Like Mickey Mouse is to Disney and Sonic is to Sega, Mario is Nintendo’s key character and synonymous with the company. Ever since he stepped out onto the world stage in the mid-eighties the Super Mario franchise has been a core part of Nintendo’s magic and one that has been consistently good over the past twenty-five years. Just don’t mention the Mario Movie.
And here we are with the latest instalment in the series, the mouth-numbingly titled ‘New! Super Mario Bros 2’ on the 3DS, the spiritual follow-up to the 2006 DS game and the more recent Wii version, and the next in line before the Wii U iteration hits within the next twelve months. The newest outing in the series sees a graphical and gameplay kick added to the classic Mario games of the 1980s and 1990s to bring them up to speed with the tastes of modern gamers, with this edition landing on Nintendo’s flagship 3D handheld.
Now I’m a big fan of the Super Mario games, but I am a little nervous. From a company that only released one Mario game for each console in the 1990s after the handful on the NES, we’ve had a lot of Mario recently with one DS game, three Wii games and now two 3DS games and that’s without including all the numerous racing, party and Olympic spin-offs. Are Nintendo in danger of killing their prize cow?
Not at the moment, thankfully, but New! Super Mario Bros 2 won’t be winning any awards for advancing the franchise like the excellent Galaxy games did. It’s very much business as usual with the Princess captured by the Koopa Kids and Mario in hot pursuit to rescue her, travelling through six worlds of eight to ten levels each including ghost houses, fortresses, castles and world’s themed around different elements. Each world contains a mid-world and an end-world boss and then there’s the traditional huge boss at the end, so no surprises there.
The game sees the return of classic power-ups. You have the usual mushroom, fire flower and starman that give you an extra hit, the ability to fire fireballs and limited-time invincibility respectively. On top of that, the mega-mushroom, which makes Mario temporarily massive, makes a couple of appearances and both are very fun, and the mini-mushroom that does the opposite makes half-a-dozen showings, often involving secrets. These power-ups are joined by the return of the raccoon feather which transforms Mario into, well, a raccoon that allows him to temporarily fly if he gets a good enough run up, which allows you to get to bonus and secret areas throughout the game and, though not used as much as in Super Mario Bros 3, is useful a lot of times for passing by big obstacles either by flying over them or floating down to avoid them. As usual a power-up can be stored away to be called out when you need it.
These power-ups help you progress through levels which involve traditional platforming, avoiding enemies and solving puzzles, before hitting the flagpole at the end to complete the level, as you would expect from a Mario game. Amongst the leaping and attacking there is a half-way save point as well.
But there is more on top of that and that’s where this game’s special shtick comes in. There are coins everywhere. Hundreds of them scattered through each level and power-ups that help you get even more. It’s like Super Mario directed by Gordon Gekko. The overall challenge of the game is to gather over one million coins and you do this by grabbing as many coins as you can in the level, either in boxes or in plain sight. You are helped along to this total by the occasional gold flower power-up, which allows you to fire golden fireballs which turns blocks into coins and kills enemies for mega coin bonuses, which is really fun, and the gold mushroom which gives you a gold bonus.
There are blocks that give you a coin bonus of between 5 and 50 coins depending on when you hit them, and there are the usual red hoops that give you eight red coins and a bonus if you collect all of them. Plus, there are gold hoops that when hit turn all enemies golden and as they are killed give you bonuses, with Koopa Troopas creating a long chain of coins as you kick them away and piranha plants spurting out coins when you destroy them. There are other ways of making lots of coins scattered through the game – including trigger points that make coins appear in places – to help you get to this million coin total, including coin rush mode which I’ll come to later. It’s an interesting mechanic and does bring an extra level of skill to the game and each level is marked by how many coins you get to keep track of that.
Obviously the results of this coin overload is your lives, and I’ve currently got over 300 of them, so don’t expect to see a game over screen ever in this game with normal 1-ups scattered liberally around the game as it is.
I enjoy the focus on coins as it does give a bit of a fresher challenge to the game and it’s fun to collect lots of them and beat your scores, but a million is a challenge. I’ve put 14 hours into this game so far and collected just over 75,000, or just over a fifteenth of the way there. That gives you a good idea of the mountain to climb in that respect.
In relation to the game let’s get the negatives out of the way. Though the game looks beautiful for a 2D platformer with rounded graphics and well drawn solid enemies and characters, it’s not a massive leap from the DS original of six years ago. I’m sure side by side the new version will look better but it’s nothing outstanding. The 3D effect adds a little bit of depth to the game but mostly only makes the background blurry, making the 3D slider more redundant than a dodgy journalist after the Leveson inquiry. Naturally, the game play is no big change from the previous games in style.
Now onto the positives, and there are some big ones. This is the first Mario game since 1992’s ‘Super Mario World’ where I feel Nintendo has really embraced the idea again of multiple exits and lots of hidden secrets. There are many, many levels in this game that are not immediately available and if you skip through the game without collecting the three, often tricky to find and collect, large star coins in each level or exploring every nook and cranny of the levels, then you will miss the vast majority of the game.
It took me a relatively impressive six hours to complete the main game but so far an extra eight hours to continue and I still haven’t unlocked all the extra levels or got anywhere near finding all the gold coins. There are three full hidden worlds – one unlocked when you complete the game so keep at least ninety of your star coins unredeemed to access eight more levels, that unfortunately are no more tricky than your standard levels – with two with hidden access points in two levels in the ordinary worlds. They are tricky to find – and thankfully more imaginative than the DS version’s ones – and it will be a real reward to find them.
Other secret levels within the ordinary worlds can be found by either paying five star coins to open up some paths – a technique which also gives you access to mushroom, one-up and bonus houses that give you power-ups – or by finding, often cunningly hidden exits, within levels. Occasionally you’ll need a particular power-up to reach an exit, such as the raccoon feather, and some are hidden in great ways, so it’s a thumbs up Nintendo for this. This is probably the biggest game in the number of levels yet and to have so many levels not present straight out of the box is a great thing for me who likes to explore the game and not be spoon-fed. If you’re looking for a worthy successor to Super Mario World in the nature of secret exits and multiple pathways, plus ways of skipping levels if you find hidden exits, then this is the best one yet.
Speaking of Super Mario World, the bosses are ripped from that game, with Reznor – the rhinos on a ferris wheel – appearing in the mid-way fortress, with some interesting adaptations on that as you progress, with a Koopa Kid doing battle in the final castle, with most of these battles simple and straight forward but with some enjoyable twists. The final boss fight of the game is perhaps not as tricky as the Wii game or 3D Land but it’s difficult none the less with what it throws at you. It’s also repeated at the end of the secret world with the seriously creepy bone Bowser, this time much harder.
On top of all this there is the white raccoon power-up for younger players. As in previous games if you die too many times in a level you can activate this invincibility power-up to allow you to rocket through the levels, which I’ve never used but is a help to younger players in a game that has its moments when it comes to the difficulty level.
There are a few other special stages as well alongside the familiar maze-filled ghost houses, such as cannon stages which propel Mario along Sonic-like through night-time levels, and rainbow levels unlocked by some nifty landing on the flagpoles.
Musically the game is fun with many familiar tunes amongst the levels. I don’t think any of the tracks are new to this game but that’s no big loss, and the tracks are all enjoyable to hear.
Placed alongside the single player and co-op game, which has plenty of levels and challenges to get your teeth into, is coin rush mode and this is where, with on one run-through up to 7000 coins a pop, you’ll be coming to to reach the million coin total. You get several packs – with more promised by DLC soon – consisting of three randomly-selected levels depending on which pack you select and it’s your job, either as ordinary or white raccoon Mario, to run through the levels, collecting as many coins as possible using all the techniques and power-ups you’ve found, to build up your total, keeping your eye on the rapidly limiting time you have to complete it and knowing if you die once you have to restart all three levels again (but you do get to keep the coins), hoping to land on the top of the flagpole at the end to double everything you’ve collected so far. This is a great idea and really extends the game and offers a new challenge, especially when it’s combined with the 3DS Streetpass system which allows you to try and beat other player’s scores and getting a bonus if you do. All high scores can be saved but it’s a shame that each pack isn’t always the same three levels so you can really perfect your abilities.
Overall ‘New! Super Mario Bros 2’ is a great addition to the Mario canon, even if the series is showing signs of overkill. The gameplay and graphics may be no major improvement over the previous game six years ago and the 3D effect is pointless, but the levels are more difficult than previous platformers (but not as hard as 3D Land levels) and the addition of so many secret exits and multiple pathways makes this the best one since Super Mario World and I hope it’s something Nintendo really embraces on next year’s Wii U version. The new power ups are great and the coin collecting theme timely in our recession-hit world and a good hook to hang the game off.
Don’t expect a revolutionary game but for fans of Mario platformers there is much challenge here along with lots of levels to play and it’s certainly no walk in the park for finishing, with completionists likely to find all the collectables and goals very enjoyable and extending the lifetime of the game well passed the twenty hour mark, though there’s not much incentive it seems to get all the star coins as once you’ve unlocked all the secret pathways they’re only used for mushroom houses which are redundant if you’re a good player.
Now you must excuse me. I’m off to try and reach the million coin mark. I just hope that whatever the reward is at the end is good enough to justify the hours it’s going to take me. I’ll let you know if I think it is when I reach it but in the meantime hope someone doesn’t spoil it for me…
REVIEW CODE: A complimentary code was provided to Brash Games for this review. Please send all review code enquiries to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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