It shocks me when I realize that I've been playing Super Mario Bros. games for most of my life. I've been collecting mushrooms, tossing turtle shells and saving princesses since I was 7 years old and Marty McFly was driving a DeLorean.
Spend that much time with a video game franchise and it teaches you things. These aren't obvious concepts like the ones you learn in math class. It's something you discover and internalize after months of play. Firing up the latest entry to the series, "New Super Mario Bros. 2" on the Nintendo 3DS, those lessons and a heavy dose of nostalgia came flooding back to me.
The Italian plumber's latest adventure owes a debt to "Super Mario Bros. 3," arguably the best release
That's nothing new, but the levels and shifted focus are novel. "New Super Mario Bros. 2" is about coin collecting. Every world is jam-packed with them, and players will have to explore and master the stages to succeed. The overarching goal isn't to rescue the princess but to unlock all the levels and set high marks in each one.
That's emphasized in the Coin Rush Mode, which lets players run through three random stages using one life. With a shortened time limit, they have to speed through it, collecting
After I burned through the main campaign, I went back, wanting to improve my runs and find missing Star Coins in previous levels. Each stage is layered enough that players will constantly find new secrets -- a hidden passage here and a coin-scoring trick there -- and that makes the replay rewarding.
Of course, no foray is perfect. I kept dying in a few levels, but I wasn't too frustrated. One of the beauties about these games is that none of the deaths feels cheap. If Mario dies, veteran gamers can immediately identify the reason. They'll say, "Oh, I got too greedy collecting coins" or "I rushed through that fire part and made a stupid mistake."
These are lessons that Super Mario games impart. Each stage creates a situation that teaches players a useful truth and that's drilled into them over years until it's always in the back of their minds.
I had a frustrating time trying to get past an enemy. The solution: I tried a different approach, and it worked. One alternate exit for a haunted house level was impossible to find. What did I do? I slept on it, tried again later with a fresh perspective and tried a door I didn't notice before. If all else fails, don't give up. There's always a solution. That's what 25 years of playing Super Mario has taught me.
But for all its tugging nostalgia, "New Super Mario Bros. 2" could have added more features. The two-player co-op is an improvement, but the lack of more power-ups is disappointing. The level designs are solid and clever, but few stand out.
It's the competition, though, that will drive this sequel and keep players coming back for more.
'New Super Mario Bros. 2'
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Platform: Nintendo 3DS