Review by SneakTheSnake

"A Clog in the Pipeline: A Case for A Fundamental Change for this Franchise"

The release of a Mario game used to be an event. Whether it be a promotional VHS tape from Nintendo Power or a worldwide preview of Super Mario Bros. 3 in The Wizard, fans from all over the place would clamour around the newspapers, magazines and news reports to nab any information they could find about the latest adventure starring our favorite mustachioed man from the Mushroom Kingdom. It might have to be with my cynicism that's developed with age, or the gaming community's perception as a whole of this franchise that's starting to show its age at the edges and the seams, but a Mario game release isn't an event any more. New Super Mario Bros. 2 exemplifies more than any previous example that the impact of the Mario gaming formula - not necessarily the platforming genre, but the way Nintendo's been interpreting it - is starting to wear out its welcome. This is a poorly-developed product that deserves to be overlooked because of its lack of difficulty, its unimpressive graphics and sound and utter lack of gameplay innovation.

My old platitude was that a so-so Mario game is still above average in the overall curve of gaming releases. For example., Super Mario 64 DS was a rehash in many respects and, like the GBA releases, was a poor substitute for a true 3D platforming adventure for the DS. However, it was a great game by DS standards and is still considered such. NSMB2 is not a great game based on the gaming curve; it's a mediocre game all around, and I can't recommend the game at its full price. It's ridiculously easy, claustrophobically short and woefully uninteresting.

I feel the story is hardly worth getting into, as it's a tale that's permeated itself into just about every Mario action game that's ever come out. Bowser captures the princess, and you, as Mario, must travel through several dozen levels to rescue the infamous damsel in distress. If you're willing to ignore the fact that gaming narrative as a medium has advanced eons beyond Super Mario Bros. and that there can indeed be strong, independent women in gaming narratives, you'll get just about what you expect: a two-minute cutscene, without much dialogue at all, to get yourself started.

You'll travel through the requisite sky world, lava world, tropical world, pyramid world, grassy green world and ice world; its themes, much like many other elements of the game, borrow heavily from Super Mario Bros. 3, but these tropes have been shamelessly overexposed to the point of boredom. Does anyone remember the robot Mario from Super Mario Land 2, or the caverns from Super Mario World 2? What about Super Mario 64's Tick Tock Clock, or Super Mario World's Chocolate Island? These stages all dared to change it up and proved that there can be variety in backdrops and environments, but NSMB2 has decided to bypass anything related to innovation when it comes to narrative or setting. There are some stages in the middle part of the game which seem to have a “totem” theme to them, and these can help break up the monotony, but these instances of unique backdrops are few.

It's up to you to make it through the 40+ stages in New Super Mario Bros. 2, beat the bosses and mini-bosses including big bad Bowser himself. The gameplay is as you would come to expect from a Super Mario Bros. game. You can bop on your enemies to kill them, you have a fire flower to help you take them out, and the raccoon leaf makes a comeback. Huge Mario and Tiny Mario, from other New Super Mario Bros. games, also make appearances here, but they're used so little that they may as well not have been included, the latter being a complete hassle to control.

The gameplay here is beginning to tear apart at the edges. If all you want is more Mario platforming, then that's certainly what you'll get; the innovations in this game are so few that you'll hardly notice a difference between this and any other game in the NSMB franchise. It's the same Goombas, the same Koopas, the same enemies lifted directly out of your favorite games, including some obscure callbacks like Reznor and Big Boo (here called Boohemoth). If you've given up on NSMB innovating on any front and are willing to pay a small amount of cash to get a game which is still pristine and well-controlling platforming action, then that is what you'll receive in NSMB2.

Platformers can be so much more, though, as games like Donkey Kong Country Returns, Super Meat Boy, Rayman Origins, Kirby's Epic Yarn and especially Braid and Limbo have proven. They can be story-driven: nice to look at: immersive: challenging: tense: fun, and also incredibly innovative. Developers large and small have dared to examine and re-imagine the platformer as something more than it once was and have even gone so far as to fuse it with different genres to create intriguing hybrids. I saw no real innovation in NSMB2, no real heart or drive behind the game's development, and that saddens me.

There are fleeting moments of fun, though, to be had. The ghost houses in this game can be a real treat, as many of them can be head-scratching puzzles or difficult, fast-paced affairs. The castles and fortresses tend to have gimmicks like moving platforms, switches, swinging ropes and the like, to keep seasoned gamers on their toes. The forests have spider webs which disappear after you jump off of them. Special cannon levels set Mario off on a free-running sprint, wherein he simply can't stop running until he reaches a goal. That, and some of the levels in the cloud world, much like World 9 of NSMBW, were especially colorful, creative and fun to play. I must also admit that some of the secret exits and bonuses, like the rainbow levels, are especially tricky to find. I did genuinely crack a smile from time to time in the admittedly brief campaign.

These are overshadowed by flaws that are hard to overlook. First and foremost, the game is entirely too easy. Not only are the stages a cakewalk; the coin gimmick gets in the way, even in the standard campaign. The game likes to throw coins at you everywhere; Lakitus will sometimes throw coins out of their clouds, pipes will spew out coins, coins will fall from the sky, and sometimes coins will appear in rows or lines just for standing in certain spots. You can easily rack up hundreds of coins in many of the stages without breaking a sweat, and this will lead to a backlog of lives. This, in turn, takes away the thrill of “one last life” or the threat of an impending game over. Death, then, becomes but a minor inconvenience in the grand scheme of things and, if you die too much, you can choose the invincibility suit.

Also, the stages are more or less bland and uninspired. I just see a smattering of platforms without much rhyme or reason to their placement in many of the stages. What used to be fun romps through sprawling caverns and giant pyramids, levels which rewarded exploration and had tricky jumps, has been turned into straightforward, hop-and-bop obstacle courses sans clever secrets or interesting level design. It doesn't help that the bosses are too easy, stages are short and the “star world” levels you unlock after beating Bowser in World 6 (which, as one could predict, are “special” levels with extra challenge and style) are somehow less inspired than the levels preceding.

I praise the Coin Rush mode; although it's not exactly my cup of tea, I can appreciate it for its attempt to toss things up. It is the added challenge the original campaign would have benefitted from; the game places you in a three-stage gauntlet with little time to explore the levels, and you must make it through the three-stage collection without dying. Meanwhile, the coin craziness is all the more important and apparent; you can double your score on a given stage, for example, by making it to the top of the flagpole. The gimmick of the entire game is to earn a million coins; coins earned from Coin Rush and the single-player campaign all go into a large pool, and every level has a “top coin amount collected” score to help you keep track. The rewards for completing this goal are pithy and insulting, but one shouldn't be in it for the rewards or prestige. I hope to see something like this return in further Mario iterations.

The campaign is short, uninspired and easy; I finished the game with about 175 lives to spare. How can I recommend a game that sells for so much which can be beaten in a matter of mere hours with little effort? It may be so easy because everyone on this site has played a Mario game before and knows Nintendo's logic in its stage designs - where secrets tend to be found, how to advantage of the predictable boss patterns and the like. However, it's also incredibly easy because obstacles tend to be minimal or easily avoided, and levels tend to be void of traps and puzzles. Players can also depend on the top-knotch controls and physics, but they feel off in this game. Mario feels slippery and doesn't tend to stop as quickly as I would like. That, and the game had trouble registering Mario's ground pounds from time to time.

NSMB2 has unimpressive graphics; I'll put it that way. They're colorful indeed, but this feels like a late-gen DS title ported in haste to the 3DS. The character models and environments are, in my eyes, are about as detailed and high-res than the ones in NSMBW, which pits the game slightly above the first NSMB. What irks me is that Nintendo has used the same graphical engine and graphical style for several years now for this series of reboots, and it's beginning to grate. It feels like bottom-shelf graphical design here, as I recognize almost all of the same elements from other, previous NSMB titles. It's clear that Nintendo did not take a lot of time redesigning the graphical engine or taking the advantages of the 3DS in mind, as this is neither a pretty game nor one which takes advantage of the 3DS' capabilities.

Shame on Nintendo for rehashing the same insipid tunes from game to game. I loathe the soundtrack in this game. I'm positively sick of the theme song that's replayed from game to game in this series, and I'm absolutely tired of the synthesized sound to the game's soundtrack. None of the tunes exhibit any sort of panache or originality; they may fit the stages thematically, but that is only because the themes are exactly the same as in previous games, just like the music. I'm glad that they decided to not rehash a slathering of older tunes from the Super Mario Bros. library, but what they produced here in NSMB2 is far, far worse. There's no orchestration and the vocal “baa” noises in the soundtrack are positively irritating. The only tune I can think of that's even remotely interesting is the ghost house theme. I can hardly pinpoint anything even remotely original about the game's soundtrack or voice samples. Everything is recycled, and it was annoying and shameful when this “style” emerged with New Super Mario Bros.

Replay value comes in sharing coin scores with friends and strangers. Achieving a million coins in Coin Rush would certainly take a while, but I was done at 20,000 coins; speed and score runs can only extend the longevity of a game for so long, in my opinion, because they're rehashing content the player has already gone through before, just with a slightly different objective. It would take tens of hours to reach a million, but it would take a dedicated fan with a heart of gold to help Mario reach his glorious, lofty goal of a million coins.

If this “assembly line” approach to Mario game development is the path that Nintendo will choose to take with their games, then I'm afraid they'll alienate a lot of once-dedicated fans, myself included. The NSMB franchise has been pummeled into the ground in a short amount of time, and the games are so eerily similar that even parents and children will begin to pick up on Nintendo's lackluster game design. Nintendo has not run out of ideas; they simply like to take ones that they believe are innovative and profitable and run some of them into the ground. I'm thoroughly dissatisfied with this product and can not recommend it to even the most seasoned Mario gamers. Sure, it's a step for digital game distribution for Nintendo, and yes, it's a new 2D Mario game, but even Super Mario 3D Land knew where to take risks and utilize the system to its full potential.

There is a great collection of platformers for the Wii, DS and even 360, PS3 and Android which offer more innovation, fun, challenge and aesthetic / aural fun for less money. I implore you to explore your options before investing in New Super Mario Bros. 2. It's not only because of the competition that you should clamour for another product; this one in particular is poorly-developed, uninspired and utterly disappointing.

Reviewer's Rating:   2.5 - Playable

Originally Posted: 08/21/12

Game Release: New Super Mario Bros. 2 (US, 08/19/12)

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