Review by horror_spooky
Can Nintendo's golden boy do no wrong?
New Super Mario Bros. 2 starts off slow. In fact, the first half of the game is a major disappointment, filled with recycled elements of previous Mario games, a lack of challenge, and a lack of soul that is present in other games in the series. The second half of the game picks up considerably, reminding me why I play Mario to begin with, but the weak first half keeps New Super Mario Bros. 2 from being that killer app that Nintendo wanted it to be.
Like all the Mario games, New Super Mario Bros. 2 has its own gimmick. This time around, the gimmick are the golden coins that players have been collecting in the Mushroom Kingdom since the mid-80s. There are now countless coins in each level, allowing players to earn 1ups at an alarming rate, and contributing to an overall count counter that yields rewards for players as they pass milestones. Collecting coins isn't necessarily that engaging, and because of this, the gimmick kind of fails, but luckily the level design and core gameplay mechanics keep the game from becoming a complete waste.
The game brings back the ability to fly like in Super Mario Bros. 3 after grabbing the leaf power-up. All the typical Mario power-ups return, such as the fire flower and the mushroom, as well as the power-ups that originated in this series, such as the mushroom that makes Mario extremely small, and the mushroom that makes Mario gigantic. Unfortunately, those power-ups, which add a unique and interesting twist to the Mario formula, are very few and far between in this game, and are virtually a non-factor.
There really is only one new power-up in this game, and that is a redesigned version of an existing power-up. This is the golden fire flower, which, as the name suggests shoots big golden flames. Players can use this to turn bricks into solid gold and knock enemies off the screen just like the other fire flower. However, there really is no reason to stray from the tried and true combination of having a leaf power-up equipped and a fire flower in reserve.
Gameplay is identical to the previous games in the "New" series. Players have the goal of getting to the flag at the end of the level, while also collecting three Star Coins along the way. This formula gave New Super Mario Bros. a lot of replayability, and it was a blast hunting down all the Star Coins in New Super Mario Bros. Wii with a few friends, but by now, it's formulaic and typical. However, the collecting of Star Coins is what adds a lot of challenge to the game, and going back through the earlier levels with this goal in mind makes them immensely more enjoyable.
This game is a sequel to New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, so one would think that it would retain the other popular elements of that game, but it does not. There are no mini-games that take advantage of the unique features of the 3DS, and the competitive multiplayer from the first game has been axed as well. In its place, players are able to play through the entire game with a partner through wireless play, assuming that the other person also has a 3DS and a copy of the game. That's right, New Super Mario Bros. 2 does not support single-cart download play likes its predecessor. There is also no online functionality, which is unforgivable in the eighth generation of gaming. If a game is going to have multiplayer, it NEEDS to have BOTH online and offline functionality if it wants to truly excel.
Along with solo and co-op play, a new Coin Rush mode has been added. This mode separates the levels into "packs", and then the players are tasked with getting through three levels from randomly selected worlds designated to those packs, with the goal of collecting even more coins and earning high scores. Using StreetPass functionality, the game tries to make it so Coin Rush becomes a competition with strangers you pass on the street, but considering the amount of people that actually use StreetPass, this idea, while good on paper, does not play out well in practice.
So far, this review has been like a laundry list of complaints. So, how can New Super Mario Bros. 2 score an "8" from me? It's simple, really. The core Mario gameplay is still just as fun as ever, regardless of the numerous issues that there are with this game. During the later levels of the game, the level design goes from boring and mediocre to phenomenal, with a few levels that truly stand out as some of the best I've ever played in my history of playing Mario. The levels in the two secret worlds provide a healthy challenge, and Star World is also very challenging and fun as well. Basically, Nintendo has succeeded at creating another great Mario game, but it is just disappointing that the game wasn't on the same level as other Mario games. When it comes to Zelda, I single out Spirit Tracks as a game that is a very good video game, better than most even, but it's not a good "Zelda" game, because Zelda is on a whole other spectrum at this point. I'd make the same statement about New Super Mario Bros. 2. It's a great game, but for a Mario game, it leaves me wanting much more.
There are other aspects of the game that I enjoyed a lot. Ghost mansion levels are usually ones I do not look forward to in other Mario games, but they feature clever puzzles in this game and great level design. The boss fights, while simple, are unique for Mario, and they provide constant new experiences. I stated earlier that this game lacks the same Mario soul. And for the first half of the game, it does, but it recaptures some of that Mario magic when the later stages start resembling Super Mario World more and more...
Another nice thing I can say about the game is that graphically, it is quite pretty. The characters and enemies look great, and better than they ever had before. Environmental effects are cool, and the game never lags or slows down, even when playing in co-op. Now, the 3D effect in the game is hugely disappointing. Even with the 3D turned all the way up, during levels, it's hard to tell that the 3D is even on. Considering the entire gimmick revolving around the 3DS is glasses-less 3D, it came as a big disappointment when I discovered that New Super Mario Bros. 2 basically ignores this. Some developers go overboard and have too intense 3D that causes ghosting issues, but New Super Mario Bros. 2 undershoots it by a wide margin. There are times when the 3D does look good, though, like on the overworld map and during boss levels that have embers blowing around the screen, or the snow levels that have snow falling from the skies in a similar manner. But overall, 3D in New Super Mario Bros. 2 was underutilized and virtually ignored by Nintendo.
Audio-wise, the game features sound you'd expected. Memorable tunes from Mario's past dominate the soundtrack, and beyond that, there's not much else to report. Story-wise, the game is disappointing. It's just another rehash of the typical story in which Princess Peach is kidnapped and Mario has to rescue her. The presence of the Koopalings makes the proceedings a little more interesting, but ever since Super Mario Galaxy, it's becoming harder for me to accept a Mario game that lacks a story at least somewhat as fulfilling as that.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is rough. It features a lot of fantastic levels and that classic core Mario gameplay design that helps it be, at worst, a very fun and engaging platformer. However, there are numerous flaws that hold it back from reaching that same level of Mario greatness that other games in the series have managed to do. Iwata claims that there will only be one New Super Mario Bros. game per system, but I think the 3DS could use another one that rights the wrongs of this game, and actually feels like it belongs on the 3DS.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: New Super Mario Bros. 2 (US, 08/19/12)
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