Critics: New Super Mario Bros. 2 offers solid play, few surprises

Gordon Cameron
Plugged In

Nintendo faces a tough task with each new Mario game release: they've got to recapture the familiar platforming comfort food that fans have been craving for over a quarter-century, yet add something fresh to reassure us that the formula hasn't gotten stale.  The most acclaimed Mario titles -- from Super Mario 64, with its triumphant entry into the third dimension, to Super Mario Galaxy, with its ingenious miniature planets -- have found a way to strike that delicate balance between old and new.

Releasing Sunday for the 3DS, New Super Mario Bros. 2 aims to do exactly that by focusing squarely on gold. Yes, you still hop on Goombas, smash blocks, and munch mushrooms, but now it's less about saving the princess and more about saving as many gold coins as you can. A curious tweak, but is it enough to make this particular Mario another must-have?

Critics aren't so sure. Releasing this Sunday, New Super Mario Bros. 2 arrives with a respectable (but far from Mario-esque) 79 rating on Metacritic.

While acknowledging that the Super Mario formula "hasn't changed much over the years," EGM's Ray Carsillo enthuses that the new release "definitely succeeds with its own share of secrets, collectibles, and branching pathways." Carsillo gives it a 9/10, assuring us that "fans old and new shouldn't wait to jump into the world's most famous plumber's latest adventure."

IGN's Keza MacDonald is also impressed, rating it 8.5/10 and calling it a "masterclass in level design" and "a delightful game while it lasts."  However, MacDonald laments, it's "a surprisingly conservative entry" in the Super Mario franchise, and "doesn't move the series forward."  MacDonald also notes that the co-op multiplayer feels phoned-in: it's "fun, but inessential — on a small screen, the camera often has trouble keeping focus on both of you at once, and it doesn't let you run off and explore separately."

Gamespot's Marc Walton concurs about the co-op: "[I]t's a constant battle to stick together, lest you get separated, trapped in a bubble, and left to float around aimlessly while you wait for your partner to free you."  He gives the game a 7/10, conceding that it's "thoroughly competent and enjoyable," but complaining that "[t]here's a lack of variety and imagination to the level design that makes the stages some of the blandest and most repetitive to ever grace a Mario game."

A couple of innovations do come in for additional praise.  MacDonald lauds the competitive Coin Rush Mode, a fast-paced affair in which players must grab as many coins as possible across three randomly-selected levels without dying.  It "gives New Super Mario Bros. 2 a little longevity, which it desperately needs," MacDonald notes.

Joystiq's JC Fletcher, in a generally unenthusiastic 3.5/5 review, admires a few past-paced levels in which Mario is shot out of a cannon and must run at breakneck speed with the player controlling only the timing of jumps.  "These levels are thrilling, difficult, and feel like nothing I've ever experienced in a Mario game," gushes Fletcher, who adds that "this should have been the whole game."

So, if you're a devotee of classic platform action and need your annual Super Mario fix, the portly plumber's new effort looks like it won't disappoint. But those craving innovation and never-before-seen gameplay mechanics might want to leave Princess Peach to fend for herself this time around.

Also new this week:

Darksiders II
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3

Despite countless delays, the anticipated sequel to 2010's demonic sleeper hit finally hits shelves this week -- and for action fans, that could be a very, very good thing. Taking its cue from games like God of War and The Legend of Zelda (with a touch of Prince of Persia thrown in for good measure), it blends heavy action and adventure while adding a brand new loot system to give it a little Diablo flair. Sound awesome? Early word is that it's a monster.

Sleeping Dogs
Platform: Xbox 360, PS3

Actually, action fans have a tough choice to make this week thanks to Sleeping Dogs. It's been a wild ride for this open-world crime game (previously known as True Crime: Hong Kong), which was dropped by publisher Activision and lost in limbo until it was picked up by Square-Enix. Judging by the early looks, that was a great move. Think Grand Theft Auto set in Hong Kong's seedy underworld and you've got the idea.

The Last Story
Platform: Wii

Is this the last great Wii game? With the Wii U launching later this year, it sure might be. Created by famed Final Fantasy mastermind Hironobu Sakaguchi, it's already racked up loads of praise for its rich story and fun combat system. If you've got a soft spot for Japanese RPGs, it's not to be missed.

Dust: An Elysian Tail
Platform: Xbox 360 (download)

Considering that it's given us past gems like Braid, Limbo, and Bastion, Microsoft's annual 'Summer of Arcade' has been a bit lackluster so far. This fairy-tale action romp, however, might have the makings of a classic, thanks in no small part to its gorgeous visuals and brilliant, Metroid-like level design. Most impressive? It was made almost entirely by one guy.

Papo & Yo
Platform: PS3 (download)

The abusive relationship between an alcoholic father and his frightened child set the backdrop for this emotional PS3 downloadable game. Too heavy? Might be, but the gameplay looks inventive and fun. Based on the game's recent launch trailer, it's likely to be a pretty artsy -- and possibly unforgettable -- experience

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