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New Super Mario Bros. 2 focuses on what really matters in life: Money (hands-on preview)

People expect a few basic things out of Nintendo’s Mario games: a villainous Bowser, a kidnapped Princess Peach, and an army of Koopa Troopas who stand in your way of saving her. New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the Nintendo 3DS attempts to disrupt this holy paradigm by shifting your focus to what really matters: gold coins.

Officially, collecting these coins is a “secondary objective” when it comes to saving the princess, and there’s no real narrative justification for it other than the fact that Mario and Luigi were busy collecting coins for Princess Peach on the day she was kidnapped. But in case you forget, a handy counter is almost always present on the screen, tallying the number of coins you have overall (up to one million).

It’s almost poetic how Nintendo’s lucrative franchise, with the most recognizable video game character in the world, now features a game that’s about monetizing anything and everything you see in the Mushroom Kingdom. I’m surprised it didn’t happen sooner.

Solo Mode

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This is the typical single-player route in Mario games: You start off in World 1-1 and slowly advance to the various castles until you finally defeat Bowser at the end. But in NSMB2, Solo Mode’s promising new feature, despite the name, is full-fledged cooperative multiplayer, the first time it’s ever been included in a portable Mario. Two players can assume the roles of Mario and Luigi right from the beginning of the game, so long as each of them has his own copy of NSMB2.

In addition to the usual hilarity involved in co-op (trying to time jumps and enemy patterns with another person is much harder than you might think), teaming up with a friend also proves beneficial when it comes to your coin collection as the values are essentially doubled. Though you and your partner will retain separate coin counters, any currency you collect in the levels will be shared with one another and are worth much more than if you were just playing alone.

To help you on this coin-collecting business, two new power-ups make their debut in the game: the Golden Fire Flower and the Gold Block. The former douses Mario in liquid gold (Luigi in silver) and gives him the ability to transform almost anything in the environment into a floating pile of money. The latter places a block on Mario’s head, which spits out a certain number of coins depending on how fast you move — of course, the faster you move, the more likely you’ll make a mistake and die.

Coin Rush 

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Coin Rush gives you one life and limited time and is a tense combination of speed and dexterity as you attempt to find the best ways to master each level. When you die — and trust me, you’ll die a lot here — you’ll want to go back and try over and over again. Nintendo reps at the demo suggested that I look for golden mushrooms (worth 50 coins) and Star Coins (an unspecified bonus) and also to jump to the top of the flag pole at the end of each level (doubles your total amount of coins). Once you do complete a round of Coin Rush, which contains a random sampling of three levels from a particular world, it feels incredibly rewarding even if your score isn’t that great by comparison.

Coin Rush also gives you the ability to go after your friends’ high scores — or any other NSMB2 player you’ve encountered using your 3DS’s StreetPass feature. These scores only show up once you challenge them, however, and they’ll remain shrouded in question marks until you do.

And for those not up to Coin Rush’s difficult gauntlet? You can pick a white raccoon suit, which is practically invincible except for the time limit and falling pits. Though if you do reach a high score using it in Coin Rush, a small raccoon tail will accompany it, just so it can tell your friends that you took the easy way out.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is set to release on August 19, both at retail and as a digital download in Nintendo’s eShop. Also launching that day is the super-sized version of Nintendo’s 3D handheld, the 3DS XL.

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