Publisher: Nintendo / Developer: Nintendo / Platform: 3DS

The oddly named New Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually the third installment in the series. What’s more, the game makes no reference to either the Japanese or American versions of Super Mario Bros. 2. It would have been more aptly titled New Super Mario Bros. 3 (Plus Some Random Bits From Super Mario World & Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island). A lengthy title, I know, but at least it would have summarized how all-over-the place this game is. It’s particularly disappointing after the finely tuned Super Mario 3D Land, which not only beat NSMB2 to the punch with Tanuki nostalgia, but actually made sense of the reference by having a “3” in its title.

Compared to Super Mario 3D Land, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is like the Mario equivalent of Sonic Generations (3DS) – it does a fantastic job of accurately replicating the solid 2D controls with 3D assets, but the levels just aren’t that fun. Not that the levels are bad, mind you. But they seem like B-sides compared to Super Mario 3D Land‘s album tracks. They come across like uninspired leftovers. The only times the level design made me smile were a few particularly clever hidden mid-point exits in a couple levels.

But how’s the glasses-free 3D, you ask? The 3D is pointless. Not only is there almost no depth to the game anyways, but I ended up turning the 3D off entirely when I realized that it was also blurring the otherwise nice-looking backgrounds.

Possibly the game’s most spectacular feat is that it manages to make coins feel meaningless in a Mario game. Traditionally, the point of collecting coins was to earn extra lives. But even if you’re not thinking about extra lives, when coins are spread out enough, they seem too tempting not to collect, just to hear the little jingly sound. But New Super Mario Bros. 2 fills the game with so many coins that they no longer even seem tempting. It’s a problem that could have been fixed as easily as having your coin total unlock things incrementally, like they already did in Mario Kart 7. Instead, the only thing you unlock with coins is a new title screen, after collecting a million of them. Why not just offer me a slap in the face?

A side effect of the large number of coins is that you gain extra lives faster, making even 1-Up mushrooms seem meaningless. Never have I felt so disappointed to get a green mushroom as when timing a randomized power-up box wrong. I stopped bothering with the red coin challenges once I realized that all it was going to give me was a worthless green mushroom.

Coin collecting, 1-Ups…what else is there that the game could possibly screw up? How about co-op? Despite both players each having their own screen, co-op still gives camera dominance to Player 1. I’ve been increasingly frustrated with Nintendo’s refusal to adopt dynamic split-screen (where the screen only splits when characters are too far apart), which would’ve improved Donkey Kong Country Returns‘s co-op gameplay a great deal. But giving camera dominance to one player when both players have their own screens. I can’t figure out how to convey in words the complete absurdity of this decision.

So instead let’s talk about the final boss battle. You know how the original Super Mario Bros. boss battles mostly involved just dodging, without any attacking? Some might consider the boss battles in later games to be superior, but apparently the designer of this battle loved that concept so much, they thought: “what if we did that, but on a larger scale, with more things to dodge, and have it last ten times longer?” The final boss battle is the longest three minutes I’ve ever experienced in any Mario game.

Perhaps what makes New Super Mario Bros. 2 most disappointing is that it’s so uncharacteristically average. We expect better from major Mario releases. It certainly doesn’t help that the game seems so redundant, using the Tanuki tails so soon after Super Mario 3D Land in a game series that already seems too formulaic. Maybe if they’d used the opportunity to further explore the ideas in Super Mario Bros. 2 (Super Mario Bros. USA in Japan), a world that has been undeservedly ignored by Nintendo for so long that perhaps revisiting it now would seem fresh and new.