario tunes by heart. We’ve all heard them in the 200+ games the portly plumber has pumped out over the years. Luckily they’re likable little jingles, fitting the art aesthetic and gameplay perfectly. In this instance, every song has a vocal element that gives each track a sort of Doo-wop tone. Additionally during each song the koopas, and goombas, among others, will dance during certain highlights in each song, making it quite awkward when Mario cuts them off mid-jig crushing them beneath his boots.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a good game, don’t get me wrong. While it does not innovate at all, it instead refines an already stellar style of gameplay that’s been improved upon for over 25 years now. True, its plot, characters and mechanics have been recycled from past games, but they’re carried out and used in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of back in the 90’s. Nintendo needs to know that we all love Mario. We also understand that Mario has been around for a while and did some pretty great stuff back in the day. If only he would move on and give his audience the innovation and creativity he did back then, he’ll be here for another 25 years.