|Release: August 19, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Comic Mischief|
by Becky Cunningham
Some critics claim that Nintendo does nothing with its major franchises except create the same game over and over again. I am not one of those critics. As a huge platformer fan, I'm always impressed by the new twists that various entries in the Super Mario franchise bring to the genre. That's why I can't help but be a bit disappointed in New Super Mario Bros. 2, a solid game which nonetheless seems to be missing the heart and soul that usually drives the series.
This is a game that's all about coins, to hear Nintendo's promoters tell it. There are tools and level mechanics scattered all over the place that allow Mario to collect more of the shiny chunks of metal than ever before. Development time has gone into creating impressive coin explosions and other effects that put the focus on collecting an obscene amount of coins. There's only one problem: in the game's main campaign, the coins do exactly what they've always done. Collect a hundred of them and you get an extra life. That's it.
Rarely does a Mario game inspire players to ask, "What's my motivation?" With the hapless Princess Peach and her tendency to be stolen away by giant dragon-turtle things, the driving force propelling Mario from one end of the level to the other has always been clear. That's no different in this game, in which the Koopa Kids are helping Bowser by playing an elaborate game of Pass-the-Princess through the Mushroom Kingdom. It's confusing, then, to be constantly barraged with coin-collecting gimmicks in the levels when the coins don't seem to have anything to do with Mario's quest to save the princess. Nintendo has made the vague promise that players will want to attempt to collect one million coins, but there's nothing earned for collecting lesser amounts but a short splash screen announcing: "You've collected ten thousand coins!"
With New Super Mario Bros. 2's coin focus largely detached from gameplay, the new power-ups found in this entry are generally disappointing. The Golden Block, which appears on Mario's head if he hits a coin block ten times before it expires, spits out coins as Mario runs along, giving him a total of one hundred extra coins. It's mostly useful as a way to take an extra hit without losing Mario's other power-ups. The Golden Flower works just like Fire Mario, except that enemies and brick blocks hit by its golden fireball turn into coins. It is admittedly fun to use in order to bust up brick blocks, but it doesn't add anything of note to the gameplay. Players are likely to have a great deal more fun with returning power-ups, especially the raccoon suit and the good old reliable fire flower.
The one portion of the game in which the coin focus makes sense is the Coin Rush mode, played separately from the main levels. Coin Rush courses, which are unlocked in increasing difficulty via the main campaign, string together three random levels which the player runs through, collecting as many coins as possible without dying. Players are able to challenge each other to beat Coin Rush records via StreetPass, and this mode should be a lot of fun for players who enjoy a good old-fashioned high score challenge.
Back in regular campaign mode, though, things just don't seem as bright and shiny as usual. After the level design masterpiece that was Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros. 2's levels seem a bit phoned-in. There's a sort of "been here, done that" feeling to a lot of the game, although some levels manage to introduce fun challenges that put that old-fashioned Mario smile on the face of the player. Several of the ghost houses feature clever gimmicks, and the moving platform levels (which I normally abhor) are set up like neat little puzzles that are satisfying to solve. The nicer levels certainly inject some much-needed zing into a game that often has the player thinking, "ah yes, and here's the requisite pointy cactus monster/slippery ice/bouncy mushroom level."