Available on Nintendo 3DS
New Super Mario Bros 2 will present a challenge to Mario’s older and more commited fans, not because it’s difficult – it isn’t – but because it’s going to feel like the most disappointing Mario game since Super Mario Sunshine hit the Gamecube. As with Super Mario Sunshine, that doesn’t actually mean it’s bad, but when a series regularly hits the heights of Super Mario Galaxy, New Super Mario Bros and Super Mario 3D Land across both home and handheld consoles, just being good never really seems good enough.
Still Old School
Like the original New Super Mario Bros on the DS, New Super Mario Bros 2 is all about the moustachioed plumber returning to his 2D platform roots. There are six worlds comprised of multiple courses, with a mini-boss in the middle and a boss at the end. Mario’s initial task is simply to get from one end of the level to the other, mop up the bosses and rescue the princess. Mario fans might be vaguely interested to know that, this time, the bosses are the Koopalings – the seven oldest of Bowser’s kiddies – but if you know Mario, you pretty much know what to expect.
The same goes for the gameplay. Mario runs and jumps with his usual finesse, and the controls work with that incredible level of response and accuracy that only Nintendo seems to know how to pin down. Playing New Super Mario Bros 2 isn’t as much like riding an old bike as it is like jumping on the bike and riding it with mind control. The usual basic blocks and platforms are supplemented by a range of trick platforms and mechanisms, most familiar from previous Mario games, and there are still pipes to disappear down into, doors to enter and a variety of traps to avoid.
Meanwhile, all your old favourite varmints return, from the standard mushroom Goombas and turtle Kooper Troopers, to those sneaky ghosty Boos, squishing Thromps and Whomps, Lakitu and Bullet Bill. Classic costumes, like the gliding, tail-swiping Racoon Suit and the Fireflower suit come and go. New Super Mario Bros 2 knows what works best about classic Mario, and doesn’t waste time in dishing it out.
Nintendo’s presentation is as flawless as ever. This is comfortably the best-looking 2D Mario yet, with beautifully rendered characters and courses, and the same kind of clever scaling and wobbling effects we saw in New Super Mario Bros and in the Yoshi’s Island games before that. 3D isn’t in any way an essential feature, but it adds impact to a few key scenes. All those favourite Mario tunes also make an appearance, and the way enemies interact with the soundtrack sometimes makes New Super Mario Bros 2 feel like Mario: The Musical.
New Mario, New Gameplay?
The problem is – initially – that unless this is your first or second Mario, you’ll have seen it all before. Courses and worlds drift by in an enjoyable fashion, but the feeling that this is Mario by numbers grows with each passing one.
The quality of the best Mario games – the ability to take all the old ingredients, throw in something new and create something that feels classic yet still innovative – just isn’t here. Here’s the ice world. Here’s the ghost house. Here’s the desert. Here’s the tropical, undersea world. Mario’s tropes are too smart and lovable to be called clichés, but they’ve never been so close to the line as here. Nor do repeated mini-bosses and some of the laziest bosses in Mario history make things better.