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New Super Mario Bros 2 review: Reliably strong but lacking a spark

It's bros before foes in this co-op-enabled coinfest

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The core of New Super Mario Bros. 2 is largely identical to its handheld predecessor. As you travel the Mushroom Kingdom on a quest to - what else? - rescue Princess Peach, you even explore the same set of themed worlds. It's a much better looking game, thanks to the clout of the 3DS and character models seemingly inherited from Super Mario 3D Land, but it's so close in execution to the original New Super Mario Bros. that it's actually a bit disappointing. Are a few new worlds too much to ask for? Or even - gasp - a fresh range of bosses to fight? The previous game mined our 8-bit nostalgia to excellent effect, but it's a trick you can't really repeat.

Over time, however, the game's differences begin to stand out a bit more. We may be slightly sick of slipping and sliding across the ice world, or feigning surprise when one of Bowser's kids shows up to re-kidnap the princess at the end of every world, but there are a number of new features that help the game feel at least moderately fresh. While the biggest and best are ones that were first introduced in other recent Mario games, they haven't lost their shine quite yet. Our favourite is obviously the Tanooki suit, which returns from Super Mario 3D Land to make our hero look like a cosplaying pillock all over again.

Suddenly, with the flight-capable raccoon outfit, a 2D Mario game features a proper vertical element again. There hasn't really been one since the days of the SNES, and the game uses it to great effect in the stages where it's available, cramming airborne platforms full of glittering coins, or enabling crafty shortcuts if you couldn't give a toss about collecting the Mushroom Kingdom's oddly omnipresent currency. The suit was perhaps more exciting in Super Mario 3D Land, since it was the first time we'd seen Mario put it on in the third dimension, but it's a lot easier to actually use the damn thing here.

SUITED AND BOOTED

That's the other thing - his last 3DS game may have been a technical marvel, but compared to the grace and precision of his two-dimensional heyday, Mario's 3D-based platforming could feel a little sluggish and unfair. When we died in 3D Land it was occasionally due to perspective-based confusion over where we'd end up after a jump, but in the New Super Mario Bros. games every death is your own stupid, careless fault. With that in mind, it's good to have the Tanooki suit back in regular rotation, in 2D Mario's bulging bag of acrobatic tricks.

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As for that other 3D - you know, the one that lives in your upper screen - well, it makes far less of an impact than it did inMario's previous outing. Many 3DS platformers use the effect to enhance parallax backdrops (Mutant Mudds and Mighty Switch Force are both good examples), but here Nintendo has put it to use as a sort of extended camera lens, to bring the foreground into greater focus when it's flipped on. Basically, you won't miss anything by playing the game in 2D mode, which is a little surprising for a first-party 3DS game.

Also returning from Super Mario 3D Land is the Golden Super Leaf, which gives Mario (or, let's not forget, Luigi) a gilded Tanooki suit with the power of invincibility. Yes, it causes the difficulty level to plummet, but to keep the balance in check it only appears after you've already died a few times, and it does nothing to help avoid deaths by sheer drop.

As an aid to newer players, it's joined by the brick-hat...helmet... thing, which we don't even know the official name of. As the name suggests, this shiny brick rests on Mario or Luigi's fat heads, spewing coins every second it's still attached. In any other Mario game, these coins would feel completely useless (we finished the game with over 50 lives remaining, and no desire to acquire more by collecting sets of 100 coins), but they feed into a sort of meta-game here. Finally, a use for Mario's vast, Scrooge McDuck-like fortune.

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