What’s Old is New Again….and Again – A New Super Mario Bros. 2 Review
By Justin Polak
Co-Founder, Ambassador to the Mushroom Kingdom
Six years after the original New Super Mario Bros. is released, Nintendo unleashes the third title in the “New” series, New Super Mario Bros. 2. Why is number 2 the third game? Well, that’s because New Super Mario Bros. Wii was on shelves back in 2009! Ah, video games and their crazy sequel naming schemes! Okay, so I guess they consider the handheld and console “New” titles somewhat separate. It’s still weird!
I won’t bother making the joke that calling this series “new” is a wise thing or not, because enough video game journalists have done that already. However, I have to admit that questioning if Mario is growing stale or not is a legitimate point. At their core, 2D Mario games, as well as the 3D ones (but in their own realm), really don’t change much. What makes each game stand out is the finer details. Ever since the series’ inception, Nintendo has been good about shaking things up every other title.
For example, the original Super Mario Bros. started it all, obviously. The Japanese version (known as The Lost Levels in Super Mario All-Stars for US folk) evolved the original game slightly by making the game far more difficult while changing Mario and Luigi’s jump physics. Super Mario Bros. 3 kept the core gameplay, but revolutionized the series by adding world maps, multiple powers, bosses besides Bowser and many more tweaks. Super Mario World took what made SMB3 great and evolved certain concepts to fit the Super Nintendo. By the time Super Mario 64 hit the scene, Nintendo once again took the core of what makes a Mario game, and totally revolutionized the series with 3D gameplay. As expected, Super Mario Sunshine took an original concept, like SMB2 and SMW, and expanded on it.
Super Mario Galaxy was the last time Nintendo truly took the series to new places. I enjoyed Super Mario Galaxy 2 and NSMBW, but for the first time Mario sequels took a concept and kept going with it instead of tweaking or evolving it, aside from some very minor changes. Super Mario 3D Land was another great title, but at the end of the day it was the video game equivalent of a band’s greatest hits album.
I once again find myself enjoying a new Mario title, but I am growing concerned with the lack of innovation. Don’t get me wrong, the levels are still brilliantly designed, controlling Mario feels as tight as ever, plenty of secrets are to be found and the game still retains the usual easy to learn, tough to master feel. I just think that the charm of “what’s old is new again” is wearing thin. It’s great to see that Raccoon Mario is back, but at this point I feel that Nintendo is relying a little too much on old school memories to hold up NSMB2 and the brand name in general.
While the game does bring a new concept to the table, which is coin collecting, I have to admit that it’s very underwhelming. For the first time in Mario history, the total coins you have collected gets added up and displayed on a counter on the world map. There are newer ways to collect coins too, like the notable spin on the fire flower power up. Occasionally, Mario can collect a gold fire flower which grants him that ability to unleash much more powerful fireballs which produces more coins as well. There are also ways to turn enemies a gold color which, again, makes it easier to collect coins. If you have the time and patience to collect a million coins your rewards is…a new title screen.
Look, I’m alright with Nintendo giving us another classic based 2D Mario title. As much as I enjoyed the early 3D games, I remember thinking back then that it would be nice to see the old formula make a return someday. However, Nintendo needs to stop relying on familiar visuals and gimmicky concepts like coin collecting to deliver a top notch Mario game. Sooner or later, even the hardest of the hardcore Nintendo fanboys are going to grow tired of it. What worries me that that the upcoming New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t look like it is going to change much either. I get that there are slight variances between the “New” games between handheld and console…but that’s all they are.
I’m not trying to be a typical internet cynic. In fact, at the end of the day I would still recommend this NSMB2, especially if you enjoyed either New Super Mario Bros. title before it. I just feel that I should give a fair warning that at the game’s core, you have already played it twice. I also am worried because through thick and thin, Nintendo has always been good about innovating their big titles like Mario, and I’m starting to see the company spin its wheels. It always brings me a warm feeling when I play a new Mario game, but I think it’s time Nintendo builds a new playground.
Front page image, image 2 and image 3 from theverge.com. Image 1 from wii.mmgn.com.