In 2006, New Super Mario Bros was quite the novelty. Back
then, it had been over a decade since the last 2D Mario game, and it was warmly
received on Nintendo DS. Compare that fanfare to today’s gaming landscape, in which
New Super Mario Bros is now one of Nintendo’s best-selling franchises. The
series is so ubiquitous that a sequel needs to be more than just another
retro-flavored platformer to deliver something special. New Super Mario Bros 2 offers
up some interesting new techniques -- most of which involve collecting
thousands of coins -- but it plays things too safe, and ultimately falls short
of its pedigree.
As is the custom, all the trouble starts when Princess Peach
is kidnapped by Bowser and his Koopalings, sending Mario and Luigi into action.
The gameplay that defined a genre is intact, as are the themed worlds to
explore. The Desert, Ice and Lava
Worlds are all there, laid out in a similar fashion that all build to a boss
fight against a Koopa Kid, and of course, a victory sends you to the next world.
The whole package is still entertaining on a primal level, but it’s also becoming
NSMB2’s big new addition is a heavy emphasis on collecting
coins. Increasing your score to earn bonuses has always been a part of the
franchise and the genre in general, but NSMB2 expands on it like never before
in Mario history. Coins aren’t merely for gathering 100 to earn an extra life, this
one keeps track of every coin you pick up, and the ultimate goal is to reach a
million. NSMB2 attempts a philosophical shift in one of the core ideas of Mario
and for much of the game it succeeds.
For years, the life counter in Mario games has continued to
lose meaning. The early Mario titles made each life count by withholding
continues or penalizing your progress in some way, but in contemporary Mario
titles, those penalties have been missing. Your collection of lives became
essentially meaningless, making coins even more pointless. By increasing the
overall importance of coins and making it much more than collecting an extra
life, coins can again be used as incentive to challenge the player more in each
new stage. Theoretically this makes NSMB2 the toughest Mario in some time, but
the challenge is only there if you want it.
NSMB’s coin placement throughout the stages keeps pushing
you to try new things, attack enemies you’d otherwise avoid, and search for
more secrets. It becomes a tool for the developers to direct casual Mario fans
into more high level play, but takes it easier on them by making it mostly
optional. Even with this casual inclusion, NSMB2 challenges experienced players
in a way the New Super Mario Bros franchise failed to do so far. If you think
all of the games in the series are made for Grandma, this sequel will change
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