inFocus

“Coins, Coins More Coins!!!.

Game Info
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Genre: Platformer
Release Date: 08/19/2012
Meta Score


I rarely beat classic style Mario games. There’s something about how repetitive they are that really turns me off after World 2 or so. The flag at the end seems like the only thing that matters, and the journey just becomes something that stands in the way. That’s why I was very pleasantly surprised when I found that New Super Mario Bros 2 (excessive title of the year award) changed that for me.

Prior to picking it up, I wasn’t expecting to like NSMB2. I mostly only played the last one at friend’s houses when everyone was drunk and the goal was to kill each other and then try as long as possible to not pop their bubble and save them rather than actually finish the level. That, along with NSMB2’s ridiculous obsession with coins had me going in expecting the worse.

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But the strange thing is, the coin heavy focus of the game really, really works. Instead of being a superfluous change to game, resting the focus on the coins offers a fundamental change to the way the game is played. The star coins are still in the game, but now collecting them offers immediate rewards in the way of alternate paths to take in the game rather than unlocking extra levels after beating the game (though they do that too). Yet, the shift to coin focus also makes finding little secrets much more fun, and it also makes the star coins hiding spots much less blatant. In the past, finding a pipe you could warp through pretty much meant a puzzle to get a star coin, but now it might mean a golden fire flower that will turn every single thing you hit into coins.

The focus on the coins also offers a reason to come back to this game. Not only is it fun to go through all of the levels the first time, the levels are great many times over for picking coins and finding the secrets you missed. This has always been a Mario staple, but the coin-centric gameplay now really makes certain levels fun to play over and over again. This feeling is reflected in the new Coin Rush mode, which lets you play three random levels with the focus of getting as many coins as possible, and earning multipliers to help boost your score.

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The fact that this game does have such a large departure as the focus being shifted from beating the game to collecting one million coins is really a saving grace, because aside from those changes, NSMB2 is the same game you’ve probably already played quite a few times over. There are a few new power ups, like the aforementioned golden fire flower, a golden coin block headed Mario that spews coins, and the nearly invincible White Raccoon Mario who can fly for very long times and kill enemies by touching them, but that’s about it.

Aside from those, the number of powerups feels surprisingly thin. The Micro Mushroom is in the game, and it’s used in some really fun ways, like one great level where you get to run on top of the water the whole way, but it’s a very rare level that makes use of it. Even more uncommon is the Macro Mushroom which turns you into Mega Mario and lets you smash through the level.

Most of the levels, however, use the plain old fire flower and tanooki suit. Some of the more interesting powerups from the NSMB Wii are missing here, and it’s noticeable. Playing through one of the underwater levels without the ice flower, or sliding down ice hills without the penguin suit make parts of the game feel empty and somewhat bland. I really would have appreciated the diversity considering the fact that the new powerups are very hard to stumble upon. Every time I find a golden fire flower, I think that I know exactly what it would feel like to stumble upon a unicorn vomiting rainbows in my backyard: both exciting and incredibly rare.

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As for the white raccoon suit, well, we have a very tenuous relationship. See, you can’t get the Invincibility Leaf via regular gameplay. It only appears when you die on a level five times in a row, and then it becomes a permanent fixture at the start of that level forever. Seeing it appear is something like a mark of shame, and using what would otherwise be an awesome powerup begins to feel like something dirty. It’s essentially a cheat code, and it sits there patronizing you. “Hey, buddy, I saw that you died there. You know, if you just pick me up, we can fly right to the end of the level. It would be so easy.” Yes, Invincibility Leaf, I know it would be easy, but picking up a prostitute is easier than getting a girlfriend, and you don’t see me rushing out to do that.

Aside from the scant gameplay changes, much of the Mario games you probably know pretty well have returned here. There are levels under water, underground, levels where you ride over lava or acid, levels that shoot you into the sky, and levels in haunted houses you run away from boos (though the Boohemoth is new and fun). Really, what sets this game apart from the others is that you’re collecting coins the entire time, and jumping to a platform to pick up a few more while the screen is scrolling away can really liven the game up.

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Compared to the last DS entry of the series, NSMB2 is a very good looking game. I played it on the 3DS XL, so it looked a little stretched and pixelated, but jumping over to a standard 3DS for a few levels showed that the details are sharp. The 3D in the game is well executed, and turning it up increases the depth of field, making the background blurry and throwing Mario into crisp contrast, but it also feels unneeded. I played most of the game without it, only turning it on for a few of the games really impressive levels, like the Boohemoth encounters. The one major exception to this is the final boss. The final fight is the most visually impressive set-piece in the entire game, and it was something of an Avatar moment for me, really making the 3D seem like an essential part of the experience. It’s easily the most memorable part of the game, which is saying something since gameplay-wise, the fight is really straightforward.

I could tell you that you won’t find anything new in this Mario game, or that it’s just a repackaging of the same game you’ve been playing since the 80s, but the focus on coins in the game is a serious ludulogical shift for the series. It creates replayability that I’ve never found to exist in the Mario games, and it makes running through the levels to do better much more complex than ‘get the best time’ or ‘get the highest score’. Entering into a level feels like walking into a hall of doors, you really want to open every door just to see what’s behind them.

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The move to coin-focused game play is really the saving grace for New Super Mario Bros 2, because even with it, the game can still feel a bit tired and played out. I’m sure if the focus had been once again on just beating Bowser instead of beating Bowser while pimped out in solid gold, I’d have given up by World 2.

Story: I’m willing to bet you can sum the story up in less than thirty words on your own. Bowser steals Peach. You beat Bowser. You save Peach. She fawns over the millions in gold you’ve earned. It’s a suitably intense opening to the game, but the problem is that the game really shows most of the cards in its hand right at the opening moments. You know that Megatron and Optimus are going to make it to the end of the game, so a lot of the happenings around them throughout the rest of the game lack the impact they’d have had if you hadn’t already seen the ending. It also makes some of the levels that don’t deal directly with them (like an entire subplot revolving around Grimlock that takes up literally 1/3rd of the game) seem utterly pointless until it all ties back in at the end.

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Graphics/Presentation: NSMB2 looks sharp. The colors pop, and the cartoony feel, like always, makes this game feel just as polished as any spec-breaking modern AAA game. Only the 3D feels like a missed opportunity, as it often does nothing more than turn your 2D Mario game into a diorama.

Gameplay/Controls: It’s the Mario the Mushroom Kingdom deserves, but not the one it needs right now. So, you’ll play him, because he can be played. Because he’s not our Luigi. He’s a coin collecting mad man. He’s a Peach protector. A Golden Mario.

Sound: If I were to play the Wii version and this one side by side without picture, you probably wouldn’t be able to tell the difference in the audio. Actually, scratch that; this one has coin sound played one thousand times per minute.

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The rest of the sound design is about what you’d expect in a next-gen blockbuster. Lots of epic music interspersed with crash chords and random drum beating, metal shrieking and buildings tear apart, that kind of fare. It isn’t very original, but it doesn’t need to be for this game. It fits the idea of giant robots beats each other to scrap.

Replay: This is where you’ll get most of the value for the game. Replaying the levels to find all of the Star Coins is fun, but doing the levels you love for the satisfaction of a thousand more coins added to your total can be addicting. Coin Rush mode only exacerbates this feeling.

Overall, you probably know what you’re getting into if you pick up NSMB2, but you may be surprised and what a change the focus on coins can make. If you’re on the edge about this game because you think you’ve played it twelve times over already, give it a chance. But if you want a Mario game that really has innovated and changed everything there is about the franchise, then skip this installment, wait for the next. This is the same Mario you’ve played, only now he’s been coated with gold. (This also would have made Han Solo more awesome by a factor of ten.)

Written By: D.R. Maddock