As a pleasant surprise, Nintendo announced at their special 3DS software press event that the very next (and final) day of E3, New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS would suddenly be made available for play. Naturally, considering my well-known love for the series, I penciled it into my list of don’t-leave-before-you-play titles.
Certainly the governing concept of NSMB2 is silly and gimmicky: there are coins everywhere. Coin blocks, coin-dropping enemies, and even a special golden Fire Flower power-up which grants Mario a somewhat less tragic variety of the Midas touch. You’ll collect hundreds—even thousands—of coins during your short time playing a single level. But rest assured, in spite of the Mushroom Kingdom’s ridiculous spate of inflation, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is every bit as entertaining as it ought to be.
Flying adds a lot of verticality to the levels
There were three levels on showcase in the demo, and I quickly dispatched with all of them. The first was a standard outdoor flying fish water land level. As fish arced through the air above the landscapes, they left streams of coins behind them. As I have a tendency to collect nearly everything of value in a platforming game, I took great care to follow behind them, which can certainly be hazardous. And while under typical conditions I would never have leapt into the water for any reason, with the addition of coins falling helplessly into the ocean, I found myself powerless in resisting a swim.
The second level was a desert environment where the golden Fire Flower made its first appearance within a hidden chamber beneath a random pipe. I have to admit, after washing Mario over with a sparkling golden aura, I had no qualms about blasting everything in sight and reaping the resulting waterfalls of gold coins. This level also features some clever rotating blocks which help to complicate matters for—ahem—less fortunate Mario players.
Continuing on undeterred, the final level was a castle of some sort. Here, I found myself paying close attention to the vertical paths to ensure my encounters with each of the three Star Coins (seriously, did you expect me to skip them, even in the demo?). The theme of this level was flowing streams of green moving blocks (similar to the Super Mario World purple blocks that zigzag and curl unstoppably) which produced—and eliminated—platforms leading upward. The challenge wasn’t really notable, though one of the bonus rooms was outlined by these same moving blocks, making navigation from the entrance to the exit at least interesting (there were hidden coins above the top border of this organic rectangular box, too). The boss was even easier than the rest of the demo—remember the rhino wheel (or whatever the hell it’s called) from Super Mario World? That’s what capped the demo experience, though it was only two rhinos and it lasted all of ten seconds.
Still, it was fun!
Trust the Mario touch.
I’m a strong believer that a Mario game doesn’t even really need a gimmick to start with, as the very basis of the franchise’s enduring appeal is the wacky new ideas that each new game compartmentalizes into worlds, levels, and even small segments of gameplay within a level (this philosophy is epitomized in the Galaxy games, the only two videogames I’ve ever awarded a ten to date). But if a new idea, however goofy, doesn’t hurt the experience, I have no complaints about its implementation.
At the very least, the endless coins gimmick in NSMB2 certainly doesn’t stand in the way of its appeal. But better yet, it really is something different and—in spite of its unapologetically primeval underpinnings—sort of fun. Glancing up at a coin total of 843 or hitting a coin block for 50 instant coins may be devoid of any real mechanical influence, but psychologically, it’s an impenitent milking of the neural limbic system. It’s instant dopamine for any Mario player, even if it can only be done for one game.
Plus, there are actually some ancillary benefits that come along with this rebalancing of focus. For the first time in a long time, this represents a trending heavily back toward the competitive branch of Mario culture, a world dominated by speed runs and in which the white numerical, somewhat arbitrary score value in the upper-right hand corner of the original actually holds some meaning. For those whose appreciation of the series extends beyond the mere completion of a level, there is now a clear incentive to consume the action with a great deal of attention to what is done during each level.
A new power-up here which streams coins behind Mario
And, in keeping with the theme, we’re also treated to a new play mode, eloquently titled “Coin Rush”. As it turns out, every level you beat in the single-player campaign (which, by the way, according to Nate Bihldorff at the 3DS event, is “long”) is instantly made available in Coin Rush mode as well. Here, you choose a “pack” (a.k.a. difficulty level) and the game chooses three levels for you to play consecutively. You only have one life through all three of them, so this is squarely meant for more serious players.
The levels are the same as their single-player counterparts barring “a few additions”. The idea is to collect as many coins as humanly possible as quickly as possible without getting hit. Every remaining second on the clock at the finish of each level is also converted to a coin, so speed is of great consequence. Once you’ve successfully completed this random trio of levels, your score is recorded and those same three levels become playable on the 3DS of any friends who happen to StreetPass you, your high score, of course, staring them in the face the entire time.
While this sounds cool, what isn’t clear is whether or not any sort of online leaderboard functionality will also be included. It’d certainly be welcomed, but based on Nintendo’s explanation of how this mode works, it seems like the three levels chosen are at random. If so, it would be literally impossible to compare scores to others around the world on the account of the fact that too many possible level combinations would apply, and thus not enough people would have already had the opportunity of taking part in an identical challenge. (For those who don’t mind a little math, let’s assume that there are a fairly-standard 64 levels available in NSMB2. That would provide for a possible 64 x 63 x 62 = 249,984 total combinations of levels available for Coin Rush competitions). Perhaps there is a limited set of, say, 250 total level combinations to which the game is held during the selection process or something. This would certainly work well enough and, assuming leaderboard and replay functionality, would make for some excellent competitions.
Oh, and also, it’s possible to play through the entire single-player campaign with a friend cooperatively. Here’s hoping that this feature is available online as well for those of us who don’t live with other gamers!