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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Review: New Super Mario Bros. 2

New Super Mario Bros. 2 Box Art
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo

The amazing thing about the Mario series is that almost every Mario game is essential. There are a few of them that aren't necessarily great, like Super Mario Sunshine, but they all at least have a reason for existing.

Even with the recent glut of Mario games, starting with New Super Mario Bros. in 2006, most every game has had a legitimate hook:

  • New Super Mario Bros.: The triumphant return of 2D Mario.
  • Super Mario Galaxy: 3D Mario done right.
  • Super Mario Galaxy 2: An exceptional upgrade to Super Mario Galaxy with way more challenge.
  • New Super Mario Bros. Wii: The return of 2D Mario to a console.
  • Super Mario 3D Land: A definitive look at what stereoscopic 3D gaming can do.
Now we have New Super Mario Bros. 2, and there seem to be four reasons that it exists:
  1. Coins, for whatever reason.
  2. Digital distribution.
  3. Multiplayer Mario on a handheld.
  4. Because Nintendo likes money.
None of those reasons are entirely compelling for users. If we're being completely honest, there isn't anything that makes New Super Mario Bros. 2 an essential Mario game.

For that reason, I was ready to absolutely savage New Super Mario Bros. 2 for being such a cheap cash-in. I came to this game with knives at the ready, looking for the right place to insert my blade.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 Screenshot
Unfortunately, I couldn't find a spot. The level design is varied and fun and way better than the DS version, while falling short of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The bosses are fun and Bowser Jr. is nowhere to be seen, thank the heavens. There are a lot of secrets and plenty of challenges. And yes, it's a lot of fun getting piles of coins.

I still have three complaints, though. One complaint is that you get so many coins so frequently that extra lives lose all meaning. There was a tongue-in-cheek video out there that said that the Game Over screen is the rarest screen in all of the game, and I would have to say that's true. I completed the game with 220 lives. That's nuts.

So why didn't Nintendo throw out the lives system for this game? Because it's "tradition" to have lives in there, I guess, and because then gathering coins would lose all meaning. But, if extra lives have lost all meaning due to their abundance, then coins therefore have lost all meaning, and now my brain is leaking out of my ears.

The next complaint is that there are secrets, but you see them clearly marked on the map beforehand. That kind of takes away the point of a secret. Think of Super Mario World for a second. There are secret levels all over the map in places that you would never even think would hold a secret. There's an entire hidden castle that you would never find unless you were looking for it.

By contrast, in New Super Mario Bros. 2, there are secrets, but their existence is pointed out to you very clearly. It's like the game is telling you, "HEY LOOK THERE IS A SECRET HERE SHH DON'T TELL ANYONE KEEP IT UNDER YOUR HAT." I kind of preferred the old way.

Finally, I just played this game. I don't mean this in the sense like, "I just finished playing this game yesterday." I mean, I just played New Super Mario Bros. I've played it twice, once for the DS and once for the Wii. We've received so many New Super Mario Bros. games recently that they're all starting to blend in to each other.

We've never seen so many Mario games in a row that were so similar to each other. Really think about it. In the beginning, we got Super Mario Bros. 1-3 and Super Mario World right in a row, but there were distinct differences between each of them. Super Mario Bros. laid down the template for Mario games and 2 completely demolished it. 3 took the original template to new heights, added in suits, slanted surfaces, physics, and secret levels. Super Mario World added even more in, like Yoshi, the ability to save your game and the Star Road.

So what is the New Super Mario Bros. series adding? Anything? Anything at all? There was the giant mushroom and the mini mushroom. That was cool. Anything else?

That's the problem. Mario sidescrollers used to be about change and new ideas. Now they're starting to stagnate.

I don't want to be misunderstood: New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a good game. It hits all the right buttons, and plays exactly like you would expect a finely crafted Mario sidescroller to play, but I can tell you right now that I'm not going to play New Super Mario Bros. Wii U. Why should I? I just played it.

After Wii U comes out, I hope that Nintendo lets this series sit for a long, long time. In order to keep the New Super Mario Bros. series viable, they come up with some new ideas, new characters, new powerups, or something, anything, that deserves the moniker "New."

Final Rating: B-