Despite the fact it may feel like we have been inundated with New Super Mario Bros games of late it’s been 6 years since the original New Super Mario Bros was released on the Nintendo DS… yes, that long. Nintendo’s latest iteration, the third in the series after the original and Wii editions, makes its way to the 3DS, mixing 2D platforming with slightly 3D layers.
The game starts out with a familiar story: the evil dream lord Wart has sent Mario back into the world of dreams using the mystical sorcery provided by Bowser, in order to capture Princess Peach without Mario’s meddling.
Okay, so that is not actually the plot in this game.
That would have been ten times more interesting then the standard “Peach gets captured by Bowser; run through all the worlds; save her” bit. But thats fine, Mario has never been about story or premise. At this stage, there doesn’t even really need to be an explanation to run and jump through the zany levels you’ve come to expect. Unfortunately, starting with World One, it all feels too familiar. From the overworld layout, to the music, to the background designs. All the separate “worlds” have been seen before. The main new feature — possibly the reason “New” is still in the title of the game — is the emphasis on coin collection, with the ultimate goal of collecting one million of them. The title screen has a small counter of every coin you have collected in the game, for instance.
The game play is as tight as ever, a fact I take for granted with every new side-scrolling Mario title. The emphasis on coin collecting does bring a few new tweaks and alterations to the tried and true formula. You may find yourself jumping around in areas you otherwise wouldn’t give a second glance, just to see if coins appear out of nowhere to keep that counter high. There is basically only one new power-up, the gold fire flower, which turns most anything it hits into coins. The coin block head — which revolves around hitting a block for 10 or 11 times before adhering to Mario’s head — first seen in Super Mario 3D Land is back and makes pounding blocks a fun necessity instead of tedious. This will spew out coins the faster you run, and actually never got old for me. The raccoon suit is back, which many have wanted to see back in the games long before now. Unfortunately it isn’t used to explore the sprawling skies of a level, like in Super Mario Bros. 3, but mostly used to make jumps easier, as you slowly descend with a flutter kick afterwards.
The emphasis on coin collection does do a good job to lead the player toward a more “speed run” type approach to clearing the game.
There are special warp levels that could be considered a tutorial to speed running. In them, the movement of Mario is taken away from the player, jettisoning him automatically at full speed, following a coin layout that suggests to the player when the appropriate time to jump would be. Building on this idea is a whole new mode called “Coin Rush”, where the goal is to run through 3 random levels with one life and little time, collecting as many coins as possible. These are they only real new components that New Super Mario Bros. 2 brings to the table. I wish this idea had been expanded on more, as it felt kind of like playing a old-school Sonic The Hedgehog game.
There is a healthy number of levels, extra worlds, secret exists, etc, but a more veteran Mario player will likely see a good 80% of the levels and worlds over the course of 4 or 5 hrs of play. The secret areas don’t seem to have the same special feel as the “Special World” seen in Super Mario World, and are not nearly as difficult. The extra worlds feel like an expected part of the games by now, and there is no feeling of accomplishment when completing them. The replayability is built into the coin rush mode, shuffling the levels in a random order each time through.
The visuals look solid and consistent, but ultimately boring. There are no liberties taken with anything in this game. It feels as though this was a paint by numbers, “if it ain’t broke”, approach to the style. At a distance it would be pretty indistinguishable from the original New Super Mario Bros. or New Super Mario Bros. Wii. The game does have a peculiar co-op mode, though. The two players don’t get their “own” view of the game, but rather have to share the same view, and the “camera” only follows one player at a time so that both have to keep up with each other. This seems like a missed opportunity to have a fresh co-op experience using two completely separate views of the same level, but alas that is not the case. It also requires both players own the game, so no quick download play with a friend who doesn’t yet have the game.
Overall, the game is solid, a result of a perfected recipe that gives a reliably fun experience, but by no means a unique one. Is this a better New Super Mario Bros. game than the original DS one? I would suggest it is, but in the same way that version 2.0 of some software program is most always better than version 1.0. Sure, it can be easy to be more critical of such an icon like Mario; expectations are always high and hard to live up to. Questioning “why didn’t Nintendo try this or that” is easy to say, yet still, no one does platforming better. You likely won’t play a better platformer this year on a hand-held. The fact you can lay in bed and get this title off the e-shop makes it that much more irresistible, but if Nintendo rests on its laurels for much longer the likes of a Rayman or Sound Shapes could be the new king.
This review is based on a copy of the game purchased by the reviewer.