Review by discoinferno84
"Grab that cash with both hands and make a stash..."
It finally happened. After years of nonsensical laws and questionable ethics, Princess Peach did something right: she released the coins. Rather than having the Mushroom Kingdom's vast monetary supply shoved into bricks, she's allowed the money to be spread out across the land. All her starving subjects will finally get a chance to make a decent living. Granted, it'll probably destabilize the economy and plunge the country into anarchy (those Goombas are greedy bastards), but at least it makes more sense than the previous concept. Peach won't be around to see the results, though; she's been kidnapped again by Bowser and his monstrous children. Armed with nothing more than steely resolve and athletic prowess, Mario and Luigi mount a rescue attempt for the umpteenth time.
The basics of New Super Mario Bros. 2 are identical to those of the preceding game. Mario leaps and bounds his way through a series of linear platforming levels, stomping on turtles, dodging fireballs, staring down ghosts, and making it to the flagpole at the end of the line. By collecting power-ups like the Fire Flower or the Invincibility Star, he can lay waste to his foes with ease. There are several shortcuts and secret areas tucked away into each of the stages, giving you the chance to explore a bit and uncover a few surprises. Thanks to the responsive controls and the ability to wall jump, the platforming mechanics are easy to pick up and master. By completing levels and discovering alternate paths on the world map, you'll eventually take on Bowser, save the princess, and bring peace back to the Mushroom Kingdom.
There's nothing wrong with the Mario formula. All the basic gameplay elements are still present and accounted for. But it's how they're used that makes the difference. This game borrows a lot of concepts from the older titles, some better than others. The auto-crawling platforms, the huge spiky columns, and the POW Blocks are all reintroduced in interesting ways. Thanks to its importance in Super Mario 3D Land, the Super Leaf was added to Mario's arsenal here as well. Its functionality is identical to that of its Super Mario Bros. 3 version; you have to run to build up speed, then gain enough altitude to reach some far-flung platform. While it improves Mario's offensive and jumping capabilities, most of the levels lack the scale and complexity to use it to the fullest extent. In fact, this is probably the easiest Mario platformer in recent memory; if you're not trying to find every last pickup or secret exit, you'll likely finish it in a single sitting. While the bosses have some interesting strategies like swinging around on a chain or pushing you off a platform with magic balls they're ridiculously predictable. The only remotely challenging part involves leaping along conveyor belts and dodging instant petrification spells at the same time. It's one of the few areas that are fun, demanding, and satisfying to complete.
That's not to say that everything else is bad. The platforming may be a cakewalk, but there are a surprising amount of secret exits and alternate routes. They don't require a lot of digging to uncover, but there are enough to warrant a second look. Most of them involve having the right kind of power-up handy to reach a platform, or poking around a seemingly bottomless pit. It's entirely possible to skip past two entire sections of the Mushroom Kingdom and beat the game without ever seeing them. The ways to access these levels is actually pretty clever; after finding the right path, you're launched from a cannon and shoved into brief, fast-paced platforming gauntlets. They're some of the few moments in the game in which you're truly rewarded for exploring. It's fleeting feeling, though; those special stages are few and far between, and the ability to revisit worlds via the touch screen eliminates any need to use them more than once. It won't take long for you to find everything and get bored.
Nintendo tries to make up for the game's brevity by overemphasizing one the basics of the Mariofranchise: the coin collecting. In previous games, nabbing a hundred of those trinkets granted you an extra life. It wasn't necessary to do, but it was always good to have a little extra insurance. In New Super Mario Bros. 2, however, the coins have been thrust into the center stage. Every level is filled to the brim with them; they magically pop up if you jump a certain way, leap through gilded portals, kill enemies with certain power-ups, etc. The new Gold Flower power-up lets you shoot golden fireballs that turn nearly anything they touch into money. There are even unlockable timed challenges that have you play through random sets of levels and collecting as many coins as possible. The sum of your treasure is depicted on a huge scoreboard. This flashy spectacle seems impressive at first, but it's really nothing more than a cheap way to get you replay the levels. You're not being rewarded for getting past a challenging platforming segment. The game just makes you think filling that scoreboard is some kind of accomplishment. There's a reason why the coin collecting has always been so overlooked; it's boring. Shoving it into the player's face just makes it worse. There's nothing wrong with putting a new spin on an old idea, but not when it sacrifices the quality of the overall design.
Such shortcomings aren't limited to the main game, either. New Super Mario Bros. 2 so poorly utilizes the 3DS's capabilities that it almost feels like a high-end DS title. The graphics are decent; you can see the gleam coming off the coins, and how the fiery embers drift through the murky, lava-filled areas. It's pretty, but the technical features fall flat. You can play through the game using a two-player co-op mode similar to that of New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The problem is that it's only playable via local wireless. There's no way for you to directly connect to someone on your 3DS friend list, let alone any gamer via the Internet. That's a glaring oversight, considering the system's online capabilities. How about a way to trade items? Or record and upload speed run replays? What about downloadable or customizable stages? Sharing your coin records via SpotPass only goes so far. Had Nintendo focused on getting the most out of the system, this game could have offered far more content.
It's a shame. New Super Mario Bros. 2 could have been one of the best titles on the 3DS. It's got the potential for greatness. It has all the essentials for a Mario game, but with a horribly awkward execution. The controls are great and the power-ups are fine, but the stages aren't complex or challenging enough. Even if you're not a seasoned gamer, you shouldn't have much trouble breezing through it. There are plenty of secrets and hidden paths to uncover, but it won't take long for you to find everything. When you do, you'll fall back on the game's coin collecting gimmick. It doesn't feel fun or rewarding; it becomes little more than a pointless chore. A game should feel satisfying and well-thought out, not just number crunching for its own sake. Collectibles and pick-ups are supposed to add to a platformer, not overshadow it. After all, not all that glitters is gold.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 09/04/12
Game Release: New Super Mario Bros. 2 (US, 08/19/12)
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