Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Review: New Super Mario Bros. 2

Review courtesy of toadster101.  

"'Disappointment' would imply I had high expectations in the first place"


Eight years ago, Nintendo announced a game at E3 2004 called New Super Mario bros., which was set to revitalize the side-scrolling series of Mario games that had died off prior to the launch of the Nintendo 64. Fans were ecstatic; there had not been a traditional Mario platformer since the launch of Super Mario World in 1991. The game was released two years later to universal critical acclaim, and quickly became one of the best selling games of all-time. Rightfully so, New Super Mario bros. captured the hearts of Mario fans worldwide, whetting their appetites for what was next to come. The game maintained a perfect balance between nostalgia and innovation, introducing several new enemies, power-ups, and even songs. It was only natural for Nintendo to announce a sequel, which was released for Wii in 2009.

New Super Mario bros. Wii took everything about its predecessor and made it better, and offered a sublime multiplayer mode that had never been seen before in a Mario game. The 3DS handheld was released in early 2011, and sold rather modestly until the holiday season. Satoru Iwata, CEO of Nintendo, later announced that they were working on a new side-scrolling Mario title for the struggling device. It was later revealed to be a direct sequel to the DS title, disregarding the existence of New Super Mario bros. Wii, which was a rather silly decision on their behalf.

Gameplay for New Super Mario bros. 2 was first shown to the public at E3 2012, and the reaction, needless to say, probably was not what Nintendo had hoped for. Not only did it look identical to the other New Super Mario bros. games, but both the music and environments were recycled from previous entries in the series. Two months later and the game is finally here, and for the first time in our lives, Nintendo has released a new Mario platformer that does not quite live up to the franchise pedigree. I would argue that this is the most derivative game Nintendo has ever produced.


It has been over 25 years since the launch of Super Mario bros., and the Mario series has not changed at all. There have been a few tweaks and refinements here and here, but the core gameplay is the same; jump, run, and wall-kick your way to the goal, grabbing coins and defeating enemies along your way. You know what they say, “If it ain't broke, don't fix it”, but unfortunately for the New Super Mario bros. franchise, a few of its elements have always been broken. Although the game is a side-scroller, Mario feels sluggish and awkward to control at times, especially after landing jumps. It is as if they took the Super Mario 64 engine and just flipped it 90 degrees. Neither Super Mario bros. 3 nor Super Mario World had this issue, so what is stopping them from returning to sprite based gameplay? As proven by Wario Land: Shake It and Rayman Origins, there is still demand for traditional 2D side-scrollers in our current marketplace.

In attempt to spice the formula up, Nintendo has designed their game around the concept of coin collecting. Rather than rush to the flagpole at the end of every level, players are encouraged to explore the landscape and collect as many coins as possible. To accommodate this new gameplay feature, Nintendo has added a few mechanics to make coin collecting even easier than it used to be. Coins will fly out from the background whenever Mario passes by invisible checkpoints, and tremor-causing POW blocks are more common than ever before. In addition to these, there are Gold Rings, which turn enemies into coin-spewing machines, and of course the Gold Flower, which transforms Mario into a metallic version of King Midas. Not literally, of course! But you now have the ability to throw golden fireballs, which convert bricks into coins, and present you an abnormal cash reward every time you defeat an enemy. Admittedly, controlling Mario in this metallic state tends to be quite thrilling, but there is only one problem: it serves no purpose, and neither do coins. That is right, Nintendo designed their game around the concept of coin collecting, and yet coins have no ulterior function. The only difference between their counterparts in Super Mario bros. is that they appear more frequently. It makes no sense. I would argue that this is the stupidest game design decision they have made in decades. It is clearly a shameless gimmick used to disguise the fact that nothing about this game is actually new. They urge all players to collect one million coins, but why bother if the reward is worthless? I will not spoil what it is, but trust me when I say that it is not worth your time. I finished the main quest with only 50,000 coins, but Nintendo has included a Coin Rush mode – which I will discuss later – that makes grinding more tolerable. Could they not come up with something substantial for the goal they have been hyping up? Almost every North American advertisement for New Super Mario bros. 2 has rhetorically asked the public: “Can you collect one million coins?”. Hell yeah I can, but I certainly do not want to.

Coin Rush offers a unique twist on the Mario formula in that you must play through three levels chosen at random and collect as many coins as possible. The gimmick is that you must 'rush' through each stage to accommodate for the decrease in time, and reaching the top of the flagpole at the end of the level will double your coin count. You can then share your best score with strangers via StreetPass, and… that is it. Wait, what? No online leaderboards? No SpotPass functionality? Nintendo needs to get past its archaic online infrastructure and embrace the future. Why do they want me to waste my time playing Coin Rush if there is no reward? It gets even better from there. Nintendo has actually limited the maximum amount of coins you can collect; a measly 30,000 coins in total, which I have reached several times. Why would I continue playing Coin Rush if there is no higher score to strive towards? They have turned a potentially addictive, arcade-like experience into a lame ‘by the numbers' sequel by making Coin Rush as barebones as possible.

Returning power-ups include the Super Mushroom, Fire Flower, Mini Mushroom, Mega Mushroom, and for the first time in over 20 years, the Super Leaf. Unfortunately, its inclusion serves only to remind us that Nintendo was once a creative company not afraid to take risks. Very few levels take advantage of Raccoon Mario's ability to fly, and the whole power-up just feels like it was shoehorned in at the last minute for nostalgic purposes. The new Cannon Stages are good fun, but there's only one problem: they last roughly 15 seconds each. They barely even qualify as new content, because you could complete every single level before I finish typing this paragraph. Well… let me be honest here, that is not their only problem. Because the gimmick is that you cannot stop running, Raccoon Mario completely breaks these stages. Who needs good reflexes when you can fly over every obstacle?

For the first time ever, there is cooperative play in a handheld Mario game. Unfortunately for Nintendo, they have recently admitted that multiplayer was a last minute addition, and it shows. No online play in 2012 is unacceptable, and their decision to take advantage of only one screen is… curious. What I mean by that is this: although both players are using separate handheld devices, the action is still confined to a single screen, much like in New Super Mario bros. Wii. Another thing that bothers me is how two copies of the game are required for multiplayer, even though only one player's progression through the game is saved. Despite the fact that its predecessor had both a competitive versus mode and a bunch of multiplayer mini-games, they are nowhere to be seen in New Super Mario bros. 2. News flash: Your ‘less is more' approach is not working, Nintendo.

Star Coins are shiny gold pendants that are triple the size of regular coins. There are three in each stage, and their purpose is to unlock hidden levels and Mushroom Houses throughout your journey. I had no objections to their inclusion in the previous New Super Mario bros. titles, but the problem with Star Coins is that some of them are placed in the most ridiculous spots possible. Although I did find every Star Coin by myself, some took much longer to spot than they otherwise should have. Secret exits share a similar issue, although some of these are executed very well. Others involve having Mario jump in random spots to find hidden vines, or my personal favorite, the Star Coins that only appear when you meet certain conditions in a level (passing through an invisible checkpoint, standing on a ledge, etc.). My concern is that there are only a few of these near the end of your adventure, and the game makes no effort to introduce the player to this trick early on. A game should never radically change its mechanics; there should be continuity from start to finish.

Good news: There is still some fun to be had here, albeit it does not last very long. Some levels are fantastic, particularly near the end of the game, while others are ROM hack quality. Mediocre level design does not cut it when you have masterpieces like Super Mario World under your belt. Very few levels are passable on their own merits; you must play Coin Rush to fully experience what they have to offer. But what is the point when coins serve no purpose, nor can you compete online for high scores? I am now convinced that New Super Mario bros. 2 was designed by monkeys.


New Super Mario bros. 2 looks decent at best, and after having played through every level in full, I am – unhappy – to announce that the Mario series is in dire need of a new art style. You could argue that, yes, precision based platformers do not need to look complicated, but there is no excuse for such a bland, uninspired, and overused art style to be used for three (four if you count the recently announced New Super Mario bros. U) games in a row. Does it work? Perhaps, but what also works is taking a hint from their own playbook and making an effort to innovate. The cel-shaded look of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker certainly did not alienate casual gamers. My biggest gripe with the art style is that Nintendo has recycled the environments from the previous New Super Mario bros. titles, so everything looks way too familiar. How many times must we begin our journey in the generic grasslands? In some ways, New Super Mario bros. 2 actually looks worse than its predecessor; the level backgrounds look like low resolution JPG images. One of the backgrounds is simply an indigo gradient that is not even shaded properly.

The 3D effect in New Super Mario bros. 2 is quite possibly the worst use of 3D I have witnessed thus far. Every time you crank up the 3D slider, which represents the aperture of a camera, the background becomes blurrier to imitate depth of field in photography. This was done to trick the player into believing that the background is further away than it actually is, but it looks like complete ass. None of the foreground objects have any depth at all, they just lazily added a filter to smokescreen the low resolution of the backgrounds. The game clearly does not take advantage of the 3DS hardware at all, much unlike Super Mario 3D Land. What happened to the company that developed Virtual Boy Wario Land and Mario Clash? I find it odd that one of the 3DS's biggest games of 2012 completely neglects the console's namesake feature.

Music has always been an important part of Mario games, and while New Super Mario bros. 2 does not sound abysmal, every single track in the game has been stolen from New Super Mario bros. Wii (including the final boss battle music), with one or two exceptions. Could you imagine how angry fans would be if Super Mario World duplicated the Super Mario bros. 3 soundtrack? I am actually shocked that Nintendo would ever stoop this low, but what can I say, times have changed. If Super Mario Galaxy can have an orchestrated soundtrack, so can the New Super Mario bros. titles.

Nooks and Crannies:

Some people argue that the storyline for Mario games is irrelevant, but diehard fans of the series like me beg to differ. There came a time when Nintendo made an effort to keep the narrative fresh, yet simplistic. This time around, Mario and Luigi decide to go on a “coin hunt” for no reason at all, and Princess Peach is kidnapped by the Koopalings upon their return. Is this really the best they could do? Why are there suddenly so many coins in the Mushroom Kingdom? I have read fanfictions on Deviantart that are of a better quality. I am surprised Wario does not appear in a game that fancies itself as being “coin crazed”, but I guess that is because he cannot be imported from something else.

The term New Super Mario bros. has become ironic in that nothing here is new at all, aside from a few texture-swapped enemies, such as the new Bone Piranha Plants and Bone Goombas. Boohemoth, a giant, creepy-looking poltergeist, is nothing more than yet another auto-scrolling stage that we have encountered previously in the Super Mario bros. franchise. The gimmick is that the player must get from point ‘A' to point ‘B' without stopping, for if they do, Boohemoth will catch them. This has been done dozens of times in its own series, so you would think the masters of platformers themselves could come up with something better. Deja vu does not even begin to describe how I felt during my experience with New (I use that word reluctantly) Super Mario bros. 2. The traditional Goombas, Koopa Troopas, and Piranha Plants are shoved down our throats in every single level, and then they remedy this problem by inserting zombified versions into castles. Are you kidding me? Super Mario bros. 3 introduced more fortress-dwelling baddies than all three New Super Mario bros. titles combined. These include Boo, Dry Bones, Thwomp, Hot Foot, Roto-Disc, Stretch, and the Gray Bowser Statues, most of which are now franchise staples. It amazes me how a company responsible for Super Mario Galaxy, a game bursting with creativity, can somehow produce some of the stalest 2D platformers ever released.

For those of you who grew up with Super Mario World, I am sure you will love Reznor's cameo, as did I. The fire-breathing triceratops trio is finally back, and this time, better th… no, I cannot say it. Reznor is an absolute joke in this game. The pair of Reznors in the World 1 fortress do absolutely nothing, and the dinosaurs you encounter later on in the game are not much better. Quite frankly, I am confused as to why Reznor appears in this game at all. Super Mario World took place on Dinosaur Island, so his inclusion made sense. Much like the Super Leaf, I feel as if Nintendo just added Reznor at the last minute to pander to gamers like myself who grew up in the SNES era. You would think Bowser would toughen up after being defeated so many times, but the final boss battle is atrocious, and arguably the worst in the entire series. It is one of the most underwhelming segments of any Mario game in recent memory. Do not even get me started on the Koopalings, whose boss fights are recycled from New Super Mario bros. Wii.

Is there any particular reason why every Paratroopa in the game is green-shelled? In every Mario platformer prior to the release of New Super Mario bros. 2, green-shelled Paratroopas either jump in one direction, or fly in one direction, while the red-shelled Paratroopas fly back and forth horizontally or vertically. Were they too lazy to adjust a simple color? I later found two lone red-shelled Paratroopas in a hidden level, and all they did was bounce in one direction, displaying the traditional mannerisms of green-shelled Paratroopas. It is as if they went out of their way to retcon established Mario canon.

New Super Mario bros. 2 is way too easy, even for novice gamers. Although coins are more common than ever before, Nintendo has made no attempt to alter the rather redundant lives system; much like in the previous Super Mario bros. titles, you are given a 1-up Mushroom every time you obtain 100 coins. You will be showered with hundreds upon hundreds of coins in some levels, and yet you are still given extra lives to complement your coin output. Why even have lives at all? But let me be clear; the amount of lives you have by the end of the game does not dictate how challenging it actually is. The level design and Super Guide are to blame for this. Much like in New Super Mario bros. Wii, Super Mario Galaxy 2, and Super Mario 3D Land, Nintendo has given beginners an opportunity to take advantage of a Super Guide, and 'cheat' their way to the goal. You must die five times in a row to activate the Invincibility Leaf, but I cannot imagine anybody over the age of eight needing to use this feature. It is basically impossible to die if you know what you are doing. I died a grand total of eleven times after having achieved a perfect save game, and a few of those deaths were no fault of my own; I suicided for Star Coins.


Once you complete the game, which certainly will not take very long, there is little incentive to come back. Coin Rush mode is gimped beyond repair, and finding Star Coins, although necessary for 100% completion, should not take long at all, especially with the internet by your side. According to Nintendo, downloadable content will be available for purchase in the near future from the eShop. This content will be exclusive levels for use in Coin Rush, although no other details were given.

Up until recently, each Mario side-scroller always had something new to offer. Super Mario bros. redefined the platformer genre with its superb play control and timeless storyline. Super Mario bros. 2 (USA) offered four playable characters, new enemies, new music, and looked much different than its predecessor. Super Mario bros. 3 went above and beyond our expectations, introducing new power-ups, new enemies, new music, new worlds to explore, a world map, Mushroom Houses, mini-games, multiple boss battles, and the ability to stockpile items outside of gameplay. Super Mario World did not innovative as much as Super Mario bros. 3 did, but it certainly introduced many distinct features, such as the seamless world map, ghost houses, Yoshi, potentially endless flight, hidden exits, and one of the most epic boss battles in video game history. Even the two Game Boy games, Super Mario Land and its sequel, Super Mario Land 2: The 6 Golden Coins had unique qualities, most notably the introduction of Princess Daisy and Wario, that helped distinguish each game from previous titles in the Mario series. New Super Mario bros. introduced Star Coins, new power-ups, new enemies, new music, and new world themes. Although a sequel to New Super Mario bros., New Super Mario bros. Wii did introduce new power-ups, and a fantastic multiplayer mode that Nintendo has decided to bring back for the upcoming Wii U title, New Super Mario bros. U. New Super Mario bros. 2, on the other hand, introduces absolutely nothing new at all, contradicting its own name. ‘New' implies that there is new content, and the ‘2' suggests that the plot is an extension of its predecessor's, which it is not. What if Nintendo were to announce New Super Mario bros. 3, a game that places on emphasis on the collection of mushrooms? Would their sudden abundance count as new content? You decide.

My score represents the amount of effort (or lack thereof) Nintendo spent on this. It feels like they actually went out of their way to make the game worse than it should have been. A game called New Super Mario bros. 2 that lacks any substantial new content is not only unforgivable, but insulting to me as a lifelong Nintendo fan. The gameplay is sound, that is for sure, but there is absolutely no reason to purchase this title unless you somehow have not played another Mario game, which I am sure you have. My recommendation is that you either buy New Super Mario bros. Wii, or waits for its direct sequel, New Super Mario bros. U, which looks promising. New Super Mario bros. 2 was clearly designed as a last-minute cash grab to strengthen 3DS hardware sales, which it probably will. If you are in dire need of a handheld Mario experience, buy Super Mario 3D Land instead. You have been warned.

+ Side-scrolling Mario titles are still entertaining

- Recycled enemies
- Recycled boss fights
- Recycled graphics
- Recycled music
- The lack of originality is startling
- Level design is a mixed bag
- Underwhelming final boss
- Idiotic plot, even for a Mario game
- Coins serve no purpose
- Coin Rush is wasted potential
- No online play of any kind
- Worst use of 3D yet

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