This is going to be blasphemy, but I’ve never been a fan of the 3D Mario games released post-Mario 64. Neither Sunshine nor Galaxy appealed to me, though I will admit that Super Mario 3D Land got its hooks into me pretty good. In any case, Nintendo has been kind enough to bless those of us who prefer 2D platformers with the New Super Mario Bros. series. Adding 3D, co-op play, and lots of coins to the mix, New Super Mario Bros. 2 continues this series on the Nintendo 3DS.
Let’s face it, I really shouldn’t have to set up the plot of a Mario game. The Koopa Kids kidnap Princess Peach and our mustachioed tradesman must hop, bop and fly his way through several worlds in order to save her. This time around, there’s an overarching theme of collecting massive amounts of gold coins - they’re so liberally sprinkled throughout each stage that I almost began to wonder if this was some kind of twisted nod to the old Sonic the Hedgehog games. Though it’s never really communicated to you in-game, Mario has a secondary goal of collecting a staggering one million coins during his adventure.
One of the biggest selling points of this installation is the return of the Raccoon Tail from Super Mario Bros. 3, which lets Mario fly after building up sufficient speed. Supporting Mario’s coin collection goal are two new powerups, the Golden Fire Flower which explodes enemies into coins, and the Coin Box head, which spews coins out as long as Mario keeps moving. Also returning are regular Fire Flowers and the Small Mushroom, along with the usual assortment of POW blocks and P-switches.
All of the familiar ingredients for stages are here: mid-world fortresses, airships, ghost houses, underwater stages, and of course, the requisite desert, winter and water-themed worlds. Each stage follows the overall world theme, though some contain surprises that are (unfortunately) self-contained. A forest stage where Mario must climb on fragile spiderwebs was an early standout. When its at its best, the stages in New Super Mario Bros. 2 are as full of boundless creativity as ever, but unfortunately a good half of them feel a little flat.
Honestly, a large part of why the levels can feel flat is that there isn’t much challenge to be had in simply completing the courses. The added goal of collecting so many coins actually ends up making death a non-issue, as you rack up such a massive number of lives they don’t mean anything (I currently have over 200 lives racked up). Luckily, the Star Coins are usually really cleverly hidden and sometimes require planning ahead to obtain. I also really enjoy that some levels have secret exits that lead to alternate paths through the world.
Though the return of the Raccoon Tail and all of the design cues taken from Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World are welcome sights, it just doesn’t feel like Nintendo has done enough to mix up the formula and keep things fresh.
Most 3DS games come with some sort of SpotPass functionality and this is no different. Coin Rush mode gives Mario a 3-stage playlist of levels chosen at random and tasks him with not only collecting as many coins as possible, but doing so under a very strict time limit. Hitting checkpoints or collecting pocket watch powerups extend your timer, but you’ll really want to have played the stages beforehand or else you’ll spend more time battling the clock than collecting coins. You earn more coins in this mode than by simply playing the game, so if you feel like going for the million coin goal, this will be your best option. After completing a playlist, your records are saved and sent out via SpotPass.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii added co-op to the mix and New Super Mario Bros. 2 continues the tradition, though the player count has (understandably) been knocked down from 4 to 2. If you’ve got a friend nearby that has a 3DS and a copy of the game and you’ll be able to team up to face the considerable challenge before you.
In a stunning twist, the challenge really isn’t the game itself - it’s fighting the urge to slap Nintendo for implementing a shared-screen co-op experience across devices that supply their own screens. You see, the camera is always centered on Mario (although it can switch to Luigi if he tags the mid-level checkpoint first), despite the fact that the vast majority of levels have no reason to keep the players leashed.
If the player with camera focus advances too far from their partner, the partner not only has a hard time seeing what to do to catch up, they eventually have all control torn from them and their character is contained in a bubble. The lead player can pop the bubble to bring their partner back, but other than screwing with your buddy, the co-op seems more adversarial than anything else. New Super Mario Bros. Wii had similar problems, but the chaos of four players all griefing each other at least added to the fun - the co-op here is simply frustrating. With two players the levels also feel a bit more cramped, as Mario and Luigi can collide, and can make platforming a bit difficult on the limited screen real estate.
Frankly though, I’m not bothered by that too much - the Mario games have been fantastic single-player staples for so long it’s hard for me to feel too bad that the mode I don’t want to play anymore isn’t very fun.
While New Super Mario Bros. 2 seems like Nintendo might be going back to the well just a little too much, I still had a great deal of fun exploring the worlds, challenging myself to find the Star Coins and hidden exits, and yes, soaking in a huge pool of nostalgia. Hey - drawing on Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World for inspiration goes a long way with me. It’s just a pity I won’t be able to bring myself to play with a friend again.