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New Super Mario Bros. 2 is too obsessed with reliving the good old days (review)

I have this old friend with whom I’ve made a thousand amazing memories. We’ve known each other since we were kids, and I count my time with him as some of the best moments in my life. Whenever I’m about to see him these days, all of that nostalgia rises to the surface, and the thought of creating new adventures that’ll match our old ones excites me. Only, instead of doing something new, we spend our entire time together reminiscing about the good old days. It’s become awkward because you can only do that once. After that, you have to face the possibility that your relationship may never be the same again.

That’s the problem with New Super Mario Bros. 2, the new side-scrolling platformer for the Nintendo 3DS. Hell, that’s been Nintendo’s biggest problem as a developer for the last five years.

It’s not even fair. NSMB2 is a fine (bordering on great) game, but I’m grading on a curve. This is Nintendo and Mario. These are words that are essential to describing my happy childhood. And while this next entry in the series fixes a lot of the problems I had with New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, it’s still the same conversation. It’s still just a series of allusions to previous games wrapped in stale art assets.

WHAT YOU’LL LIKE

New ideas mixed in with timeless gameplay
Jumping over chasms and squashing slow-moving goombas is still just as fun as ever. Mario’s movement on the ground and in the air feels just right. The little plumber quickly becomes an onscreen extension of your thumbs.¬†Bouncing on eight consecutive koopa troopers’ heads while simultaneously dodging flaming rocks is a blast. It’s always been that way, and it continues here.

Thankfully, the development team didn’t just randomly pick Super Mario Bros. tropes out of a hat and blindly throw them in. New gameplay ideas sprout up regularly. Whether it’s a new type of bonus stage that sets Mario running at a fixed speed, new underwater boss fights, or just a difficult late-game block that projects fire until Mario hits it, a world doesn’t go by without throwing a couple of wrenches into the works.

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Intelligent and rewarding level design
If I had a problem with New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS, it’s that it felt sloppily designed. To access certain secret paths, you needed to find a mini mushroom, which shrinks Mario down to tiny proportions. The issue is that the developers didn’t logically place powerups like that around levels or even around different stages in the world. Most of the time, you would have to track down the item you needed in one of the game’s special areas. It felt careless.

That’s fixed in NSMB2. Secret paths still often demand the mini mushroom, and special areas still offer that item, but this game delivers in-level powerups in a much more deliberate way. If you get a rare power, chances are that the level you are in (or one that is coming up very soon) will require you to use it if you wish to discover all of the secrets.

And oh man — the secrets. The over-world map in NSMB2 may be the most interesting since Super Mario World. It doesn’t quite match that game in alternate paths and hidden level exits, but it certainly captures that Super Nintendo title’s spirit. Both of the previous entries in this “New” Mario sub-series feature their own secrets, but this one just has so much more going on. World 5 has a golden ship in the background that I cannot figure out how to access. The cannon levels that fire Mario into the special worlds are now Sonic-like bonus stages. Dormant level markers lie enticingly¬†in the foreground with no apparent way to get to them.

It makes the whole game feel more alive. It’s like the developers actually spent time thoughtfully setting up this magical quest for you rather than just filling in a formula.

Those three big gold coins are finally well hidden. We’ve been gathering these collectibles since the DS version, and it’s never been very difficult. That’s not the case anymore. I’ve spent a ton of time in a few of these levels searching for these particularly elusive coins only to come out empty-handed. Considering this is an optional part of the game, making it a challenge amplifies the reward for dedicated players.

New Super Mario Bros 2. co-op

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