It's the same old Mario, only with a lot more coins!
As can be expected, Mario is off to rescue Princess Peach from another castle. After almost three decades of doing the same thing, he's become pretty proficient at rescuing her. Unfortunately, he's also pretty incompetent in keeping her safe, as Bowser once again snatches the Princess from right under Mario's nose using the Koopa Kids as his errand boys. It's almost like clockwork now, which explains why Mario seems more at the ready than he ever was. It's a classic example of hero needs villain; Superman needs Luthor; Skywalker needs Vader; Tom needs Jerry? Well, you get the picture.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 incorporates a classic formula that they've been perfecting over the course of nearly thirty years. Levels usually progress from left to right and end with Mario jumping as high as he can on a flag pole before before a generous time clock counts down the last second. As can be expected, there are loads of different stationary and moving platform obstacles, question mark blocks and enemies laid about in annoying fashions to upset your sure-footedness. Koopas, Goombas, Piranha Plants, Bullet Bills, Lakitus, Boos and countless others have returned to fill the enemy roster. In fact, there may not be any new enemies at all once you begin to notice.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 adheres to the world map layout first initiated by Super Mario Bros. 3, and cleverly inserts secret exits in certain levels which branch off to hidden paths on the map. As is tradition, these paths lead to new levels and mushroom houses that yield power ups and extra lives. There are also the iconic ghost houses, the halfway tower fortresses and the Koopa Kid occupying castles that serve as the worlds' final levels. If you've ever played a 2D Mario before, everything about the game is old hat.
So, the basic formula isn't new. The roster of enemies isn't new. The level layouts aren't new. What is new, then? That would be the massive amount of coins that happens to be the theme of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Coins are spread throughout the level more liberally than icing on a cake made by a tubby baker. There are the obviously visible ones, then there are the smattering of coins that appear when you pass by a secret spot. There are the blue coins activated by P Blocks that usually lead you to pipes taking you into rooms filled with more coins. The multi-coin blocks now turn into Gold Block helmets that dispense coins every time Mario moves. Then, we have the only new power up in this game, which is the Gold Flower. After Mario turns into Gold Mario, he throws giant gold fireballs that detonate turning bricks and enemies alike that are caught in the blast radius into coins. The number of coins in this game moves past ridiculous into absurd. By the time you finish the game, you could have easily collected well over 50,000 coins and amassed several hundred extra lives.
Is there a reason for so many coins? You might think Nintendo's just being overly superfluous, but there is a bit of method in their madness. The level design for instance has been focused specifically for coin collecting. You can set goals to see just how many more coins you can attain in each level. There's a personal tabulator that keeps track of the coins you collect throughout your time with the game, and if you're set upon masochism, you can even max it out at a million coins. The game also keeps a cumulative total of coins collected worldwide and at the time of this writing, that number has surpassed 50 billion! Then, there's Coin Rush.
Coin Rush is a major missed opportunity. It works like this: you are given three random levels from different worlds, and you only have a certain amount of time to finish each level. With a Golden Flower at the ready, you can easily surpass two grand by the end of the session, so it would be a great way to climb that million coin ladder. Sounds exciting, doesn't it? Only, there's no way to select which levels you want to play, so you have no fair baselines for competition. Some levels will simply yield more coins. Then there's the lack of online leader boards. The only way to share your records are via StreetPass, which is an example of why Nintendo continues to remain behind the times when it comes to online communities.
Of course, you don't have to be a mathematics teacher to know what all these coins mean. Yes, it means a hell of a lot of extra lives. Every Mario fan knows that 100 coins equals one extra life, so if you can grab a good two or three hundred coins per level, you're going to have more lives than you know what to do with. Plus, there are a ton of hidden 1-Up mushrooms strewn about the levels and if you're good at it, you can net seven or eight lives from the 1-Up Mushroom Houses. Now, this isn't the first time a Mario game has been extremely generous with lives, but never has been on this level, and it's always had a few devilishly challenging levels to sap your stock. Alas, there really isn't any kind of opportunity here.
New Super Mario Bros 2. is easy. It's very easy. It's so easy in fact that it very easily goes down in history as the easiest Mario game ever conceived, and that's a problem. Because you rarely come across a serious challenge, the easiness actually makes it difficult to appreciate the level design, which is sad because it is rather creative. It's just that the levels are designed for nothing more than coin runs and not challenging your thumb dexterity, which would explain why a lot of the Star Coins (the usual three special coins to collect in each level) aren't very well hidden. Super Mario games have always tested the limits of any 2D platform gamer, and this is an area where the game falls short.
Since this is the first 2D Super Mario game for the 3DS, it's a real shame that not much has been done with the 3D effect. It's pretty much relegated to giving the background more depth. There could have been special enemies or obstacles coming out at you in the foreground, or other similar effects but for the most part, you might as well play it with the 3D off to save battery power. The graphics themselves look just as fantastic as New Super Mario Bros. Wii but if you play on the new 3DS XL, you're going to lose a bit of luster as the larger pixels give the more refined details some rough edges. Still, the game's loaded with color, terrific special effects and very smooth animations.
While there is something to be said about nostalgia, there's also something to be said about redundancy, and that's exactly what the audio is. While the gameplay presents some new ideas and the graphics showcase new levels, there's nothing at all new here in terms of music or sound design. Just about every track is lifted from a previous game or is a rendition of another song. Sound effects from the stomping of Goombas to the kicking of turtle shells to the bashing of bricks are all so familiar. Because Nintendo chose to do so little new with the game, that means it constricted any opportunities for new audible experiences. It's perfect for the atmosphere of a Mario game, but it's all been heard before.
The focus on coin collecting has turned New Super Mario Bros. 2 into an almost entirely different animal. Where previous Super Marios were lovable pitbulls that turned on you in a moment's notice, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a fluffy toy dog that's always at your side. To go from one to the other takes a bit of adjusting and looking at it from a different perspective to really appreciate it for what it is. The one fault that is clearly identifiable, however, is a lack of power ups. Nintendo could have opened up several new gameplay and level design opportunities if they just made a few new suits. Alas, they try to overshadow this with all the coinage. There might be those who love the idea of collecting a million coins, but then there are the others that will feel short changed by the end of the game.