What is new is the focus on coins. Always a fixture of the Mario universe, coins have become Super Mario Bros 2’s guiding feature. Showers of gold erupt at the stomp or headbutt of a button or magically appear when you repeat certain jumps. Pressing certain switches or activating certain Pow blocks will cause huge swathes of scenery to turn into coins.
There’s even a special hat that dispenses golden coins as Mario jumps, and a variation on the flower suit makes everything Mario touches turn to gold. Taking things a step futher, a special gold ring transforms enemies into walking goldmines when leapt through. Land on a turtle, kick it’s shell downhill, and just watch all the coins spill out. If games could cure a double dip recession, then Super Mario Bros 2 would be the game to do it.
This is fun - the game tracks your continuing coin tally from level to level, and you still get extra lives for every 100. There are notifications when you reach key milestones, and the game even features a special score attack mode where you can revisit a random selection of conquered courses and push for a coin-collecting high score.
All the same, it doesn’t quite make up for the ‘seen it all before’ vibe, nor the short length of the main game, which can be conquered within five to six hours of play. There are some difficulty spikes, but Nintendo has generously thrown in the invincible white racoon suit from Super Mario 3D Land (though technically a white Tanooki suit in that game), which appears if you die more than five times in the same level. This, and the number of lives you’ll build up through coin collecting, make New Super Mario Bros 2 the easiest and quickest Mario game ever to get through.
Searching for Secrets
So far, so bad, and we’d be preparing to hit Mario with his worst ever Trusted Reviews score. However, it turns out that there’s more to New Super Mario Bros 2 than just putting Bowser in his place. Here, as in all the best Mario games, it’s all about collectibles and secrets. Special star coins, three on each level, are needed to open up Toad’s various power-up emporiums or open alternative routes. Spotting these is one thing – getting hold of them takes serious skill.
Meanwhile, secret courses and even secret worlds extend the adventure, providing you have the detective skills (or the Google-searching skills) to unlock them. Though you can burn through New Super Mario Bros 2 in a few short hours, it will take you much, much longer to exhaust the game, particularly if you find another player with another 3DS and get stuck into the enjoyable co-op action. It’s just a shame that some of the best and most exciting moments are effectively hidden away out of sight.
This really saves New Super Mario Bros 2, but it’s not enough to lift it into the pantheon of Mario greats. Compare it to the ingenuity and imagination of Super Mario 3D Land or the Super Mario Galaxy games – even the hectic co-op play of New Super Mario Bros Wii – and it still feels an inferior effort. Let’s be clear: this is still an immensely entertaining, exuberant platformer full of smart ideas and polished to perfection. It’s just that it hasn’t got that touch of genius that normally puts the Mario games on another plane.
New Super Mario Bros 2 suffers from a short main game and a sense that something has gone stale in the Mushroom Kingdom. Yet it makes up for it with an extensive endgame, where it’s less about getting from A to B and more about discovering everything along the way. Throw in all the coin-spewing, moolah-flinging madness and you have a solid outing for the chubby Italian, albeit not one of his greatest ever hits.