In the wake of the utterly sublime Super Mario 3D Land, it’s worth being wary of anyone who hastily describes a new Mario adventure as being “too short”. What seemed to be the natural end of 3D Land – the closing credits – actually signified the game’s halfway point, and although New Super Mario Bros. 2 isn’t quite as generous with its content, nobody should be worried if the finale seems
to rear its head a little too early. Initially there are six worlds here instead of the traditional eight, but never before has a Mario game been so explicit about its secrets; each map features almost as many unreachable level entrances as it does accessible ones.
The fundamentals of play surely don’t need any explanation, and despite the fact that the acquisition of coins now plays a bigger part than ever, the emphasis remains fixed on delectable platforming. Super Mario 3D Land had a wealth of unforgettable individual levels, and NSMB2 has its fair share too. The most consistently joyous world (the fifth) features some of the most inventive levels ever seen in a Mario game. One of them forces you to wheel yourself through it on a bicycle-like rotating platform, and another, where warp pipes become cannons and pathways lead you in every conceivable direction, seems like a simultaneous homage to Donkey Kong Country, and the original Sonic the Hedgehog, of all things.
NSMB2 is similar to 3D Land in that it takes most of its cues from one game in particular; the ever-masterful Super Mario Bros. 3. What this means above all is that the racoon suit is back in its original incarnation, and if you’re a series vet, the glee in flying above a ceiling to discover a hidden room is pretty hard to suppress; it’s like the summer of 1991 all over again. A Mario game has never bent over backwards to be this vibrant and colourful either, so warp pipes – emerald green since forever – now come in all manner of bright colours… because why not? The 3D effects are subtle and deliberately unintrusive – a boon if you’re forced to preserve battery life – but importantly, this is far too polished a production to have appeared on the original Nintendo DS.
So then, to currency. On top of all this traditional Mario goodness is what’s basically tantamount to a meta game; the ceaseless accumulation of shiny gold coins. The whole process is essentially pointless, as all that it really allows you to do is add to an overall pot which can then be shared via StreetPass. But even with that functionality switched off, once you’ve started collecting, it’s impossible to stop. One new power-up turns your head into a golden brick that spits money; the more you run and jump, the more you’re rewarded. A golden mushroom allows you to turn enemies into coins, and a golden flower turns (almost) everything that you lay fire upon into… you get the idea. It’s all quite unbelievably moreish.
Even when there’s no hidden room or ledge, you’re also given coins simply for taking the initiative to investigate every corner of each world. Some coins are deliberately put in dangerous places, and knowing your limits is essential when you’re participating in the new Coin Rush mode. This involves a mad dash across three levels – randomly generated, though the third one always seemed to be the most devious in our experience – in an attempt to set records which can then be shared vis StreetPass. There are two catches; you only have one life, and there is a very strict time limit. Younger gamers can choose to play using Mario’s invincible P-wing suit but Coin Rush is geared squarely at the hardcore, and as such is a rousing success.
The only real problem with New Super Mario Bros. 2 is that it comes so soon after 3D Land; a genuine classic, and one of the finest videogames of last year. It’s a bit of a shame that the co-op mode doesn’t allow for online play and the continuing desire to include lives has never felt more out of place: by the time we reached the end credits (not the actual climax) we had well over one hundred of the things. But these are minor gripes, and what NSMB2 offers (as ever) is core gameplay quality that exists several streets ahead of the competition. It may not be a classic, but if you own a 3DS it’s essential. This is what you bought it for.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is currently due for release on the Nintendo 3DS on Friday, August 17th 2012.
Watch the trailer for New Super Mario Bros. 2 below: