New Super Mario Bros 2 is finally here… and well worth the wait

GAME OF THE DAY: Nintendo’s unrelenting critics would have you believe its mascot’s latest handheld outing is ‘Mario by the numbers’. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

The moment 3DS owners start up the single-player mode of New Super Mario Bros 2, they will fall into one of two camps: the stalwart gaming veterans that are unable to resist the challenge of new, intricate and devious side-scrolling levels, or the newcomers taking their first steps onto discovering why many of us spent our childhood surgically attached to our NES and SNES controllers.

There is very little that will shock and surprise anyone that has played a 2D Mario platformer – let alone those that have encountered the NSMB series before – but few will be able to put this title down within the first hour. Time flies past in a blur of smashed blocks, flattened goombas and incinerated piranha plants before you remember your supposed to be indignant that Nintendo has dared to charge you 40 for something you’ve essentially played before.

This is partly once again thanks to the level design. While some may feel that Super Mario 3D Land’s levels felt a little sparse and empty, each one dependent on a single gimmick to coax you towards that all important flagpole, New Super Mario Bros 2’s stages are further proof of Nintendo’s prowess at 2D level design.

Each is packed with secrets: extra lives, the ever-enticing power ups and entire areas that you would never find without straying from the usual left-to-right path. Nothing emphasises this more than the return of the P-wing symbol from NES classic Super Mario Bros 3 – you’ve never found everything a stage has to offer until you’ve flown over it.

But that’s not Nintendo’s priority when it comes to marketing the 3DS blockbuster. The platform holder is instead focusing on the new Coin Rush mode, something that some might think of as a half-arsed attempt at a bonus mode. They would be wrong.

Three randomly selected stages, more coins, 100 seconds on the clock and one life.

On the face of it, Coin Rush comes across as a transparent ploy to eek out a few more gameplay hours by recycling levels wholesale. But instead, it taps into a compulsion that all Mario players have battled since the 1986 original.

We’ve all done it, diverted from our goal to get those five coins just sitting there in the open – fully aware that they accomplish nothing but edge us closer to that next extra life, of which we already have 50.

Throw in a ticking time limit, and those coins become even more tantalising. Do we risk going after them, or press onto the next inevitable batch of plunder? When we get the Coin Block Hat, which spews shiny things the faster we run, do we dash full pelt towards the level’s end, or hang around for those secret stashes?

These questions are not answered with careful strategy but reckless button mashing as you attempt to find that ideal route to bag the most coins before time runs out. The blocks and chasms of each level blur to form racing lines you try to perfect each time, with every death accompanied by the uncontrollable urge to have one more go, one more go, just one more…

And the ability to challenge friends and strangers via StreetPass, where you download the same random assortment of levels they faced, brings out the competitive nature that keeps a cartridge firmly in its slot for months.

New Super Mario Bros 2 arrives on shelves tomorrow, and while many – including your favourite trade site – have questioned its oddly high digital price point of 39.99, there’s no denying the game’s potential to rake it in for Nintendo.

New Super Mario Bros 2 is released in the UK tomorrow. It will, for the first time, be released both at retail and via Nintendo’s digital eShop simultaneously.

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