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Review: New Super Mario Bros. 2 Illustrates Nintendo's Greatest Problem 146

Posted by samzenpus
from the read-all-about-it dept.
Jon Brodkin writes "There’s a new Super Mario Bros. game out for the 3DS handheld console. It’s called New Super Mario Bros. 2 and features Mario, Princess Peach, Bowser, and the same fun gameplay you’ve come to expect from Nintendo’s most iconic game series. But this latest adventure stands out by not standing out at all." Read below for the rest of Jon's review.
To be fair, no one buys a new Mario game looking for a completely new experience. Lovers of “Super Mario Bros. 3” will smile when they stumble upon a very familiar raccoon tail, for example, and use it to take flight into the blue sky of the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s grin-inducing gameplay and familiarity. But nearly every Mario game offers at least one new attribute that distinguishes it from its predecessors—that is, except for this one.

Unlike last year’s “Super Mario 3D Land,” this latest Mario is a 2D side-scroller with gameplay almost identical to the “New Super Mario Bros.” released on Nintendo DS in 2006. The game’s main course is ridiculously easy even by Mario standards, although there’s some challenge presented by the final level and a few of the extra unlockable courses.

While I enjoyed the game (which I’ll now start referring to as “NSMB2”), I couldn’t shake the feeling that I had played it before. Entire courses seemed identical to ones from the “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” game released in 2009, particularly in the lava-filled final world and a middle world filled with purple water, spiderwebs, and giant caterpillars.

Most Mario games have a few levels that are positively exhilarating. “Super Mario Galaxy” was filled with them, including an epic final battle vs. Bowser spanning three planets. “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” has what might be my all-time favorite Mario level, a secret course involving a gigantic skeletal roller-coaster that you ride and cling to until the bitter end—all while hopping and avoiding a treacherous lava pit and the enemies emerging from it. By contrast, there really wasn’t a single level in “NSMB2” that felt exciting; again, the game stands out not for what it offers but for what it doesn’t.

Like previous games in the New Super Mario Bros. series, each course has three star coins tucked away in hidden, hard-to-access areas. It’s the primary trick Nintendo uses to make these games replayable—if you don’t find all the star coins, keep going back and exploring until you do. The star coins can be used to unlock special levels and mushroom houses containing items to help Mario on his way.

Separately from the hidden star coins, there are plain-old-regular Super Mario coins everywhere throughout each level. As you clear levels and build up coins, you unlock a bonus game, “Coin Rush,” in which you replay courses in order to collect more coins. Collect a million coins and the title screen will feature a gold Mario statue. I’m up to 17,000 coins, but I’ve already accomplished my goal of unlocking and completing each level, so I won’t be going much further.

It becomes clear while playing “NSMB2” that Nintendo needs to stop making new Mario games every year. Last year there was “Super Mario 3D Land,” today there’s “New Super Mario Bros. 2,” and coming soon is “New Super Mario Bros. U.” I love Mario, but there are only so many times you can trot out the same game and call it a sequel before the well of innovative gameplay is sucked dry.

After playing through the Italian plumber’s latest, I argue that the only way to save Super Mario Bros. is to give the series a time-out. If Nintendo needs cash in 2012 and 2013, issue a remake of every 8- and 16-bit Mario game for the iPhone, iPad, and Android. Or (since Nintendo hates releasing software for hardware it didn’t build) just release them again with better graphics for the 3DS and upcoming Wii U. No one will hold it against the company.

After doing that, Nintendo should wait. While Mario development will never completely cease, it should be put on the back burner in favor of developing new intellectual property. Keep the Mario wheels moving slowly behind the scenes until you hit upon the right idea, the one that takes the series to the next level like “Super Mario World” and “Super Mario 64” did in the 1990s, or “Super Mario Galaxy” in 2007.

Nintendo can take a page from its own Legend of Zelda series, which maintains its excellence with clever dungeon and over-world design, strong storytelling, and gameplay tweaked to fit the unique strengths of both handheld and traditional consoles. Crucially, years go by between major Zelda releases—that’s how long it takes to get everything right.

I will gladly wait until 2015 for the next Mario game if it’s anywhere near as satisfying as Zelda’s “Twilight Princess” or “Skyward Sword.” Fans waited five years between Zelda releases for the Wii and were rewarded. The same could be true of Mario.

The State of Mario Today: Haven’t I Already Played This Game?

Most gamers assume that each new Mario game will just offer more of the same. But that’s not entirely true. I’ve been playing Mario my whole life, and to my mind nearly every one stands out from the rest for one reason or another.

“Super Mario Bros. 3” and “Super Mario World” built upon the classic original with more intricate level designs, power-up items, and the ride-able dinosaur, Yoshi. “Super Mario 64” brought Nintendo into the 3D age and influenced an entire generation of games. “Super Mario Galaxy” introduced gravity as both villain and friend. And last year’s “Super Mario 3D Land” condensed the best bits of side-scrolling and 3D Mario action into one rollicking, lengthy video game.

With this latest Mario, only one thing distinguishes it from previous editions: coins. Lots and lots of coins. Yes, every Mario game has coins, but this one has lots of them, and you get the aforementioned special rewards for collecting them. If you played “New Super Mario Bros.” for the Nintendo DS, just about everything in this sequel will be familiar: it’s all nearly identical, just not quite as memorable.

Nintendo has fallen behind Sony and Microsoft in courting serious gamers. The fact that its biggest hits are new versions of classic games wouldn’t be concerning if Nintendo could also produce some great new series and attract third-party developers before the latter’s newest games hit the PS3, Xbox 360, and PC (or iOS and Android).

And while Nintendo still leads the handheld gaming market, it had to drastically cut the price of the 3DS. This holiday season, Nintendo will release a home console that finally puts it on graphical parity with the half-decade-old PS3 and Xbox 360. The list of launch games for the Wii U is notable for including third-party titles that hit rival consoles a year ago, such as “Batman: Arkham City.”

The thing Nintendo is really trying to build excitement around is “Nintendo Land,” a game that will supposedly explain the appeal of the Wii U in the same way Wii Sports sold players on the motion control capabilities of the original Wii. It’s hard to see how this strategy will succeed on a massive scale. “Nintendo Land” is basically just a series of mini-games based on Nintendo’s most successful franchises, as the company desperately clings to its past to remain relevant. It’s like saying, “hey, remember when these games really mattered?”

The Future of Mario

Ultimately, “NSMB2” is an enjoyable experience that leaves me discouraged about the future of the Mario series. While the Legend of Zelda has remained fresh, Nintendo is relying on gimmicks to make each new Mario game seem slightly different than the last. But with level design virtually identical from one game to the next, releasing three Mario games in just over a year will only make matters worse.

I don’t think Mario has run its course for all time. As I mentioned before, I just think the course has been run for 2012 and probably 2013. (Instead of playing the essentially same game with a “2” or a “U” appended to the title, I may as well replay the games that made me love Mario in the first place.) That’s why, instead of releasing one new Mario game every year (or worse, several), Nintendo should dramatically slow down and focus on one or two new Marios for each console generation.

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Review: New Super Mario Bros. 2 Illustrates Nintendo's Greatest Problem

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  • Re:Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by geminidomino (614729) on Monday August 20, 2012 @03:35PM (#41058507) Journal

    I didn't need to read it even once, since Jim Sterling [escapistmagazine.com] beat him to the exact same review by a week.

  • Re:Meh (Score:4, Interesting)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968@@@gmail...com> on Monday August 20, 2012 @04:01PM (#41058845) Journal

    Yes and no, because as Jim Sterling wrote about this last week on the escapist [escapistmagazine.com] they USED to add new gameplay twists with each release like Zelda does. Now you have games like Meatboy and Rayman doing new things and giving us new twists while Mario...just treads water.

    I guess its time for the big N to either bring some new talent in or let Mario rest for a few years because they are just rehashing now. Nobody wants to see Mario become another generic where they just slap a new coat of paint and trot it out, Mario is to Nintendo as Sonic was to Sega, you're supposed to bring your A game when you use the mascot.

  • Classic dilemma (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nine-times (778537) <nine.times@gmail.com> on Monday August 20, 2012 @04:34PM (#41059269) Homepage

    This is a classic dilemma of anyone who has enjoyed success: Do I try to replicate my past successes and risk becoming stale, or do I try to break my mold and risk losing what made me successful in the first place?

    What I mean is, yes, to some extent, the formula is stale. Nintendo has a few different series that, to some extent, are each remaking the same game over and over again with a few new gimmicks and tweaks, and otherwise it's just new levels. But then, lots of people *love* those games. They've played through each of those games multiple times, and they're essentially willing to keep buying remakes, new levels, etc. If the graphics are improved and their are a few new features/gimmicks sprinkled in, that's just a bonus.

    And you could argue that, in all of this, Nintendo is just lazily milking their fans for more money, but I don't think that theory holds up very well. These games are very well designed and well balanced. They don't feel like the product of lazy developers, they feel like the product of very competent developers who love these games themselves.

  • by pkinetics (549289) on Monday August 20, 2012 @04:38PM (#41059307)

    As a franchise that has grown and evolved over the last 30 years, has all the creative storylines and innovations come full tilt?

    We expect certain control mechanics, and behaviors.

    Its not like they could reboot the franchise or alter the behaviors. How could they make the game different and yet still keep it familiar without alienating their fan base?

    Its not like they can take Mario and make a FPS, although that could be hilarious. Super Mario Bros meets GoldenEye.

"There are things that are so serious that you can only joke about them" - Heisenberg

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