For awhile it seemed like Nintendo had adopted a one Mario title per console policy. Back on the original Nintendo when Mario was first making a name for himself we were treated to several wonderful titles that lead into the launch of the Super Nintendo which gave us Super Mario World. After that though, Mario stopped showing up as frequently in his own adventures. Sure he’d pop up here and there to play some sports and race some go-karts, but he was held to one lone outing on the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and the Gamecube. And it wasn’t like he was taking his talents to the handhelds, after Super Mario Land 2 he pretty much stopped showing up there as well. The Gameboy Color and the Gameboy Advance didn’t even have a Super Mario Bros. game of their own, just ports of the old ones.
The Nintendo DS looked to be heading in the same direction when it launched alongside a port of Super Mario 64. It was around that time that Nintendo had really fallen back in terms of market share, losing considerable ground to Sony in its native Japan and lagging behind both Sony and Microsoft in other parts of the world. Nintendo needed a boost, so they turned to their old reliable mascot. They decided to appeal to their older gamers through nostalgia and crafted a game that was as much about entertaining the gamer as it was about being a tribute to the original Super Mario Bros. That game ended up being New Super Mario Bros. and when it arrived on the scene in 2006 for the DS gamers and critics alike were taken back to the good old days where Mario hopped and bopped his way through a level and found a flag pole at the end. New Super Mario Bros. quickly became the best-selling title on the DS as the handheld took off. The Nintendo Wii arrived later that year and really helped boost Nintendo’s popularity. For that console, three traditional Mario games have been released to date which is quite a change in direction. The Wii was given the Galaxy series as well as its own entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise. The successor to the Wii, the Wii U, is expected to launch this fall with its own New Super Mario Bros. game and the Nintendo 3DS just received New Super Mario Bros. 2 this past Sunday.
For the Nintendo 3DS, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is the second dedicated Mario title following last fall’s Super Mario 3D Land. 3D Land was tasked with bringing Mario into stereoscopic 3D. It retained a lot of the 2D Mario gameplay mechanics, but instead of Mario only being able to fall off 2 sides of a platform, he can fall off all 4! Keeping the basic gameplay to something akin to the 2D titles kept gamer’s in their comfort zone while positioning the camera to acknowledge that this was indeed a fully realized world that Mario inhabited allowed for Nintendo to make better use of the 3D effect. It worked quite well and 3D Land ended up being well-received. It’s probably already the best game on the 3DS and it hasn’t been challenged all that seriously since its release.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 has no such gimmicks to sell. It exists as simply the next game in the franchise. It doesn’t seem to care about the system’s 3D capabilities and the game actually looks awful with 3D enabled. And if we needed a reminder that this game represented a piece of the Nintendo cash-cow there’s a new emphasis on coin-collecting this time around with the ultimate goal, or rather the challenge put forth by Nintendo, being to collect one million coins. In previous titles, the act of coin-collecting was just an impulse and a way to “buy” additional lives for Mario. It’s no secret that recent games have sort of made a mockery of this. Even without making every effort to obtain every coin on-screen most gamers have had no trouble racking up hundreds of extra lives for Mario as the games have become progressively easier.
To better emphasize this approach Nintendo has given Mario a new power-up: the gold flower. This power-up functions like the regular fire flower power up only now Mario is gold and his fireballs turn enemies and brick blocks into coins. The fireballs have more density to them as well and pass right through enemies to take out whatever is in their path. It’s the lone new power-up and it doesn’t show up a whole lot in the regular game unless one seeks it out via the various Toad Houses. It is featured prominently in the new Coin Rush mode that gives the player a randomized trio of levels to rush through and collect as many coins as possible. This mode is the one that works in conjunction with Nintendo’s street pass feature and gamers can challenge one another to beat their high score just by walking passed each other with a street pass enabled 3DS in pocket. The mode is okay, and one million coins is quite a challenge (most will have roughly 40,000 after beating the game, so you have your work cut out for you should you attempt the million mark), but it adds nothing to the gameplay.
The original NSMB was not a very ambitious title. In fact, it seemed intentionally basic as it tried to harken back to the original SMB. The levels were straight-forward and Mario’s only plentiful power-ups were the fire flower and star. There were a couple of new ones, but they appeared sparingly and almost seemed like they were included just for fun. As a kid, I can remember discussing with other kids how cool it be if Mario could get even bigger by consuming more mushrooms. Nintendo must have heard those conversations as it introduced the mega mushroom which made Mario the size of the screen and blessed him with destructive powers on par with Godzilla. To pair with this, Nintendo introduced the mini mushroom which shrunk Mario down to miniscule size and allowed him to walk on water and enter pipes too small for normal Mario. There was also a turtle shell power-up that appeared in some stages though it was mostly a dud. It gave Mario some protection in a ducking position and allowed him to slide into enemies. It certainly wasn’t as imaginative as the super leaf. The mini mushroom ended up being the best of the three as it opened up new gameplay possibilities the others really didn’t. Some critics seemed to really love NSMB, and while I definitely had a ton of fun with it, I never once thought of it as being superior to Mario’s best. I actually thought it might end up being a one and done kind of thing, but it made so much money for Nintendo that proved impossible.
I was hoping the sequels would be more ambitious, but the first sequel really didn’t add much. NSMBWii added co-op play and a couple of new power-ups like the unwieldy penguin suit and the propeller suit. It was a big game, and a fun one, but it seems Nintendo is only really interested in imitating the old games and not really pushing things. Which brings me back to New Super Mario Bros. 2.
NSMB2 borrows a page from Super Mario 3D Land and resurrects an old favorite, this time the super leaf. The leaf was present in 3D Land but in that game it bestowed Mario with a tanooki suit. This time it’s returned to its old function which is to give Mario raccoon ears and a tail and allows him to fly, just as it did in Super Mario Bros. 3. The mega mushroom and mini mushroom are here as well, but their presence is more like a cameo than anything as they show up quite sparingly. Gameplay wise, it’s the same old thing as Mario goes from world to world, level to level, combating Bowser and trying to save the princess. The Koopalings return and Mario will have to topple one at the end of each of the game’s five levels before taking on Bowser at the end of world six. That’s not a typo. There are only six worlds this time around when traditionally there’s always been eight. There are secret worlds but having only six main ones is kind of a letdown. The secret worlds are the Mushroom, Flower, and Star worlds. The Mushroom and Flower worlds can be accessed by finding secret exits in one of the levels which lead to warp canons. Instead of the canons firing Mario (or Luigi, don’t want to forget about him!) to the world it fires him through a special stage. These stages are brief but remind me of Sonic the Hedgehog as Mario is forced to run full speed. Mario has to time his jumps perfectly and bounce off of enemies to clear gaps. Or he can use a super leaf and mostly fly over the whole thing.
These canon levels end up being some of the game’s most challenging, because the rest is a cake-walk. Super Mario 3D Land was pretty easy and I had over a hundred extra lives when I beat it, but in this one I had over 400. It’s just not a hard game. At all. The boss encounters are particularly pathetic. There’s a castle and a fortress in each world. In the fortress, Super Mario World’s Reznor returns as the boss there. If you forgot, Reznor is actually a group of fire-breathing dinosaurs on a big wheel contraption. In SMW, Mario would have to bop all four off their place on the wheel while the ground he stood on was destroyed. Reznor gets a bit more inventive in this one as some fortresses feature dual wheels, but the floor is much slower to deteriorate making the encounters even easier than they were in SMW. The boss fights with the Koopalings are at least more imaginative than they were in SMW, but again, they’re probably easier too. None of them are particularly memorable and I certainly never died while taking them on. The final encounter with Bowser can be counted on to up the difficulty though, right? Ehh, not really. It’s two parts, and the first part is just a new take on the original Bowser boss fight and exists merely as a nod to SMB. The second part is where it’s supposed to get hard, but without spoiling anything, it’s not. After beating the six words plus two secret ones, the Star World is opened. I thought maybe the Star World would be like the Special World from SMB and feature the game’s biggest challenges but it really doesn’t. The levels are shockingly basic though the final castle is noticeably more challenging than any other level. At the end of that castle gamers will encounter Dry Bowser, a skeletal version of the terrible turtle, but the mechanics of the fight are exactly the same as they were before.
It’s been established that the game is exceptionally easy and not particularly long, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t any fun. I’ve had a pretty good time steering Mario along his course to rescue the princess. One thing the NSMB series may have over the likes of SMB3 is in its controls. Mario handles like a dream which may be one reason why these games seem so much easier than the old ones. It’s much easier to stop Mario from sliding off a platform or to time his jumps precisely. He has the perfect amount of weight and very rarely did I die and found myself blaming the controls. The star coins scattered through-out the levels present a fun challenge. They’re often not cleverly hidden but they’re also not always in plain sight. They’re definitely easier to obtain in this game than some of the past ones. In other games there’s usually a handful that would kill me over and over as I tried to snag it but there wasn’t a single one in this game that I had trouble with.
At the end of the day, I’m left to ponder the question at what point do I expect something more? I’ve always had fun playing these games in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise but I don’t get the sense that Nintendo takes them entirely serious. It’s been six years and three titles, but at no point have any of these games approached the heights of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World. And it’s not that I expect them to, as those are two of the greatest games ever made, but it’s just I don’t feel like Nintendo is even trying to top them. I bought NSMB2 last Sunday and have since invested 12 hours into it and have accomplished everything. I beat every level and acquired every star coin. I could just play it over and over until I get a million coins, but I think I’ll hate the game if I play it that much. There’s supposedly going to be some downloadable content in the future, but I don’t know how I feel about that. I feel Nintendo already short-changed us on the levels in the game, so paying for more doesn’t sit well with me. I’ll reserve judgement though for a later date. Ultimately, anyone who buys this game knows what they’re buying. This franchise is if anything consistent and it will entertain you, just don’t expect it to do so for very long or to offer much challenge.