It is almost amazing that it has taken quite this long for a SMB (as the kids are saying, yes, they really do say these things, you can take my word for it) sequel to arrive. Although if you’re as old as I am you’ll remember Yoshi’s Island which was billed as SMB2 but now there’s even a Yoshi’s island 2. Perhaps a little too fast and loose with the chronology for my liking but I sucked up Paper Mario so I have no room to complain. Nonetheless a long time, 12 years in fact, and 12 years in which everyone has decided to lose all of their critical faculties.
When the SMB on the SNES arrived I was an Amiga boy and those rare chances I got to approach a SNES were coralled in such a way that Mario Kart was the only tasty treat I was allowed to indulge. At the time SMB looked like a kids game nothing for a man with such a serious computer as myself (dual processor don’tchaknow). Years later I took the time out to buy a SNES and play all the games that people had then called classic. And indeed, the original Super Mario Brothers is a benchmark few others have come close to approaching. But enough about me what about NSMB2?
NSMB2 retains all those visual stylin’z (as the kids are saying, the z is especially important for keeping in touch grandad) that you’ve come to expect from the SMB universe. The controls maintain the feedback, inertia and tactile responsiveness which makes it immensely satisfying to interact with. There are probably few more obvious examples of ruthlessly and expertly honed play testing available in the world of computer games. Mario’s little touch of inertia requires that you actually must learn to how control him and mastery leads to a lot of satisfaction. The like of which the Rolling Stones apparently were never party to. A digital smugness, if you will.
There is almost nothing to be faulted about the level design, again ruthless play testing is totally evident. Most levels have a flow, a pace; a certain cadence that not only allows but expects you to settle into “the zone”, It is almost zen like. Mu-Shin. Between the tactile controls and the level design these two facets intertwine to produce an extremely gratifying experience. The kind of gratifying experience you usually have to pay for (often by going to your local high street and handing money over a counter and recieving cartridges or disks in return).
But for all my fawning praise there remains a dark underbelly to my critique: Ultimately, in this day and age, NSMB2 just ain’t that good. Super Mario 64 (DS edition perhaps?) is a better game. SMB was a better game. Donkey Kong Country (1 and 2 but not 3; natch) is a better game. Crash Bandicoot: Warpped is a better game. I don’t really care for games having to be in 3D (even though the games industry has decided that we all must have 3D interactive experiences, more intense than real life yet less satisfying than having a shit). The problem is that for the work lavished on making it feel right and play right they forgot to add any challenge. It’s easy. Stupidly easy perhaps. I appreciate that I cut my teeth on Jet Set Willy but this is silly. Within a 2 week period I completed the game 3 times, collecting everything and max’ing all 3 save slots. That’s about £15 a week (compare to WoW which I spent £7 a week and played 3 or 4 times the numbers of hours too).
The two major problems are the difficulty curve and the game length. Which aren’t entirely unrelated. Were the game much longer and the difficulty curve continued then it really might get to a point where it became a challenge but as it is shorter the difficulty curve should have been steeper. Although even with a steeper curve it wouldn’t be a long game. In this day and age this won’t have been a very expensive game to create. Content creation just won’t have been that involved. Could we not have had twice the number of levels? I think so.
One way to look at this is that maybe the game was so good that I was just very dissappointed when it finished. Maybe it’s a “loss leader” designed to suck me in and ensure I buy the next one. But it’s unlikely that the next would pick up where the difficulty curve left off. This is a shame.
I have other minor gripes too. In this one you can eat various mushrooms and you can grow or shrink. There is a vast amount of potential. All manner of puzzles and game areas that might focus on this concept. It tantalises you with hidden promise, notions of juicy gaming secrets that might be hidden within yet it delivers very little. There are perhaps 2 small sections in the entire game that require you to be big and a few more that require you to be small. An object lesson about small being better for our American cousins perhaps? Perhaps not. But certainly an object lesson in wasted potential.
My other gripe was the level progression. Each World is laid out in an enitrely linear fashion. It lacks the exploratory nature of the original SNES SMB, the illusion that you can pick your path. Perhaps wend your way past that level you can’t quite master. I think this is a shame. As well as this the world layout more or less spells out where you will find the hidden secrets. Standing by a level you can’t get to? Then you likely missed the second exit in the level you just completed. A bit more mystery would have been nice. The self satisfaction of finding things without such heavyhanded clues is definitely missing.
For all my grumbling this is far from being a poor game but I don’t really think it’s the game everyone (read: I) was waiting for. While SMB will remain a benchmark this might well be forgotten.