Mario's latest side-scrolling adventure is all about the money.
I earned nearly 700 coins while playing the first level. My total haul had grown to thousands by the time I finished the first world. I ended up collecting nearly 20,000 coins in total during my first (of several) run-throughs.
It was, in a word, gratifying.
Nintendo has been cultivating a golden itch in gamers for more than a quarter of a century. It began the moment we saw Mario bust his first coin-bearing brick in the original Super Mario Bros., and it's only grown over the years.
Collecting coins in New Super Mario Bros. 2, the side-scrolling 3DS sequel to Nintendo's wildly successful New Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo DS, is the psychological equivalent of a bear rubbing its back up against a tree for hours on end; a long, satisfying scratch that you'd prefer never end.
Coins come from all directions. They spurt from pipes. They appear en masse when Mario strikes a POW power-up to shatter huge walls. They gush from our plumber's scalp when he dons a golden brick helmet. They appear behind every brick we break when under the influence of the rare Golden Flower. They even pop out of the enemies we flatten after jumping through golden hoops floating through the air.
And we can flaunt our coin collecting skillz with others. A local multiplayer mode lets pairs of friends with their own consoles and game cards play levels simultaneously, while StreetPass mode is used to flaunt your best effort over groups of three levels with strangers you pass on the street.
However, this gold rush – enjoyable though it may be – is about the only noticeable change to the Mario platforming formula this time out.
Expect to encounter plenty of familiar elements, from Super Leafs that bestow Mario with a tail he can use to swat enemies to giant mushrooms that turn Nintendo's moustachioed icon into a towering giant capable of shattering walls of bricks wholesale and breaking off pipe tops.
The levels, too, are recognizable in theme, if not layout. You'll encounter arid, frigid, and tropical climates complete with quicksand, slippery slopes, and teetering platforms. Veteran Mario fans won't come across much they haven't seen before.
What's more, there is evidence of hurried/sloppy game design. I encountered a few areas in which hazards came into view too late to do anything about them. One such saw me jumping off a pipe from which I'd just emerged, intending to land on a nearby platform. However, by the time I landed the platform had became flooded by toxic purple goo that unexpectedly rose from the bottom of the screen, leading to an unavoidable death.
Thankfully, frustrating situations like this don't come up very frequently. Still, their existence here is notable if only because they're such a rarity in modern Mario games, which have an unparalleled reputation for their often challenging but always fair level design.
New Super Mario Bros. 2 may not be quite as polished or innovative as its recent predecessors, but it's still one of the most entertaining plays available for Nintendo's stereoscopic handheld. Like all Mario games, the controls are exactingly tight, making every dash, jump and ground pound a delight. The pure, simple pleasure of playing is why – as I've done with most Mario games in my life – I started over again on World 1 the moment the credits finished scrolling.
And those coins? I'd be lying if I said they weren't a big draw. I've always adored the round of applause sound effect that comes with pulling off an exceedingly clever stunt in modern Mario titles, but I think the series' classic tinkling coin noise may now be my ear candy of choice. Would that I could hear this sound for each loony I deposit into my account when I visit the bank. It certainly compelled me to keep playing. Maybe it could make me want to keep working.
New Super Mario Bros. 2
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release: August 19, 2012