I finally caved and got New Super Mario Bros. 2 for the 3DS a few weeks back. I had so many other games on my plate that this game took a backseat, which is surprising because I’m usually right on board for a Mario game. Especially a 2D one.

But there’s something… hard to describe in regards to my feelings on the New Super Mario Bros. series. I liked the DS one as “old was new” and it was the first real Mario side-scroller since Super Mario World.

The Wii one was alright, and I’ll admit I was excited for the novelty of four players at once, though I REALLY wanted this for the character selection:

Nintendo makes a fortune off of nostalgia and “tried and true”. I’ll never understand the yellow and blue Toad thing.

And the Wii U game is certainly very colorful and pretty, but since the initial “wow” factor of the original game, and ultimately culminating with the 3DS title, I’ve reached one conclusion:

The New Super Mario Bros. series are my least favorite adventures of the famed Italian plumber.

Don’t get me wrong: The game is fun, and it plays heavily off of Super Mario Bros. 3 nostalgia and coin collecting. LOTS of coin collection. Everything you do in this game builds up mass amounts of coins in a fashion that would make Scrooge McDuck’s mouth water.

But that’s just it: I’ve realized this whole series is just based on recycled ideas and gimmicks. DS was 2D side-scrolling. Wii was four-player simultaneous play. Wii U is just sharper graphics. 3DS is mass coin collecting.

But that’s just it. Nothing changes. It’s the same music. Same worlds. Same ideas. Largely same power-ups outside of one new suit, when Super Mario Bros. 3 had Mario turning into all manner of creatures. Frankly, I don’t like the series’ signature music “theme”. It feels like it makes up the bulk of the musical score throughout the whole game.

I’m going to get the negative aspects out of the way before I focus on the positive:

The music: I covered this before, but there’s another aspect that I don’t like about the music: It makes the enemies dance. It’s a cute animation. It adds some charm, but I can’t count the number of times I’ve died or powered down as I’m trying to land a jump when that split-second pause throws off my trajectory.

The 3D: For a Nintendo title, nay, a MARIO title, this has to be the worst representation I’ve seen of 3D on the system to date. The 3DS can add depth to 2D platformers: Mighty Switch Force, Epic Mickey: Power of Illusion, the 3D Classics versions of Kirby’s Adventure and Kid Icarus…. It’s been done before, and done well. New SMB2 takes all the lovely backgrounds and details and smudges them to oblivion. Playing in 3D is like someone rubbing Vaseline all over your screen while trying to play with those eye drops your optometrist gives you to dilate your pupils. I simply can’t believe Nintendo would allow the 3D effect to be represented this poorly in one of their titles.

The story: Bowser kidnaps Peach. Mario has to save her. For 25+ years, this has been the overall story for all the games in the series, but it’s just gotten… old. It reminds me of those old Warner Bros. cartoons with Ralph the Wolf and Sam the Sheepdog. Younger viewers may not get the reference, but their relationship was friendly, cordial…. Probably went down to the pub to have a drink after a long day of working together. But on the clock, they were adversaries who fought all day to outsmart and pummel each other. I can see this for Mario and Bowser. They play sports and drive go-karts together, so it’s little wonder why there is zero surprise when Bowser comes a calling.

Seriously, does Bowser have no other tactical plan than to breeze in with his airship, and snatch the Princess? No clever trickery or subterfuge? I’d even accept some humorous exchange where this is standard “social engagement” time for Mario, the Princess, and Bowser. Like a “play date”, where they exchange a few obvious moments of feigned surprise, or “Same time tomorrow” attitudes. They may as well open the castle gates, let Bowser in, and have Peach call out “I’ll see you in an hour or so” to Mario as she casually strolls out with the King of the Koopas. I don’t expect an epic story from a Mario game, but Bowser’s threat level has reached “nil” at this point. Super Mario Galaxy shook a few things up with Rosalina’s surprising backstory. At this point, I’d like to see Wart take a swing at Mario and company again.

The game: As I said, this has all been done before. This series feels less like a full game, and more like an expansion pack of well-designed levels. Very little changes. The environments, the enemies, the goals, the music, the power-ups. Outside of the game entry’s token “gimmick”, there’s really not that much to differentiate between each game. Certainly not the leaps made from the first three NES games, or even Super Mario 64 to Super Mario Sunshine to Super Mario Galaxy. The biggest originality that the game offers past the coin collection are all the nods to Super Mario Bros. 3, something Mario Kart 7, and Super Mario 3D Land do as well.

While it probably sounds like I don’t like the game, I actually do think it’s a fun title. Mario games are known for their well designed levels, and this is no different, same as for the nostalgic nods to Mario 3. And the Coin Rush modes and in-game collecting is fun, especially when Mario gets his golden fireballs, and gains powers that would make King Midas jealous. It’s still very much a finely crafted, well controlled title with pleasant graphics and a ton of secrets. I just wish the series wouldn’t play it so safe and just… break the mold in some places. The game is just too afraid to take some chances, and it starts feeling more like an add-on than than a fully realized idea.

All in all, New Super Mario Bros. 2‘s main draw are the obscene amount of coin collecting, and ability to show those big hauls off via StreetPass. It’s a solid, dependable, and fun ride, but just don’t expect anything in the way of “new” past this feature, and don’t even bother trying to play this 3DS game in 3D mode. I think of everything offered, that’s the most perplexing issue the game has.

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