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New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS) artwork

New Super Mario Bros. 2 (3DS) review

"Suddenly, until you either clear the current stage or you are struck by an enemy, you fire shots that turn bricks and enemy projectiles into coins. Usually, there are lots of bricks in short proximity. Diving through piles of gold like Wario taking a swan dive into Scrooge McDuck’s money bin is definitely an exhilarating experience."

If you’re the sort of person who can’t enjoy a game if it doesn’t reinvent the wheel or tell a brand new story, you’re likely to have serious issues with New Super Mario Bros. 2 right from the start. Your first problem will almost certainly be that the new game doesn’t really feel “new” at all. This is yet another Mario outing that starts with the abduction of a princess--the same princess who always gets abducted--and you’ll go through the same motions you always do before finally trouncing Bowser.

All of that stuff is curtains, though, and New Super Mario Bros. 2 itself is a window to the Mushroom Kingdom. Let’s not forget that the Mushroom Kingdom is still one of the most enjoyable virtual destinations that the game industry has ever produced. Nothing has changed in that regard. New Super Mario Bros. 2 plays out like so many of its predecessors did (particularly the most recent ones) but that’s okay because these games count “good” as their starting point and only improve from there. The series is showing only the slightest signs of losing its luster, even now that a couple of new installments for recent and upcoming platforms have left some of the plumber’s most relentless critics delightedly accusing Mario of going through the motions every year like a certain retired football coach.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 asset

Shove aside that potential baggage, though, and what you’re left with is a very good Mario game that stops just short of being truly great despite routinely feeling familiar. Its greatest (and most unnecessary) innovation is that it challenges you to collect as many coins as possible while you romp through Nintendo’s version of Disneyland. There’s even a Coin Rush mode that helps you add to the tally while encouraging you to revisit a random selection of stages with strict time limits. A couple of new power-ups also allow you to extract more gold from the familiar rolling green hills and pale blue skies.

The most exciting new power-up is the golden flower. It’s not especially common, appearing perhaps no more often than the Frog Suit in Super Mario Bros. 3, but it’s always welcome when it does sprout forth from a block. Suddenly, until you either clear the current stage or you are struck by an enemy, you fire shots that turn bricks and enemy projectiles into coins. Usually, there are lots of bricks in short proximity. Diving through piles of gold like Wario taking a swan dive into Scrooge McDuck’s money bin is definitely an exhilarating experience.

While the golden flower is nice, the golden brick is the more common of the two new power-ups. Sometimes, one will appear on the world map and you can find it at the start of the next stage you attempt. Often, however, you’ll find one dependably placed within a level. You’ll extract a bunch of coins from a hanging block and as it surrenders its last coin, you jump again and wear the block as a hat. Now your actions--running, jumping and falling--produce coins until the effect expires. The more you move around, the more wealth you can accrue.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 asset

As you work through the game, you’ll likely find that you’re building up a pile of extra lives without even giving that particular pursuit much thought. The game has a few difficult segments sprinkled along the most obvious pathways, but for the most part there are enough items scattered throughout stages that you’ll only die if you fall into a bottomless pit or a pool of lava or poisonous goop. Some stages include 1up mushrooms that grant extra lives, along with the opportunity to earn a few lives by collecting several hundred coins. The whole “lives” system seems to have been left in place here not because there’s much chance that you’ll ever exhaust your supply and see a “Game Over” screen, but because it serves as an excellent homage to a different time when extra lives were precious currency.

The game would have been just fine without the golden touch, though, because the stage designs offered this time rank among the very finest the franchise has produced. Most stages have a basic route that leads to the goal flag and outpost at the end, but there are often riskier side routes that you must follow if you want to collect one of three special star coins. Those star coins are currency that you can save to unlock special content, or you can spend them ahead of time to access mushroom houses (I recommend holding onto them until the special point when you can use them to their greatest advantage makes itself apparent, but really that’s all up to you). Another reason to explore carefully is that you can sometimes find special bonus areas that offer coin bonanzas, such as one stage when you take to the sky and bounce along Bullet Bill enemies to snag trails of coins from the clouds. There are even a few paths that open up whole new hidden worlds, complete with a selection of their own stages.

Compared to the actual stages, the world maps tend to look a bit lifeless and usually amount to just a straight line that might leave you wondering why maps were included at all. Yet they allow you to easily go back to revisit favorite stages, and there are often secret routes along the maps that only become visible once you exit a stage on an alternate path. The freedom to explore never feels quite as robust as the morphing landscape you may recall from Super Mario World, but still there’s a much-needed sense of mystery.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 asset

Another of the game’s elements that I liked is the continued inclusion of Bowser’s children. The full brood is here, as it was in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, a nice touch that didn’t hold true in the case of the (otherwise slightly superior) Super Mario 3D Land. Here, each one of Bowser’s children has its own attack pattern and arena, which allows for some of the most inventive battles I recall facing in a Super Mario Bros. game to date. There’s nothing fresh or astonishing enough to feel out of place compared to all of the conflicts Mario has survived in the past, but I liked to see the developers continuing to explore new ideas even while including familiar elements such as halfway fortress battles and ghost houses and such.

In the end, your personal level of satisfaction with New Super Mario Bros. 2 will mostly be determined by what you’re hoping to see a new installment in the series deliver. If you want something dramatically different from that which has come before, you won’t find it here. Even the coin collection mechanic doesn’t change things as much as it could have, and otherwise there’s not a lot I can point to that’s especially fresh. Yet the execution of the familiar elements is every bit as engaging as it always has been and the breadth of ideas that are sampled can’t help but keep things interesting. You might do well to start with Super Mario 3D Land first and then follow up with this newer title if you’re only just now getting in 3DS gaming. No matter what, though, this is one adventure you won’t want to miss if you still enjoy stomping mushrooms and saving the occasional abducted princess. Mario clearly still has the golden touch.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (August 14, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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dagoss posted August 19, 2012:

I read this review over on Ars and I thought they were being totally nit-picky with the coins. But based on your review, there really are coins oozing from the ground and falling from the sky.
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honestgamer posted August 19, 2012:

Sometimes it really does feel that way, yes. I rather enjoyed it, as my review makes clear, but some people are so busy finding such things odd that they forget to notice the clever level design that is happening all around them. I liked this new game more than I ever liked the original NSMB, but apparently I'm in the minority as far as critics go. Personally, I think this will likely be a case where general gamers are going to enjoy the game more than most critics.

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