Straightforwardly speaking, just how much you’re going to enjoy New Super Mario Bros. 2, the sequel to the chart-topping shining star in the Nintendo DS’s library, depends on how great your affinity is for unmitigated familiarity and accumulating coins. The most masterly Super Mario games combine reminiscence with reinvention to form a contemporary, series-reinvigorating experience (Super Mario Galaxy 2, Super Mario 3D Land); New Super Mario Bros. 2 goes almost entirely in the opposite direction, providing not a whole lot more than a furbished renovation of its A-1 predecessor with a central focus that’s purely antiquated to its very foundation. This is a bit of a disappointment, yet New Super Mario Bros. 2 is still, unsurprisingly, the strongest 2D platformer the 3DS has to offer at present. Amassing 1,000,000 sparkly gold floating circles may seem like a tedious task, but Nintendo has once again packed the newest entry in its flagship franchise with weakness-cushioning bonus content that verges on boundless, so that the game, while hardly earning the “new” within its title, will unremittingly pry incalculable hours from your precious free time with you being none the wiser.
Gathering what stimulus it can from the series’s famed past is the game’s transparent plan of attack, and for the most part this method replicates the success of its counterparts. Choosing to recruit Bowser’s bumbling subordinate apprentices, known as the Koopalings, from Super Mario Bros. 3 as New Super Mario Bros. 2’s stage villains is a cautious but ultimately intelligent move. True, it would be nice to see a slew of fresh boss characters waiting for you at the end of each booby trap-filled castle, but Nintendo imparts enough variation and modern-day aptitude into these battles that the need for a handful of potentially disappointing enemy creations is determinately lessened. Besides, the game requires you to dedicate the majority of your attention span to compiling clusters of gilded coins, so wasting precious side-scrolling hours bemoaning the lack of unaccustomed opponents is a conclusively senseless decision.
The importance of those petite annular yellowish discs is unprecedented, and this reflects tenfold in the gameplay as well as the items. Gold Rings, once activated, coat nearby foes in a sheet of the periodic table’s 79th element, and with each hit comes a multiplied intake of funds. Good old-fashioned Coin Blocks return, of course, here displaying enhanced versatility and usefulness by being able to be worn as headpieces, briefly exploding into geysers of riches as you negotiate each expertly crafted level. Perhaps most valuable of all is the Gold Flower power-up, which mutates our favorite fictional Italian plumber into a movable golden statuette (his brother, Luigi, turns a shade of silver that resembles his sibling’s metal form), giving him the faculty to transmogrify everything in the vicinity (not just assailants, but objects too) into sweet, sweet legal tender. Naturally, classic enhancements are represented in New Super Mario Bros. 2 as well: Mushrooms, Stars, Fire Flowers, and the Super Leaf are available, unchanged from their previous forms. As in Super Mario 3D Land, if the difficulty ever becomes too agonizing (which is a slight possibility near the end of the game), the Invincibility Leaf handicap appears after losing five lives in succession. Each item, whether recycled or newfangled, serves a distinct purpose that doesn’t feel like it’s been shoehorned in for the hell of it; this is Nintendo issuing immense respect to its product, to itself, and, most importantly, to its millions of allegiant fans.
Graphically, New Super Mario Bros. 2 scores high marks; that is, until the 3DS’s 3D function is triggered. In standard mode, the colors and textures are smooth and vivid, with not a single iota of visual softening or bedimming to be witnessed. However, once the 3D is switched on, those positives rapidly become negatives, as backgrounds become muddy and surface areas dull. Compare this with the excellent 3D effects in Super Mario 3D Land, and it’s painfully obvious that New Super Mario Bros. 2 wasn’t necessarily designed with the primary goal of taking advantage of the 3DS’s illustrative prowess. Conversely, controlling Mario is an absolute breeze under any circumstances. Never did I blame my failure on some in-game bugginess, any error I made was strictly my fault alone. Honing your coin-collecting skills is key to prevailing in the timed Streetpass scenario Coin Rush, a decent WiFi multiplayer option that has the potential to encourage heated online competitions.
With its platforming elements approaching a paragon (set to Kenta Nagata’s unpretentiously redolent harmonic arrangements, no less), as well as numerous secrets to uncover and a not-too-shabby cooperative mode, the lack of diagnostic newness in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is easily forgivable. At first glance it may seem like Nintendo has phoned this one in, and while it’s evident that all that glitters here isn’t quite gold, what remains is enough to transiently pay us off.