New Super Mario Bros. 2: Nintendo 3DS gets a new game that's all too familiar
If you like Nintendo games, you're used to revisiting classic franchises. Is New Super Mario Bros. 2 the perfect return visit for the Nintendo 3DS, or is it one retread too many?
The 3DS needs all the help it can get, so a new Mario Bros. game has worked in the past, why not again now? The problem with that mentality is that after a while, even the great Mario isn't invulnerable to becoming stale. And in the case of New Super Mario Bros. 2, I'm afraid it has finally happened.
Now before you gather up the pitchforks and start heading my way, you'll be happy to hear that I still think the game is fun to play. If you own a 3DS odds are you haven't bought a game in a while, so this will most likely find its way into your portable system. That said, you may fall into the same deja-vu trance that I did while playing and begin muttering, "Haven't I done this before?"
The answer is yes, you have. New Super Mario Bros. 2 barely brings anything new to the table. The gimmick this time focuses on coin collecting, but more so than in other Mario games. In fact, a universal coin counter will sit in the corner of the screen in World Map view, calculating just how many you've gathered over the entire campaign.
Great, a Mario game where coin collecting is supposed to be more important than it was before. All it really leads to is an insane amount of extra lives -- I think I cleared 60 before I made it to World 2. You get so many lives that they're disposable. After a while, what's the point? Why am I even making an effort to collect all these coins and 1-UPs?
We all know things aren't going so well in the Mushroom Kingdom these days and Nintendo needs its big franchises to get up to bat and knock one out of the park. New Super Mario Bros. 2 did that the first time around when it was released on the original DS. Are we really expected to go through the motions again when the same game hits the Wii U this holiday season?
If there are any positives to take away from the game it's that it really looks great on the new 3DS XL -- going back to the original 3DS does the graphics an injustice. Kudos to the developers for finding a sweet spot of 3D where it's not too overwhelming, but it's impressive at the same time.
Super Mario Bros. is like tiramisu: you may have eaten it over and over, you may know what to expect despite slight variations here and there, but it's tasty. And, even though it's become a comfort food, it's usually well-made.
Compared withwhich came out last fall (and is a 3DS killer app if ever there was one), New Super Mario Bros. 2 is less ambitious, but to many it'll be more playable. I loved Super Mario 3D Land and its inventiveness, as well as its 3D effects. You need an analog stick to play Super Mario 3D Land. New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a D-pad retro game, a sequel to the Nintendo DS game, and a sequel of sorts to every 2D Super Mario game from the SNES and NES days.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is 3D-agnostic: you can use 3D, but it doesn't add much. I was disappointed in how straightforward the game is when I first started playing...how little it surprised me. But it stays in my Nintendo 3DS. I keep wanting to play it. There aren't a ton of levels to explore, but there are enough secrets to uncover. The only new additions to NSMB2 are a coin-collecting speed run mode that turns the whole game into a platforming racer of sorts, and a co-op mode in which you can play with a friend who might have another copy of the game and a 3DS. The former adds some extra value when you've beaten every part of the game, and that's a smart move.
I played a lot of New Super Mario Bros. 2 on a new(which I've come to like a lot more than the original 3DS), and the larger screen worked well for the game: the game didn't get too pixelated at a larger size, and the experience felt more like an old console game on the go.
Is NSMB2 a good idea? Well, it's Nintendo's endless idea of making the old new again, and if it means a future where new 2D Metroid and Zelda games arrive in force, I don't think it would be such a bad idea at all. The 3DS is starved for games, and NSMB2 is instantly one of the best in months. It's tiramisu, but I'm hungry.
Yes, it's got both New and 2 in the title, which may be a bit of a contradiction, but no one plays a Mario game for its internal logic. That said, there is something logical about the way this particular title works as a portable, bite-size game, a new entry in a long-running series, and as a 3D game.
First, a little background. The problem that has plagued the Nintendo 3DS console since its introduction is the same one that keeps 3D movies and 3D television hardware from breaking through its post-"Avatar" plateau.
Stereoscopic content of all kinds struggles to use its third dimension as an integral part of its presentation, while at the same time not being held hostage by the third dimension. That's how you get 3D movies with lots of people throwing stuff at the screen (which was frankly tired the first time I saw it in "Jaws 3-D" in 1983).
Plenty of Nintendo 3DS games suffer from a similar affliction, using the console's unique feature as a crutch. Even the previous Mario 3DS game, Super Mario 3D Land, tried too hard to give everything in the game meaningful depth. On the tiny 3DS screen, it sometimes came off looking crowded and confusing.
That's why NSMB2, as some have nicknamed this game, is a great example of how stereoscopic 3D can enhance a game, without becoming its entire reason for existing. This is still essentially a 2D side-scrolling game, but with the backgrounds and characters enhanced by selective use of 3D. It doesn't really affect the gameplay, the timing of your jumps, or the Koopa-squashing combat; it's closer to the old animation trick of having background layers scroll by at different speeds to simulate depth (a concept known as parallax scrolling).
Adding some depth and motion to 2D art is a fun way to add a modern touch, without messing around too much with what made it special in first place. The idea reminds me of the classic animated Marvel shorts from the 1960s, which added movement to Jack Kirby's original art.
If you've played the previous New Super Mario Bros. game on the non-3D DS handheld, you've got a pretty good idea of what to expect. Heck, if you've only played the original Super Mario Bros on the original NES system back in the '80s, you can still pretty much pick up the thread in a manner of minutes. This is zen gaming in a way, as the themes, characters, and play styles repeat, not just in this game, but across the 25-year-plus history of Mario games, making it well-suited for our new era of downloadable, sampler-size gaming experiences.