Some thoughts on New Super Mario Bros 2 so far

As you may have already guessed, I decided that it was time to go out and buy New Super Mario Bros 2 so the game could be reviewed for the site.  Unfortunately, since I’ve currently not completed the game 100% (currently missing some levels and star coins at the moment), I don’t think it’d be fair on Nintendo to give the game a proper review yet.  So instead, here are some random thoughts about the game from what I’ve played so far.

Gameplay wise, I have to say New Super Mario Bros 2 is actually pretty fun.  Really, after a couple of weeks of playing nothing but poorly coded Mario fan games with completely broken physics engines and mediocre level design, it’s nice to finally be playing a genuine game made by people who seem to know what they’re doing.

Now I do have to admit, as far as fun goes New Super Mario Bros 2 isn’t exactly the best Mario game on the planet.  It doesn’t quite keep me as interested in playing as say Super Mario 64 or Galaxy did and the lack of new elements does sometimes mean the game feels a bit predictable.  But it’s still better than having to battle the control scheme and engine to get Mario to do whatever you want, and as far as core Mario gameplay goes, it’s still as fun as it was in the DS or Wii games.

In addition to this, despite all the negative press about the game being creatively bankrupt or ‘bland’, there are some pretty nifty new ideas the designers have implemented.  For instance, the whole section where you had to dodge the Koopalings and their dangerous ‘turn Mario to stone’ attack in the two final castle levels was pretty fun, and it was also a neat throwback to the Super Mario Bros 1 instruction manual (remember the old quotes about the Koopas having dark magic and being able to turn Toads to stone?  Here it is in an actual game!)  I also liked the platforms which moved only when you were standing on them, the appearing stone blocks in the level with all the volcanic eruptions in the background and the whole idea of the game actually having a secret ‘final’ boss.  That’s a welcome first for the Mario series in general.

A genuinely clever gimmick from New Super Mario Bros 2, the bit where the Koopalings chase Mario through the castle is great.

The bosses are a bit better than I expected too.  Yes they’re basic, but they do at least have some variation in their attacks, which is more than you could say about the Koopaling battles in Super Mario Bros 3 or World, or any of Super Mario 64 boss encounters.  And the different Reznor battles are pretty cool too, much more interesting than the same old fight repeated four times like in Super Mario World.  So while the bosses aren’t exactly the best boss battles ever seen in a 2D platformer, they’re at least more interesting than those from most of the older 2D Mario games and 3D Land.

This boss battle is more fun than it looks in screenshots.

One thing that did disappoint though were the new power ups.  The gold block is fairly common, but it vanishes after about half a minute of usage.  And the gold flower?  Only lasts the level you use it in, with Mario/Luigi turning back to Fire Mario/Luigi the second they hit the flag.  Not exactly the greatest new power ups, especially considering their fairly useless effects.

Not as interesting as it looks, nor that useful a power up.

How about the new world themes then?  Well I thought it was an okay concept (having six main worlds and three bonus ones), although I have to say there were some problems with the whole setup.  Firstly, how the hell is your average player supposed to find the entrances to some of these cannon levels?  Because locating some of the necessary secret exits takes quite some eye for detail, as well as a whole lot of randomly looking around for them.

Another issue is that the difficulty level seems wildly inconsistent this time around.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t have a mountain and forest world to use to slowly ramp up the difficulty, or maybe it’s just because half the levels in the game seem to reserved as ‘secret’ this time around, but it seems like at one random point the game’s difficulty basically shoots straight upwards and then goes up and down without any pattern to it, one level might be fairly tricky and confusing, the next a walk in the park.

To make matters a bit worse, the final secret world is basically a complete joke difficulty wise.  It’s fun, it’s kind of creative, but difficulty wise it’s probably easier than much of world 5 and 6 is.  Seems a bit weird to struggle with the likes of Bowser’s Castle then just plow through world 9 like it was nothing.  Aren’t bonus levels supposed to be difficult?

Not to mention the true final boss is just a palette swapped Bowser, with identical attacks.

As far as level design is concerned, this game does pretty well on this front.  Yes it doesn’t have all the ‘creative’ gimmicks the Galaxy titles and 3D Land packed in every level, but it does have a significant amount of interesting level set ups.  Like the ghost house where you get a star and have the whole room turn into a bunch of coins, before getting chased by Boohemoth underwater.  Or the castle where giant boulders chase Mario down like the Chomp Sharks from Yoshi’s Island.  Or hell, the level where the secret exit is located in a bonus room along with one of the star coins, in a manner very remniscient of the level design in the Donkey Kong Country series.

That’s not to say the game is without it’s flaws though.  For one thing, quite a few star coins seem to be hidden below random leaps of faith in what appear to be bottomless pits.  Oh, did I say ‘appear to be’?  I mean actual bottomless pits, you then have to quickly wall jump out before you fall off the bottom of the screen.  There also seem to be a lot of situations where you take damage or get crushed to death despite it seeming illogical.  For instance, you now can’t jump on Wendy O Koopa underwater.  However, I’m fairly certain you COULD attack her underwater in both Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros Wii, making this arguably fake difficulty.  Additionally, the Reznor platforms can now crush you flat against the floor if you’re unlucky, which was near enough impossible in Super Mario World and a rather unpleasant surprise for anyone trying to bring over their boss strategies from said game.  Also, the block snakes can still crush Mario or Luigi, making them annoying beyond belief.

Graphically the game is fine.  Looks a bit like New Super Mario Bros Wii (especially the castle levels), but most of the tilesets and backgrounds seem to be entirely new and look great in the levels they’re used in.  No problems here.

New Super Mario Bros 2 looks pretty good.

Music wise, it’s samey but decent.  Yes it’s mostly the same as in New Super Mario Bros Wii, but it fits the levels well and sounds fairly good regardless.  Even with the annoying wah sounds, it’s not like you can really say the castle and ghost house themes are bad songs, and they work perfectly fine in this game.  So do the underwater music, snow music and general athletic and grassland themes.

More variety would have been better, but it’s not a deal breaker to repeat the music from a past game.  And what music is ‘new’ is fairly decent:

Yes, Reznor even gets his theme music back!

There is another genuine issue with the game though, and that’s the general lack of difficulty and generosity of lives.  Okay, I’ll be fair here, the game would actually be pretty hard if you weren’t getting given extra lives like candy, some of the later levels are at least more difficult than those in either the DS or Wii game and there are a lot of things that could mess up a beginner Mario player, but you get so many lives the difficulty is literally destroyed.  As of this point in time, after only a few hours gameplay (maybe seven hours?), I have about 350 lives.  Oh, and I’ve beaten both normal Bowser and Dry Bowser, unlocked and beaten all bonus worlds and have a good chunk of the star coins, but that’s another thing by itself.

They probably should have just permanently removed the whole ‘100 coins for an extra life’ mechanic altogether, since with the huge numbers of coins you can get in every level (to go with the gold theme) you end up gaining about five lives a level at minimum.

So yeah, difficulty isn’t so good, and I don’t think it’ll take a skilled player very long to beat.

So in conclusion, what do I think of New Super Mario Bros 2 so far?  Well it’s a good game, I’ll give it that.  I am enjoying the game like I would any other Mario game, and it’s generally fairly well designed.  It’s just currently a bit of a walk in the park and a bit lacking creatively, so I’m not sure how well I’ll rate it when I get around to writing a proper review.

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