Before we get going on New Super Mario Bros. 2, a question: what is Mario, these days? The portly plumber used to try his hand at everything; one minute he was kicking red shells at Goombas, the next he was playing doubles matches with Luigi, or making good on his alleged medical qualifications by matching multicoloured tablets to be rid of germs.
When we saw him bounce from one genre to another, we didn’t call him a sellout. We didn’t demand to see his seed ranking before letting him on to a tennis court. And even though some of us doubted his claims of seven years spent at medical school, we let him operate on our consoles all the same.
Not every Mario title of the NES/SNES/N64 eras was a classic, but no two games were alike. Nintendo’s favourite Italian has been reinvented more times than Spider-Man – and not to milk money out of a franchise, but because Shigsy and co needed a group of ready-made characters they could use to populate their latest expertly designed world.
Fast forward to the era of the Wii, DS and 3DS. What is Mario, these days? He still plays tennis every so often, he still takes the kart out for a spin now and again, but he’s allowed himself to become typecast in the one area that matters most – his platforming. We’ve had two (admittedly superb) Mario Galaxy titles in the last few years, and – including this one – no less than three New Super Bros games. (At some point, they might want to think about dropping the word ‘new’.)
His most progressive game this gen has been Super Mario 3D Land, a game that combines parts of both. However, while the plumber’s next reinvention might be a long way off yet, Nintendo haven’t exactly been treading water. New Super Mario Bros. 2 might lack the drastic shifts of Super Mario Bros 2 or the water-obsessed Super Mario Sunshine, but there’s a host of small improvements and additions that result in another slick platform game.
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK
We’ll go into those a moment, but before we do, here’s what to expect if you’ve never dipped your toe into the waters before. The New Super Mario Bros series revives the side-scrolling action of the original NES games, replacing 2D sprites with 3D ones and throwing a Super Mario World-style overworld into the bargain. As well as finishing each stage, you now have to grab three deviously hidden giant coins – or at least you do if you want to unlock all the extra levels.
In the early titles, secret paths were reserved for level skips and, later, speed runs – star coins add a great deal of replayablity to each and every stage. What’s more, as most tend to be stuffed away in hard-to-reach locations, they reward skill in a way that the rather easy platforming often doesn’t. The credits might roll after you boil poor old Bowser alive in lava, but the game continues until you grab every last piece of novelty oversized currency.