There’s something a little disturbing about Nintendo’s latest job for Mario. Previously, he’s been asked to selflessly go after missing princesses and family members, been tasked with generously saving entire galaxies and endlessly told to go throw giant turtle bastards around as punishment for misbehaving. All of that takes a back seat to magpie fever here, though, with the new slant being that if it’s shiny, you want it. Bling is everything and everything is bling – collecting coins is nothing new in Mario games, of course, but within the first few levels of New Super Mario Bros. 2 alone, you’ll have seen (if not pilfered) more than existed in entire previous games and enough to make Scrooge McDuck’s vault look like a beggar’s back pocket.
The game makes no secret of its oddly greedy goal, either. Total coin milestones are greeted with congratulatory messages that tally up through SpotPass for simultaneous global unlocks, and it’d almost be impossible to take a screenshot of the game that didn’t have a coin in it. They litter levels as they always have but on top of that, new power-ups and gimmicks flood the screen with currency as well, making it difficult to die enough to burn through all the 1-Ups you’ll earn through collecting them by the hundred. Honestly, if only real life worked in the same way – we’d almost have enough for three extra lives by now.
But as much as it might sound like you’ll be playing Mario’s get rich quick scheme, it’d be unfair to dwell on this hook for too long when the platforming itself is as robust as ever. Although some levels are clearly designed to be flooded with coins, others could just as easily be classic 8-bit Mario stages. In both structure and design, NSMB2 owes much to Super Mario Bros. 3 – the world map is laid out similarly, plus the Raccoon Suit’s speed gauge returns, meaning only the cautious and the wise will find the right opportunities to get airborne. The map screen also helps highlight where hidden exits might be, though finding them isn’t always necessarily quite as simple. Coming into a stage after either a visit to a Toad House or with the gifts given by another level is often helpful, especially when the best power-ups aren’t always available (at least, not easily) on the stages in question.
To be fair, though, that’s about the only difficult thing about New Super Mario Bros. 2. Getting from A to B is pretty much always a cakewalk, with the only challenge offered being the three Star Coins tucked away in each level, and even most of those aren’t exactly difficult to grab. It’s here that the ‘coins everywhere’ approach actually starts to work as a gameplay mechanic, fountains of cash and surprising coin appearances often enough to tap into a player’s greed and make them put themselves in unnecessary danger in the name of a few extra pennies. It’s almost ingenious in that respect but with few payoffs for amassing hoards of coins, it’s not too tough to break away from the mindset that every single round shiny thing is important and by the end of the game, you’ll most likely be leaving a small fortune behind. And with your extra lives numbering in the hundreds, it simply won’t matter.
Well, until you start playing Coin Rush, anyway. On paper, Coin Rush should be the best mode to grace a Mario game in years. It’s a three-level survival challenge where the goal is to bring home as much gold as possible on a strict time limit and one life but even with StreetPass integration, it’s impossible to hold a fair competition on a set of randomly chosen levels. It’s oddly compelling all the same, though there’s little to it as an indication of actual skill – get the right set of levels and head in with the right power-ups and you’ll easily hit three times the score of someone that goes in blind. StreetPass has mad potential, though Nintendo has a lot to learn from the leaderboard-friendly champions of Xbox Live and PSN if this kind of feature is to truly make the most of the 3DS’s remote connectivity.
And it’s these kind of extras that the game really needs, since without them, it’s Mario By Numbers. That is to say, it’s a really well-made platform game but not one that has any lasting appeal beyond the weekend you buy it, since you’ll see the credits and the accompanying coin-based fireworks display in a matter of hours. Yeah, there are several extra stages and worlds to unlock, though these add little in terms of ‘I must carry this game with me forever’ longevity – it’s a few extra hours at best. Well, with the exception of the final world, which demands an arbitrarily huge amount of Star Coins on the door for access to its challenging post-game levels.
There can be little disputing the quality on show here, although the underlying gimmick and universal approach mean that New Super Mario Bros. 2 can offer neither the mystery and experimentation of earlier games nor the challenge that new pretenders to the platforming crown lay so very, very thick. It’s an entertaining afternoon of gaming but little more, despite its occasional lofty highs and some inspired design. And for many, that won’t be enough, especially given the fact that we’re dealing with gaming royalty here. But then perhaps gaming simply doesn’t need a monarch any more.