Stages aren’t simply covered in coins either. Coins are hidden in so many places that you’ll be ready to search for secrets in every corner, and in NSMB2 you’ll find them. There’s an abundance of unknown exits, hidden power-ups, and mysterious worlds to unlock. Mario titles always have secrets for the dedicated to find, but NSMB2 brings back that magical feeling of finding a secret that past Mario games had. It inspires a real curiosity, the kind we haven’t felt in a Mario game since childhood.
That sense of discovery is one of the less obvious ways NSMB2 recalls classic titles, but its other past influence are much easier to see. Similar to recent Mario titles reaching back into franchise history, NSMB2 is swimming in nostalgic throwbacks. Raccoon Mario is back from Super Mario Bros 3, as are many of the enemies from SMB3 and Super Mario World. Gameplay additions that were revolutionary in those classic games are back too, and it makes the stages in NSMB2 more interesting for having them.
Thanks to Raccoon Mario’s seemingly illogical ability to fly, many levels offer a refreshing verticality that was sorely lacking in previous NSMB entries. The deeper collection of enemies and gameplay options makes this a much richer experience than previous NSMB entries, creating a level variety that the franchise was missing. Unfortunately, contemporary Mario games have been so referential lately that this continued reminiscence is starting to lose its nostalgic impact for Mario maniacs. It’s great to use the Raccoon’s flight all over again, but it would have been more satisfying to long-time fans if it and other aspects of SMB3 hadn’t just appeared in last year’s Super Mario 3D Land.
In the moments that New Super Mario Bros 2 offers something novel, there’s payoff, even if it doesn’t do enough with them. The entire game can be played with another person via local co-op, and despite some visual restrictions -- framerate drops and the restriction of sharing the same screen, which hinders the degree of exploration that single-player encourages -- for the most part it works. Speaking of the game’s visuals, despite being on a 3D system, all but a couple special stages virtually ignored the feature. NSMB2 is 2D through and through.
Coin Rush mode is the other major addition, one that’s more effective than co-op. Taking three random stages from throughout the game, you’re tasked with running through them and collecting as many coins as you can. You get much less time to explore and you only have one life, so mistakes are fatal. It tests players more than ever with risk/reward gameplay and adds a nice hardcore touch that you’ll need after you’ve done everything in the main game.
Yes, the interesting additions and nostalgic inclusions are mixed with platforming gameplay that’s been perfect for some time, but ultimately NSMB2 feels a lot like the other NSMB games that have been around for the last six years, and that’s to its fault. Despite its great new additions that work well, the bulk of the game feels like one that’s dipped into the nostalgia well one time too many. The game is a good 10 hours of iconic Mario action, but once we’d unlocked every stage and found every hidden level, we were left thinking, “Is that all there is?” Then again, if you’ve missed the last few Mario titles, this familiar package will ultimately be more satisfying.
And upon completion and running NSMB2 through its paces, the same coins that initially engaged us and pushed us to try new things became an albatross. By the end, despite beating every level in the main game -- in some cases a half dozen times -- our coin total tallies around 40,000. That once-inspiring million coin total is so far away that it even though we can still return to Coin Rush mode to give it a shot, it’s no better than the grindfests found in games of other genres. And without spoiling anything, what you get for those million coins isn’t all that great anyway. The motivation to collect coins is so deflated by the end of the game that its greatest strength becomes its biggest weakness.
At this point, it’d be very difficult for Nintendo to get a Mario game horribly wrong. The formula has been so thoroughly refined that there’s never anything particularly disastrous about any given game. It’s easy to argue that with New Super Mario Bros. 2, Nintendo succeeds once again in making a classically great Mario game that more people than die-hard Mario fans can enjoy. Unfortunately, the additions to NSMB2 merely add more spokes to an already heavy wheel, so to speak. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it’s one that steeps itself in nostalgia to mask an experience that falls short of the revival that the New Super Mario franchise really needs these days.