It's that time of the year again…No, there’s not a new Call of Duty in stores, or even a new Guitar Hero.
It’s actually time for the annual Mario game. What's that? Is that weird? Well, up until five years ago, it was weird to me too. Before then, Nintendo was clearly the master of taking something old and making it new again, and again, and again. However, now the "New" Mario game is false advertising. Not only that, it was actually forged in the dark pit of the dead soul of a once-beloved gaming company, twisted and….
Sorry, I’m being overly dramatic. I’m not here to kill New Super Mario Bros. 2, but to praise it. Actually, I intend to briefly praise it, and then nitpick it with a couple of tiny details that bode poorly for the future of the Mario franchise.
On to the praise: It is a good Mario game. It is not the best Mario game, it isn't the best "New" Mario game, and it isn't even the best Mario game released in the past year for the 3DS. The levels are creative…on occasion. The mechanics are as good as you expect, and the music and animation are as charming as you would want from a Mario game. That’s praise, right?
So what’s the problem? Well, Mario isn't just any video game franchise, it is the biggest video game franchise. It stayed that way by reinventing itself (but not too much). It played to the crowd, but evolved with technology when required. It was never ho-hum, and a new Mario game was always an event.
Now it's just another Sunday.
That's the problem. It's just an average Mario game. Of course, keep in mind that an average Mario game is still great game in any other franchise, but when Nintendo makes a game that is merely average you can't help but feel a bit disappointed, no matter how much you enjoyed it.
On to the foreboding nitpicks.
The sound is wrong. This may be my video game-nerd gene talking, but sound is as important to a Mario game as the graphics. Mainly, they are still using the same soundtrack from the last NSMB game. This isn’t nostalgic (it’s too recent), it just feels lazy.
More alarmingly, when you collect the oft-lauded raccoon tail, it makes the noise from when you would collect the cape in Super Mario World. Insane nitpick? Of course it is. However, it is evidence that even Nintendo is starting to forget how to properly mine nostalgia. It's a small mistake, and it may have even been intentional, but it comes off as a clumsily referenced element that seems to forget the audience it is attempting to pander to.
I have another problem with the raccoon tail. The levels in a Mario game have to be carefully designed post-Super Mario World. In that game, they introduced puzzle elements and multiple paths, so some levels had "tricks" to beating them. In New Super Mario Bros. 2, they use this element quite often (usually in relation to collecting the large golden coins). However, they also have the flag at the end of most levels, just like the original Mario Bros. did.
I love the flag. Who doesn't love the flag? Everyone loves the flag!
However, in the games that use the flag mechanic, it was a miniature puzzle. You had to carefully time your jumps and have an advanced understanding of the game’s physics to get to the very top. This time, they have the raccoon tail and the flag. What is the point of the flag if Mario can just fly 100 feet in the air, smack into an invisible wall, and automatically get the top of the pole? It makes the mechanic worse than pointless when there are multiple other ways to end a level.
How about the slot machine from Super Mario Bros. 2? How about the moving bar from Super Mario World? What about the card system from Super Mario Bros. 3? Any of those would have been great, but instead they fell back on an old standby that is made moot by the power of the raccoon tail. It is as if Nintendo doesn't understand the details of Mario any longer, they are just making a game instead of something important.
Finally, what the hell is the purpose of the 1ups? By the end of the first world, I had over 40 without trying to collect them. Either get rid of them, or don't connect collecting 100 coins with receiving an extra life anymore. Maybe require 1000 coins, or make it so they are only in hidden blocks. You can't make a Mario game with coins stuffed in every orifice and keep all of the same mechanics. It takes two core elements of the franchise and makes them meaningless.
I get a meaningless feeling from this game. I play it to see what they added to the levels, or to figure out how to get the three golden coins in each level. I don't try and collect coins, I don't try to get new lives. I don't feel challenged when I die, only annoyed that I have to replay a section I already completed. There is no advantage in getting better at the game, you just want to get farther in hope of finally discovering where the "New" in New Super Mario Bros. 2 is.