New Super Mario Bros. 2
3DS | Nintendo | 1-2 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now | StreetPass Support
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23rd August 2012; By KnucklesSonic8
With the descriptively improper usage of the term "new", the main shtick the team has rolled out with this latest iteration is that of taking what has long been viewed as a franchise staple and fleshing this out to new heights in an explosion of free-flowing feats. The method of applying added weight to a collectible is one that approachably leans towards being heavily focused on minute details with blinders on, but you've got to give it to Nintendo for having the moxy to go through with it -- they are, after all, known for challenging doubts and enforcing 180-degree changes in thinking. Widening the range of this narrow expansion are the surrounding elements. The first of these is the Golden Coin Block which attaches firmly to Mario's head and sees coins regularly coming out as he moves about, as if drawing attention to his inner genius. With this cutesy experimentation, you can just see Peach slyly saying to Mario, "I've never seen this side of you before!" in her lovey-dovey, post-rescue flirts. Feeling more like a courtesy in its extended duration past the length of the traditional Starman or even the subtle excitement of flight or glide abilities in the case of the Raccoon Tail and Mini Mushroom respectively, this is the first in a series of features that attempt to bring the coin-collecting aspect to an exceptional level -- with debatable success.
Continuing with that, there's also the presence of Gold Rings. Passing through these in select areas will have enemies don a golden hue, with Lakitus, Cheep-Cheeps, and Bullet Bills dropping or leaving behind trails of coins with every move. When these occur, it's as if a mini-festival were taking place; minus, of course, the fine delicacies, foreign atmosphere, and unified spirits. More rare than all of these is the Golden Fire Flower, a bright and shiny upgrade that makes the Metal Cap look like a downgrade by comparison. Fireballs will create impacts with fairly wide effect, resulting in plenty of coins (and potentially bonuses) to be picked up following the destruction of standard bricks and overturning of enemies. Because you don't come across this special item too often, when you do have it in your possession, there's a feeling that you should stop your progress and work backwards to bring out your pillaging side. The associated leave-no-stone-unturned methodology of laying siege to everything around you is actually quite fun to participate in, in part because it hasn't been seen before to the same degree. If you were to compare it to something of a similar damage level, it's like having the strength of a POW Block at your whim. In actual fact, this is one of the more successful aspects to the entire game.
As an aesthetic treatment, these connected decisions have led to moments where things come together nicely. Good thing, too, because in all other respects, the presentation is pretty safe and doesn't take any risks that would signify a worthy departure from previous games. Having already been subjected to this style to a point where it feels robotic in its assembly, all the "wah"'s in the world can't get you past the fact that the visual atmosphere is, going back to the title once more, the antithesis of "new". Added to that is the fact that the soundtrack is almost entirely a rehash of previously used material, and as nice as some of these sounds are, the fact that no improvement has taken place musically is very disheartening. As for the use of 3D, there's a blurring effect that the team has decided to work with to make the foreground come out a bit more, but the only place where it really stands out is in the lava and castle levels, and even then it's not like it works wonders.
The lack of movement in the visual department makes for a Mario game with a lack of distinct magic or strongly positive spirit behind it; hence the growing need to rely more and more on the coin-collecting aspect to bring out some form of luster to make up for that loss, weak as that may sound. What should be noted about the main money-making gimmick is the way it behaves as the unflinching star of the show. What all this does is elevate the coin-collecting aspect to a promoted leadership role, and from that comes with it a whole assortment of secrets and tricks that can be employed in the progression. In line with this devoted approach, they've made sure that every effort counts by having coins sent to the bank even when you lose a life. Also tied to this is the presence of surprise coins that only appear after defeating enemies or walking into a specific spot hosting a concealed trigger, as well as secret beanstalks leading you to areas where you'll often find roulette-style coin blocks or one of the three Star Coins tucked inside every level. With the theme of reward taking on a top-of-mind awareness and it being supported in the predominant fashion that it is, there's really no room for second-guessing or backing down to the leadings of the central system.
In examining the level layouts as comprehensive pieces, it should come as no surprise that there are areas that feel nicely tailored to control input and move with the player as they start to long for more. Having said that, even with the abundance of coin (better yet, taken as separate entities), the impact to be had from much of the game's level design is sadly on the more static side. It's only by World 3 where things start to take a turn, but even that is based on the assumption that you haven't already experienced (and moved on from) New Super Mario Bros. and/or New Super Mario Bros. Wii. These manifestations include the pest-like Micro-Goombas; spiked balls and Fuzzies set in narrow areas; automatic-moving levels and platforms that force you to say alert (in one case having to constantly avoid a large Porcu-Puffer); as well as World 5's emphasis on jumps by means of tightropes and an increased number of gaps, albeit with shorter level duration to temper the difficulty. Right up until the end, there is truly nothing wildly impressive about the level designs here, and it's that dependency on the coin system to make up for this lack of push that seems more and more like an excuse than an effectual element.
Supplementing the standard levels are three additional components: Ghost Houses, Rainbow Courses, and boss battles. One at a time, it's very interesting to find that the time spent in the more puzzle-like mansions are more involving than the bulk of the experience, which is observably more reserved in execution and projected effect. On a disappointing note, the bosses are not only awfully easy (we're talking seconds in many cases) but also abnormally weak in design. The final boss battle does help with the ache of these très lame encounters, but not enough to completely put aside their inability to deliver. And as for the collect-a-thon's that are the Rainbow Courses, coins raining down on you in an automatic-moving setting isn't anything to get excited about either.
It's an interesting dynamic that Nintendo has tried to bring to the fore in trying to get players to stop and smell the roses, but its effectiveness in doing so isn't by any means superb, nor is it all that genuine. Making clear how this vindictive behaviour has led to the game's detriment are a series of concerns that not only encapsulate the concealed motive of this decided dismissal towards a stronger outcome, but also reveal a surprising undermining of the base design. The first of these stems from the extremely generous life system. Because it's all too easy to get to 100 coins and be given an extra life, players will have lives out the wazoo by the time they reach the end of the first world, and moving beyond that, there's a great tapering off of tension and difficulty that's more and more discernible as you move forward. More than that, though, the whole availability of 1UP Mushrooms in this game is extremely trivial. With the collecting of these items being equivalent to getting a normal Mushroom when you're already at normal size, there is no motivation to seek after or chase after them. It's simply not worth the effort, and time and time again I really questioned why they didn't at least replace these with, say, the 50-coin-granting Golden Mushrooms that appear in Coin Rush Mode. Also seeing great minimization in their roles are the Red Coin Challenges and item-granting Mushroom Huts. Through and through, they've been made near-pointless endeavours, which is again a consequence of the system being so egotistically focused. And when you look at each of these individual elements, the once-instinctive feelings that have been produced in past Mario titles are not felt here, and that, to me, is a problem of directional nature.
On top of all this, you have the somewhat ill-advised "safety feature" (let's call it) of the White Raccoon Tail, a power-up that appears after you've spent a number of tries on a level but have been unable to complete it successfully. At the first sighting and equipment of these invincibility suits, players will be thrown off over their inability to jump off enemies for added height, which becomes a problem in levels where this is used in clear conjunction with the platform arrangements. Even when you get used to it, having this suit equipped also undermines or even ruins the design of other areas. Take sections that are intentionally blocked off or organized in such a way where the ends of paths give way for a careening Koopa shell to produce a trail of coins in tandem with an activated Gold Ring. Absolutely none of this can take place when this power-up is in play. Then of course, having the suit on you during a boss fight makes it all the more easy to coast along unaffected by what's around and in front of you. The White Raccoon Suit is approvingly intended to be a feature for younger audiences who may not have all the skillsets in place to overcome certain obstacles, and that's fine. But I can't help but feel that using this as a means of bridging gaps isn't the best approach when it ultimately means that attributes of the game's design are being affected.
This leads in nicely to my next point: I truly feel that New Super Mario Bros. 2, for all intents and purposes, has its sights set towards a newer generation of Mario fans, the type that aren't bothered by some of the game's weakly-considered measures since it's all "new" to them. This invention of an incredibly ostentatious, forced inclusion has pushed Mario into a somewhat oblique shell, one that truly doesn't offer a wealth of aspects to be satisfied over and furthermore should not be seen as perfectly rosy in its through-the-middle accrual of support. The flawed protrusion of a forced inclusion. Sounds like the title card for a mystery. The accord of this direction has revealed an underestimation on Nintendo's part in their understanding of their central fanbase, which only adds to my feeling that this is meant more for a new breed of fans. Under those terms, I have reason to believe that New Super Mario Bros. 2 will still be enjoyed. But thanks to prior experiences allowing for certain distinctions to come out, the game's absolving of tight and imaginative design has, on a deeper level, proved neglectful in functioning as a full service.
Solo players will see New Super Mario Bros. 2 to its standard completion in under five hours no problem, depending on how wrapped up they get with filling their bank. One positive effect to the system is that individual levels now have more replay value beyond the collection of Star Coins, even though the idea of improving your best coin records won't appeal to everyone. Plus, secret levels make certain that players don't stop immediately after completing the 6th World and continue searching and discovering. As well, there's the ability to play in a co-operative setting, which, even though I wasn't able to test it out, is something I could see the younger crowd having great fun with. Last but not least, Coin Rush mode (mentioned earlier) has you playing three randomly-selected levels with the goal of -- what else? -- gathering as many coins as possible, and subsequently sharing your best stats via StreetPass. Hammering in the idea that coins are the key to everything without doing anything markedly different from what's seen in the main mode, Coin Rush does have some appeal to it. But in all honesty, I can't envision someone booting the game up just for this, nor do I see this as being a strong link to anything other than an inflated experience.
Nintendo would love to have everyone believe they took a risk with New Super Mario Bros. 2, chanting the elevations of a single layer as being the functioning backbone behind a worthy succession. In their minds, this somehow equates to a fresh, far-off understanding of design and nullifies the deeper complications of what is imposed by this truthfully near-sighted exploration. Consequently, New Super Mario Bros. 2 loses perspective on stringent design mechanics and stubbornly relies on subservience as an excuse for not committing to an imaginative vision or a grounded maturity. In view of the foregoing, while I'm sure hardcore Mario fans will flock to the game regardless, New Super Mario Bros. 2's leadings are less purposive than actual facts show, and I for one am not in the camp of people who believes this is all well and good, nor worthy of the highest commendation.
19/30 - Okay/Average
Gameplay 6/10 - Heavy reliance on coin-collecting is both good and bad, base design undermined in places, direction doesn't always deliver, weak bosses
Presentation 6/10 - Coins used as an atmospheric touch in place of a stronger push, rehashed environments and soundtrack, 3D used well in a few areas
Enjoyment 3/5 - Fun moments here and there, more for the younger generation, dances on a fine line in its definition of "new", not imaginative or striking
Extra Content 4/5 - A good number of secrets to uncover, bonus worlds to unlock, Coin Rush mode can be fun for a while, co-op, inflation of content
Equivalent to a score of 63% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System