To say I was skeptical of New Super Mario Bros. 2 would be an understatement; while initially I was excited to see Mario and co. returning to their 2D roots, the more information that was fed to us, particularly about the entire focus on collecting coins, the more apprehensive I became. Thankfully my concerns have been thrown out the window after spending twenty minutes during a preview session here at the MMGN office.
If you haven't played a New Super Mario Bros. title before, let me get you up to speed. Nintendo have gone back to Mario's roots, serving up a delicious helping of side-scrolling 2D platforming with 3D characters. It is full of character, charm and is challenging to boot. We've already seen the series appear on the DS and Nintendo Wii, but on August 18 New Super Mario Bros. 2 will mark the first time the series has appeared on the 3DS platform.
So what makes it so special when compared to previous outings? Coins, literally bucket loads of shiny, golden treasure. It may seem a little silly on paper; every Mario outing since the dawn of time has featured coins which bring you extra lives, but seeing it is how the mechanic is executed that is truly remarkable.
All the standard platforming elements are there - get from A to B with as much time left on the clock, the sweetest power-ups and reach the top of the flagpole to finish the level. This time around however, the player is working towards an endgame goal, one million golden coins. All of a sudden the player has incentive to explore and test themselves in order to score as many coins as possible on a stage, which is a lot more engaging than rushing through the level and simply jumping on the heads of enemies who stand in your way.
One million coins is a lot, so that's why Nintendo have thrown in some nifty power-ups to help players achieve that goal. The Golden Suit which has been seen in various trailers and artwork turns Mario (or Luigi) into a coin-making machine. Shooting out powerful golden fireballs will turn blocks and enemies into gold, but more importantly will allow you to setup for some sweet combos.
Soon we found ourselves collecting over 1000 coins per stage, and all of a sudden there were tactics being employed in a Mario side-scroller.
"Combos in a Mario game?" I know it may sound absurd at first, but we quickly learned that if you take out four enemies in the blast radius you'll yield a sweet coin bonus as opposed to a single fallen enemy. Then there's the whole Star combo mechanic, which actually allows you to enter star mode, killing enemies for coin bonuses, find another star and keep going until eventually you run out of star power or you finish the level. Soon we found ourselves collecting over 1000 coins per stage, and all of a sudden there were tactics being employed in a Mario side-scroller.
I was not expecting that.
I also wasn't expecting the game to look as good as it does. Immediately I was taken aback by how smooth the game runs on the 3DS screen, literally like melting butter in a warm saucepan. The 3D effect is non-existent however, from what I could tell it adds a minute amount of detail for the foreground, but it barely noticeable. That seemed a little strange to me, especially coming from a Nintendo developed title. Just like the visuals, the audio is everything you would expect from a Mario adventure, and that certainly is not a bad thing.
Tano and I decided it was time to team up for a little co-op action, which was so simple to setup. One player selects themselves as Mario and then searches for another player who selects Luigi. The 3DS then pairs couples off and they work together (or kill each other in our case) towards a common goal of collecting all those coins. Handy hint - you get double the coins when completing a level in co-op so go absolutely nuts with friends.
Jamie, our Nintendo PR contact showed us some sweet moves and explained the Coin Rush mode which uses StreetPass to share stats and level challenges between friends and strangers, which speaks a lot of the game's longevity after your initial playthrough.
It's funny that a twenty minute preview can completely change your outlook. Before I had the chance to play the game I was under the impression that New Super Mario Bros. 2 would be a let down, nothing more than another 2D sidescroller that we've seen so much of these last few years. I'm so very glad that I was completely wrong.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 is set for release on August 18 in Australia via the Nintendo eShop and all good retailers.
By Stephen Heller