By Matthew Bird
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is Nintendo’s most recent release for everyone’s favourite ‘shroom head, Mario. Once again, the forever-vulnerable Princess Peach has been abducted by the despicable Bowser, in what's fast becoming Nintendo’s version of the never-ending story.
Not much has changed in the way of gameplay; you'll be smashing blocks, munching mushrooms, collecting coins and bouncing on enemies in various levels across six worlds to save the day. Each world is set out in approximately the same way; expect a haunted house and one mini castle admist normal levels as you progress to the world's final castle.
(On a personal note: I have always always always hated underwater levels in all Mario games and I’m wondering if I’m alone on this. Anyone? At any rate, this instalment was no different in this respect.)
One innovation that I enjoyed was that each castle's boss wasn't Bowser -- until the end, obviously -- but one of a group of Koopas. This meant that each world had a different boss, and that gave the gameplay some forward momentum. Instead of previous Mario instalments where it felt that you weren’t actually getting anywhere because you defeated Bowser (or Bowser Jr) just to see him flee to the next world, this game was able to give you a small sense of victory -- and just the slightest bit of a real plot -- as you progressed. Other changes in New Super Mario Bros. 2 come from the new golden items you can obtain; Fireball Mario and also the Raccoon Mario add some variety, though that variety just throws more coins on-screen. New Super Mario Bros. 2 is all about the gold this time around, and that unfortunately gets old very early on. I easily had 100+ lives in the game without trying, as 100 coins still equals a 1-up for Mario.
Something I didn't like was the way in which Nintendo fiddled with New Super Mario Bros. 2's soundtrack. Mario music is iconic, and although this game had tunes that were similar to the standard Mario fare, it was changed enough that I actually found it pretty annoying. There's a "doo-wop" kind of vocal background that drilled itself into my brain, and I want it out. Also, the victory music that played as Mario jumped onto the end-of-level flagpole had very little appeal compared to the music played in the original Super Mario Bros. Thought, in saying all this, it was kind of funny when the evil Koopas danced along to some of the music.
Despite its flaws, New Super Mario Bros. 2's gameplay hasn't been touched and remains quite enjoyable. Regular levels had an appropriate amount of difficulty, but I found that boss battles were all far too easy, becoming a bit of an anti-climax. There were also weird segments with dinosaurs that I was perplexed by; they weren't hard, they didn't fit with the rest of the game... but, there they were.
From start to end, it didn’t take very long to finish the main story. To keep you playing beyond that, a "Coin Rush" mode has been added, but I found it -- like the whole golden coin premise -- a bit stale. I would have liked to have seen an old-school versus mini game mode complete with POW Blocks and Spinies, played either locally or online.
The biggest issue I have with New Super Mario Bros. 2 is that I feel like I’ve played this game before, many times. No matter how successful Mario is, Nintendo can’t just keep peddling the same thing over and over; sooner or later, a gamer's interest will go away, and I don’t want that to happen to the beloved Mushroom Kingdom. Something needs to change in future instalments. I think bringing some more playable characters into it would be fun; my favourite Mario game of all-time would be Super Mario Bros 2 on the NES, and that's because you could play as Mario, Luigi, Peach or Toad. If that's not enough, maybe Nintendo should even flip the Mario formula on its head and have Mario kidnapped and Princess Peach on a quest to save him.
Although I think the game could have been better, it’s very hard to screw up a Mario Bros game. I think the most appropriate audience for the game would be younger kids or die-hard fans. If you are questioning whether or not to go out and get this new game… well, maybe you should just go and crack open one of the old ones first.