Top critical review
Mario is turning into Mega Man
on 30 November 2012
[UPDATE: Originally I wrote this review before the release of "New Super Mario Bros. U". The utter brillance of the fourth entry in the "New Super Mario Bros." series has caused me to re-evaluate my initial assessment of "New Super Mario Bros. 2". While certainly not bad games, the two hand held Marios simply do not match the quality of the suberb Wii U title. While the 2009 "New Super Mario Bros Wii" is not as good as "U", :Wii" stands hands and shoulders above the two handhelds. What does all this mean?
I think the issues with "New Super Mario Bros. 2" could very well be a resource [iisue] management problem. Nintendo had two separate development teams, one for "U" and one for "2", with the more experienced on "U". This experience shows. Also, the fact that "U" comes out a mere four months after "2" does not bode well for "2", because the game is fressh in people's minds, and they realise just what a huge difference there truly is between "2" and U" While "2" feels like simply another by the numbers Mario 2D side scroller, "U" feels truly evolutionary, taking Mario finally beyond the pinacle of "Super Mario World", his best 2D game. Perhaps Nintendo should have saved "2" for a later time and with more expereinced teams]
I love Mario, I really do. For those looking for a fun game, "New Super Mario Bros. 2" has that in spades . . . but for this gamer, Nintendo is just offering up more and more of the same in regards to the "New Super Mario Bros." series. If you've played the other two titles in the "New" series, then you've literally seen everything here already (with only very minor exceptions). Originally the game was to be entitled "New Super Mario Bros. Gold", due to the emphasis on coin collection; while the title would have been appropriate, like the 1986 "Lost Levels", "New Super Mario Bros. 2" is exactly that - an expansion pack (not a real sequel) to the original DS title.
I've been playing Mario games since 1985 with the original, and have been with the series since the beginning. When reading about "New Super Mario Bros. 2", naturally I was excited but also somewhat apprehensive. Afterall, the screens looked a lot like what we've seen before in "New Super Mario Bros." and "New Super Mario Bros. Wii".
And for good reason. Not only does "New Super Mario Bros 2." play identical to the original and its home console brethern . . . it uses the same graphics and many of the same assests. After my initial playthrough I felt like I was just playing more levels of the same game that is simply ever expanding.
"New Super Mario Bros. 2" [marks] is a true turning point for Mario. This game marks the point where Mario becomes Mega Man, a video game icon who goes through an ever expanding, seemingly endless game. In a way it's nice to see SOMEONE (even if it is Mario) takes Mario's place, as Mega Man has not been seen since 2010, and since Kieji Inafune left Capcom, Capcom apparently abandoned Mega Man, at least for some years (although they have expressed committment to the Blue Bomber, but still no "Mega Man Legends 3" or "Mega Man Universe"..
When Capcom released "Mega Man 9" in 2008 and "Mega Man 10" in 2010, people thought about Nintendo making an fifth 8-Bit Mario game. I do not believe this happen, simply because the six NES Mega Man titles were the same, and the "Super Mario" games were very unique in comparison to one another (obviously with the exception of the original and "The Lost Levels", but "Super Mario Bros. 2" and "3" were amazingly different).
Well, what Mario did not do in the 8 or even 16-bit era, he is now doing with the "New Super Mario Bros." series, and across multiple platforms. With "New Super Mario Bros. 2", Mario has joined Mega Man's creed of more and more of the same. While all solid, the last three NES "Mega Man" titles were not up to the same quality as the first three. Likewise, while offering solid gameplay, the "New Super Mario Bros." series seldom rises above merely good to great.
PLOT: The plot is simple . . . sort of. Bowser kidnaps Peach (there's a shocker) and it's up to Mario to save her. Same story for the past twenty five years, so why change now? What's new though is now there is a strong emphasis to collect coins, with the goal of 1,000,000 set firmly before the player by Nintendo. The coin aspect feels mokre like this is a Wario game than a Mario game.
Mario has always had coins, but never like this. There are coins everywhere. Just like earlier titles, if Mario collects one hundred coins he gets a 1-UP, so the net result is by the time you finish you will have extra Marios running out your ears. And trust me, when you DO get the million coins, you will be left shaking your head. The "prize" is utterly pointless, and when I found out about it my motiviation promptly left me to collect the coins.
LEVEL DESIGN: There are six main worlds with two secret worlds that you can unlock (just like the original DS title). The first world is the basic field world, very similiar to World 1 from NSBMW, with just more levels. World 2 is the Desert World (just like the second world form SMB3). World 3 is the ocean and forest level, World 4 an ice themed world, World 5 is a sky world, and World 6 is the volcano world. There are then three special worlds: the Mushroom World, the Flower World, and the Special World (which you can gain access too by having 90 star coins after beating Bowser and the end of World 6). If you look at the list of worlds, ALL of them have already been used in "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" and "New Super Mario Bros.", and several of the themes harken back to "Super Mario Bros. 3".
GRAPHICS/AUDIO: Graphically, the game is largely indentical to "NSMBW". When I was playing through the levels I kept feeling that I was just replaying the Wii title.
COIN COLLECTION: While Mario has always had coins to collect, the main gimmick of this one is to collect as many coins as you can, and even getting a special reward for collecting one million coins. Once upon a time, coins meant something - they provided extra lives. Now, they are literally everywhere, and each level feels like an excuse to grind for coins. Ultimately, the gimmick falls flat. The main goal is to collect one million coins - yet when you do, the "reward" is so vapid and so inspid you can't help but be disappointed. After the initial playthrough, I had 40K coins.
CONCLUSION: Nintendo does not make bad Mario games. While the "New Super Mario Bros" games (at least the two hand helds) are never truly remarkable, both are tremendously fun. However, they feel like "Mario by numbers", and deliberate cash-ins on Mario's NES/SNES hey day.
[Originally written as part of my review for "New Super Mario Bros. 2", I wrote this small essay explaining the state of the "Super Mario" series from 2006-2012, and how different Nintendo has handled their core franchise in this time period as opposed to their earlier titles}
The State of Super Mario:
The Super Mario franchise has been in a strange place from 2006 to 2012. There has been an onslaught of Mario games that has been unprecedented during this time frame. We have gotten seven games in six years. These are "New Super Mario Bros." (2006, DS), "Super Mario Galaxy"(2007, Wii), "New Super Mario Bros. Wii" (2009, Wii), "Super Mario Galaxy 2" (2010, Wii), "Super Mario 3D Land" (3DS, 2011), "New Super Mario Bros. 2" (3DS, 2012), and "New Super Mario Bros. U" (Wii U, 2012).
Let's compare that to Mario's first titles. From 1985 to 2002, Nintendo released exactly eight games in the core franchise: "Super Mario Bros." (1985), "Super Mario Bros. 2" (1988), "Super Mario Land" (1989), "Super Mario Bros. 3" (1990), "Super Mario World" (1991), "Super Mario Land 2" (1992), "Super Mario 64" (1996), and "Super Mario Sunshine (2002). The only other addition you could make to this would be "Super Mario All-Stars" compilation from 1993 on the SNES, where players outside of Japan got to play "Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels" (AKA "Super Mario Bros. 2" in Japan and first released in 1986 on the Famicom Disk System) for the first time. It is notable however that "The Lost Levels" was released in a compilation format and not as a stand-alone title, unlike the other titles.
Of course, there have been various spinoff titles, such as "Dr. Mario", the Mario Kart series, the Mario RPG titles, etc. Of these spinoffs, there have been some great titles, but they are spinoffs nonetheless (such as the 1995 "Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island" and 1993 "Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land". Both of these titles are fantastic, but they're not Mario games: one is a Yoshi game and one is a Wario game respectively, and both are their own starting points in a separate subseries of the Mario universe).
What's important to note is from 1992 to 2006, a time period of fourteen years, we got exactly FOUR games. Four years separate "Super Mario Land 2" from "Super Mario 64", SIX years separate "Super Mario 64" from "Super Mario Sunshine", and another four years separate "New Super Mario Bros." from "New Super Mario Bros."
So what does all this have to do with "New Super Mario Bros. 2"? Well, simple, really. Starting with the SNES, Nintendo made Mario a one game per console title (with the exception of the Gameboy). Mario games were EVENTS, especially in the 1990s and 2000s. One reason why "Super Mario Sunshine" was such a big deal was because it was the first time we got to play a new Mario game in six years. That's a long time.
Even with "New Super Mario Bros.", there was a sense of momentous occasion upon its release in 2006. Why? Because a full fourteen years had passed since Nintendo had released a side-scrolling Mario.
Well, now Mario games aren't really events anymore. We're being saturated with Mario games in the core franchise. From 2006 to 2012 we have gotten a Mario game every year. What's REALLY CRAZY is that Nintendo has released THREE Mario games in a 12 month span (SM3DL, NSMB2, and NSMBU). That is such a contrast from the 1990s.
Apparently, Nintendo has decided to go with quantity over quality. With only one exception ("The Lost Levels", which is little more than an expansion pack for the first game), each new Mario game from 1985-2002 brought something new to the table and were all pretty different from each other, while still retaining the same great gameplay Mario is known for. Each title was different and unique, while still being brilliant. Hard to pull off, but Nintendo did it.
Now, looking at the last seven titles, Nintendo has shifted their MO (modus operandi). Rather than drastically change anything up, they use the same resources and game engines across multiple titles (much like the six NES "Mega Man"titles), a thing unheard of in previous Mario games. Four of the titles are "New Super Mario Bros." \\The new Mario titles can be broken up into thee groups - the four "New" titles (2D Sidescrollers), the two "Galaxy" titles, and "3D Land". Of these, only the "Galaxy" games and "3D Land" are truly revolutionary. Strangely enough though, even the "Galaxy" games fall into this trend of as much Mario as possible. Never before as Nintendo released a numbered sequel to a 3D game, and playing "Galaxy 2" really does feel like you are playing "Galaxy 1.5", just more ideas built on the Galaxy theme. Now, to be fair, both Galaxy games are among the highest rated titles out there among reviewers and players alike, both are endlessly inventive, and personally I think "Super Mario Galaxy 2", as of 2012, stands proudly as one of the best games Nintendo has ever released, rivaling even "Ocarina of Time". In context of this discussion, however, "Super Mario Galaxy 2" does show Nintendo in hyper-Mario mode, but when the games are this good, you can't help but smile. Likewise, "Super Mario 3D Land", a stylistic bridge between 2D and 3D, along with fantastic stereoscopic 3D gameplay, is another fantastic title as well.
That leaves us with the four "New Super Mario Bros." games [of which there are four]. So many gamers were happy about "New Super Mario Bros.", simply because we hadn't had a proper 2D Mario in well over a decade. The game was a tremendous seller. Deliberetly styled as a retro-throwback, "New Super Mario Bros." followed the gameplay of the NES/SNES titles we all know and love, yet in retrospect, overall the game was short and easy and didn't really bring any new innovations to the series. "New Super Mario Bros. Wii", the first home console 2D Mario game in eighteen years, likewise followed the early Mario titles' gameplay, albeit with modern graphics and some new design decisions to appeal to modern day gaming sensibilies. Still, the Wii version played like a souped "Super Mario Bros. 3", this time with chaotic multi-player. For all the hype on the multi-player aspect, Mario's course feel designed for a single player; when you add three additional players the courses begin to feel claustrophobic. However, multi-player is tremendously fun, even though there is no online.
While the decision to release three Mario games in a calender year's time is simply unprecented, two of these are for the 3DS and one is for the Wii U. Nintendo has stated that for each console, they plan to make at least one 2D and 3D game. While "Super Mario 3D Land" is a brilliant tremendously fun title, releasing "New Super Mario Bros. 2" a mere eight months after is simply strange, especially given that four months after "New Super Mario Bros. 2", Nintendo released "New Super Mario Bros. U". The close proximity in which they were released also just intensifies the already gaping differences between the two games; while "2" is about the most generic Mario title ever, "U" stands as one of Mario's greatest 2D accomplishments.
Only time will tell if Nintendo continues Mario's heavy release schedule. While there are no "bad" Mario games (with the possible exception of "Super Mario Sunshine"), the frequent titles show Nintendo is more interested in monetizing Mario (at least, the 2D titles), than truly innovating. Hopefuly, they will find a way to return to the innovative design that has so defined their Mario output in bygone years. If the "Galaxy" games, "3D Land", and "New Super Mario Bros U." is any indication, then Mario's future remains as bright as ever.
*** Mario is becoming Copy and Paste