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.