If you came to me 22 years ago and told me I'd be second guessing the number one plumber in video games, I would have told you to fuck right off (in a much more polite, 8-year-old tone). Until very recently, I had always been a ridiculously faithful Mario fan -- especially as a child. I collected everything from posters and comics to pasta noodles (seriously). I even had a letter printed in the September 1991 issue of Adventures of Super Mario Bros. by Valiant Comics (which I'm searching for again, so contact me if you have it).
But here we are 22 years later, and Mario as a whole is less than thrilling. Don't get me wrong though, the Wii's Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo DS are shining examples of new Mario titles doing the right thing. But when you create sequels to these kinds of entries, the results are far less novel. So does New Super Mario Bros. 2 manage to shake things up just the right way?
Well, yes and no -- but mostly no.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is your basic Mario game in every sense of the word. Multiple worlds, multiple levels, and a handful of power-ups with the same running and jumping physics we've seen for two-and-a-half decades. The koopa kids capture the princess (again), and Mario and Luigi must rescue her (again). You can even store an extra power-up in a slot on the bottom screen, just like most Mario side-scrollers since Super Mario World in 1991.
The game's main hook involves collecting literally hundreds of thousands of coins everywhere you go. It's a bit on the ridiculous side, too. Oh, you walked under a certain platform? Have some coins. Hit a coin block over 10 times? Your head turns into a coin block and you spew coins all over the place the faster you move. There are super wide question mark blocks containing multiple coins at once, other larger ones housing giant coins worth 10, 30, 50 or 100 coins, and gold power-ups that make everything explode into more coins -- it goes on and on. And the reason? Well, that's never explained. The instruction booklet is basically a small pamphlet explaining performable moves (which have been mainstays for over a decade), so there's nothing there. No monologues, no story sequences, no real reason.
But it's said that the overall goal of this game is to collect one million coins. Again, for no specific reason. There were times when I would receive a spot pass notification that would tell me the global coin collection tally (the last update notifying me of a global total of 97 billion).
Speaking of ungodly coin collection amounts, lives are still just 100 coins, meaning you'll get an extra three or four lives for every life you lose in most cases, even if you're a terrible player. I never saw the "game over" screen, and finished with over 150 lives. What's the point of having these lives anyway? Why not just do away with them and the whole concept of "game over"? This is compounded by the replacement for the “Super Guide” function of New Super Mario Bros. Wii with the Golden Leaf, a power-up which shortens the takeoff distance for flight and makes Mario invincible throughout the stage, save for pits or lava.
But everything still works really well as a gameplay experience, and I suppose its simplicity and unbelievable ease could be excused if it weren't for one of the most irritating things plaguing this particular Mario sub-series: it's the same shit all over again. Sure, you have a leaf and gold fireballs now instead of ice flowers and a penguin suit or whatever, but the music is the same, each world looks the same, the enemies all dance the exact same stupid way, the level progression is pretty much identical, and there's two-player co-op straight out of NSMB Wii that is just as easy now as it ever has been.
But I still enjoyed it. The constant jingling of coins with the occasional 1-up flourish every now and again makes this a great game to kick back and relax with. Some of the star coins are really well hidden, and there are extra worlds to open up and plenty of hidden stages to unlock as well. And that million coin goal? It takes a decent amount of time to get to. At the end of my game, I only got slightly over 20,000 coins. The 3DS enhancements are pretty snazzy too, with an awesome depth of field effect when the 3D mode is engaged. Oh, and Luigi has freaking fox ears and a fox tail when you get a power leaf! Best, design, choice, ever.
For $39.99, I expected at least a change of scenery, but apparently Nintendo wanted to make absolutely sure its audience knew what it was playing by making things 90 percent identical in the end. But in doing so, how can this truly be a "new" Super Mario Bros.? Well, what about distribution? If cartridges tend to cramp your style, you can also download the game directly to your 3DS for... exactly the same price. That's a really pricy proposition for something you have nothing to show for, other than a seemingly halfhearted follow up as a digital file. At that price, you might as well go physical.
Even the pre-order bonus was entirely underwhelming. Nintendo offered those who pre-ordered New Super Mario Bros. 2 a gold Mario pin that turned out to being little more than a flat image of "Gold Mario" on a white background. Come on, Nintendo, what the hell? Why not offer something akin to the Club Nintendo Pin Badges that were offered a couple years back that actually have shiny gold highlights??
If somehow you've skipped over New Super Mario Bros. on Nintendo DS or New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and you happen to have a 3DS system (and you should since there's the awesome new 3DS XL), New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the next game you need to get for your handheld. If this is your second or third New Super Mario Bros. though, ask yourself, “do I want to play a game that feels exactly the same as multiple games I've already played, just with a ton more coins?”
If yes, go for it. If no, that's all right; you surely won't miss it.
Three-Point-Five out of Five Hadokens