At the time of writing, the 2012 London Olympics are in full swing. A global expression of unparalleled sporting excellence, the Games feature hordes of top-class athletes attempting to grab gold glory by taking part in events which are steeped in history and tradition; ultimately, the objective isn’t to be innovative in your approach, but rather to be the best in your respective discipline.
It’s an analogy which befits the latest Super Mario game almost perfectly; New Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn’t do anything revolutionary and certainly doesn’t tear up the rulebook when it comes to video games starring Italian plumbers, but it confidently secures the top step on the podium regardless, largely because it does everything so brilliantly.
To stretch that possibly tenuous comparison even further, like a trained Olympic athlete, New Super Mario Bros. 2 showcases a hitherto unseen obsession with gold — possibly the game’s single biggest innovation. Coins are no longer solely treated as a way of bagging more points and additional lives (the latter of which have become increasingly irrelevant in recent Mario games due to their abundance), but instead to serve as a collectible commodity, driving you forward and instilling an almost suicidal urge to grab as many as possible during each level.
A counter on the main map screen shows how many coins you’ve collected since you loaded the cartridge into your 3DS, and this steadily ramps up the more you play. While there’s little incentive to collect coins other than bragging rights, this constant reminder of your progress serves as a surprisingly effective tool in getting you to snag as much cash as possible. You’ll find yourself making risky jumps that you’d ordinarily ignore, just to secure a few more coins. The collectable element really does alter your mindset as you play, and for the better.
The surprisingly compelling Coin Rush mode adds another layer to this fascination with gold. You’re given a single life (death means having to start over) and a strict time limit, and expected to dash through three random levels collecting coins as you go. At the conclusion of the trio of stages, your haul is compiled and committed to memory. You can then make this score available via StreetPass, challenging other players to beat it, though this mode would have been even better with online leaderboards included. Addictive doesn’t quite cover it; since finishing the main portion of the game, Coin Rush has become the focal point of our time at Nintendo Life Towers.
It’s fortuitous that Mario’s obsession with coins exists, because the rest of the game is disarmingly similar to its prequel, New Super Mario Bros. on the DS. The world structure remains the same (we’re still waiting forlornly for the branching pathways witnessed in Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3), as do many of the enemies and power-ups. There are some new additions though, the most obvious of which is the fan-favourite Raccoon costume, which was introduced in Mario’s third NES outing and made a glorious return — in its Tanooki form — to the series in Super Mario 3D Land. Its powered-up white and gold twin also makes a return, granting Mario the same airborne benefits as the standard suit but adding invincibility, too.
This furry suit — in conjunction with the equally popular Tanooki power-up — bestows the power of levitation and flight on our famous protagonist, expanding the game’s scope upwards. Levels have consequently been designed with high ceilings, opening them up for rampant exploration — a task which is given extra impetus by the aforementioned quest for coinage. While the Tanooki suit isn’t wholly new, the Block Head is — this headgear protects Mario from a single hit, and also spews out coins during jumps and runs. The Gold Flower pick-up is a variation on the item which has been a staple feature of the series since the original Super Mario Bros., and allows the player to hurl fireballs which turn vanquished foes into — you guessed it — coins.
Just as the gameplay feels like a close match to the DS forerunner, New Super Mario Bros. 2’s visuals are similarly familiar. Characters boast more polygons and there are neat incidental effects - such as the glowing lava in the castle stages — but for the most part, this has the appearance of an up-scaled version of the original. 3D is used in such a subtle manner it’s almost irrelevant; adjusting the 3D slider makes the background move in and out of focus, but aside from this unique touch, there’s little benefit to be had from playing the game with the battery-sucking auto-stereoscopic 3D switched on. The music offers a similar story — the tunes are all well-worn classics.
After the gloriously chaotic party-play focus of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, it’s only natural that Nintendo should try to infuse some of the same multiplayer mayhem into this title. However, there’s a little more harmony to be had this time around. The Cooperative mode features simultaneous, multi-cart play — something we were sadly unable to test during this review, as we were only supplied with one copy of the game by Nintendo. Being able to play through the entire adventure side-by-side with a friend is a welcome addition, but it’s a shame that Nintendo couldn’t have factored in online participation — such a move would have surely extended the already impressive longevity of the game, giving you the option to team up with players all over the globe.
That co-op play and Coin Rush are limited to local play and StreetPass, respectively, contributes to a sense that perhaps this entry lacks innovation. We don’t doubt for a second that there will be some individuals out there who will decry the lack of progression on display in New Super Mario Bros. 2 and, to be fair, they actually have a point. Some of the best moments in other Mario titles have been when the mould has been broken and new experiences have been offered up, but there’s something to be said for assured dependability, too.
Aside from its admittedly shallow obsession with collecting coins, New Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn’t offer anything ground-breaking when compared to previous instalments — but as we alluded to in the intro of this review, sometimes that can be a virtue rather than a fault; to criticise such a game for sticking to a proven and insanely successful formula is very much like attacking Michelangelo because his paintings all possess the same style. After all, a masterpiece is still a masterpiece, no matter how many times you see it.
It may not be as gleefully experimental as Super Mario 3D Land, but New Super Mario Bros. 2 intelligently recycles past glories and consequently offers the comfort of what is arguably one of the most enjoyable video game franchises ever. It’s immense fun, boasts brilliant level design and offers enough repeat play appeal to keep you glued to your 3DS system for weeks. And regardless of how badly you want Mario to evolve and provide fresh and exciting adventures, that has to count for something.