Tuesday, October 09, 2012

New Super Mario Brothers 2

New Super Mario Brothers 2 for the 3DS is a joy to play.  While its DNA is very much rooted in the same New Super Mario Brothers (NSMB) game that debuted on the Nintendo DS six years ago, there are enough differences to warrant the purchase.

Interestingly, I had purchased the original NSMB on the DS, got to around world 5 and got bored of it and stopped.  It didn’t  grab me  despite being the first true side-scrolling Mario entry in a long time, though I suspect my MMO addiction at the time also took its toll.  The same thing happened with NSMB Wii. I bought it feeling obligated to due to the high praise from reviewers, but felt that it probably wasn’t for me given that its strengths were in co-op multiplayer mode.

So what made NSMB2 different?  The coins.  It’s a neat little gimmick, but the one million coin goal and the coin rush mode is an incredibly potent hook. It forced me to complete the game in the ‘story’ mode (doing so gives you a free gold flower in the coin rush modes- an invaluable advantage) and in the process it made me appreciate the tight and imaginative level designs. Coin rush is mind-numbingly addictive.  Hearing the clanging of coins and watching the coin counter grow is intoxicating, not to mention the sense of achievement when I clear a streetpassed coin rush challenge and beat someone else’s frighteningly high coin total.

In hindsight, I probably didn’t give the original NSMB on the DS and NSMB Wii a fair shake (pun intended) , and this is where I fundamentally disagree with critics of New Super Mario Brothers 2.  While all three games shares a common DNA and all had tight well designed levels, NSMB 2 isn't just a rehash.  The original was the kick-off to the franchise. The Wii game was multiplayer centric.  This entry on the 3DS is aimed squarely at a gamers’ need to achieve, to get the high score and to find everything.    Coin rush isn’t just about randomly getting coins and clearing a level on a small time budget, it’s about earning coins efficiently.  Do I jump around near the beginning to grab the floating coins and hit the blocks?  Or do I skip those and rush right in spend my time gabbing higher yield but more difficult to grab gold medallions instead?  The coin rush mode introduces rationing and scarcity of time, highlighting trade-offs and opportunity costs to maximizing the amount of coins one can collect in each carefully crafted level.  Coin rush also rewards repeated play and familiarity to the randomly selected levels used in coin rush.  Knowing each of the three levels in a coin rush inside and out is also crucial to getting the highest coin totals as collecting each of the three gold medallions yields exponentially more coins, and the 1up Mushrooms in the standard game turn into golden mushrooms that reward 50 or 100 coins in coin rush mode.

Revisiting  the DS original, it becomes plainly clear that  NSMB on the DS is several steps behind NSMB 2.  In the DS original Mario has fewer power ups and moves, the visuals are full of pre-rendered, pre-baked sprites to keep a consistent visual look on a more limited hardware, and the game doesn’t even scroll or animate as smoothly.  New Super Mario Brothers 2 in comparison had fluid animations, better quality artwork, including a neat use of the 3D slider to interpolate depth-of-field backgrounds, and power ups that I enjoy, especially the gold fireflower.

It is true that the leap from NSMB to NSMB 2 isn't in the order of say going from Super Mario Brothers to Super Mario Brothers 3, and that is a legitimate complaint for those who felt discouraged that Nintendo insisted on keeping the same (even if improved) aesthetic style on the 3DS.  But to me, that’s not a rehash, there’s enough there for it to be considered a true sequel.

If there is one thing I would knock it is how the streetpass system works.  While there is plenty of room to store streetpassed Coin-rush levels and even favourite streetpassed levels you like to avoid them being overwritten. Each player only has room for 1 coin-rush pack that they can share with others via streetpass.  Want to show off your high coin run on a relatively easy Mushroom Pack (stages randomly selected from Worlds 1-2)? Need to use your one slot for streetpassing.  Want to show off your leet skills on a difficult coin rush challenge? Need to use your one slot.  Want to show the guy you streetpass every morning you beat his 13,000 coin total? Need to use your one slot for streetpassing.  Also, outside of your one save slot for streetpassing, there’s no way to save and archive interesting and fun coin rush packs the game creates for you unless someone else you streetpassed sends it back to you.  I wish there is a more robust option here, perhaps three slots to allow players to  save a selection of coin rush stages. That said, it is a minor quibble.  If you can streetpass someone daily or even weekly, there’s plenty to do in terms of beating other people’s coin rush records.

New Super Mario Brothers 2 is a great game and one of the finest platformers out there today. It is also a game that knows its platform very well, playing to the 3DS’ unique features, including 3D, while avoiding its weaknesses, including 3D.   Each level is no more than three to five minutes long, and coin rush modes randomly string three of these levels together.  I’m amazed by how well the game works around rationed time.  If I have 20 minutes here or there, I can do a quick coin rush or two and before I know it, my time is up.  

Fun Fact: World Wide coin total sits at 184 billion and counting, updated every few seconds.   

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