At this point, nearly 30 years into its life span, the "Super Mario Bros." brand is to Nintendo what "Toy Story" is to Pixar: familiar characters in new settings, with rules that have long been writ.
It is, after all, a series dedicated to consistency, where each new adventure contains a haplessly dogged Italian plumber, a kidnapped princess, bouncing mushroom-shaped monsters and rhythmically inclined turtles.
Yet for all the tradition at play here, the "New Super Mario Bros. 2" (3DS, $39.99) feels decidedly current, largely due to one simple addition. To survive these days, the working-class plumber must now scramble for money at every turn.
"Super Mario Bros." veterans may note that the mission isn't all that different, but it has been altered. There's that thing about rescuing the oft-kidnapped Princess Peach, sure, but the underlying goal of "New Super Mario Bros. 2" — one re-enforced by Mario's every move and every in-game power-up — is to collect 1 million coins.
If that doesn't sound revolutionary, know that amassing money permeates every section of the game, and forces players time and again to confront a rather interesting moral quandary: Race against the clock for more cash, or play it safe and bring home the girl?
Nintendo developers have laid out 80-plus levels inside six worlds, using the two screens of the hand-held 3DS to allow players to track their progress, and to tempt them to backtrack over previously covered territory for more coin.
Although Nintendo's latest hand-held machine allows for enhanced graphics and a more refined use of the system's dual screen, this is gaming at its most old-fashioned — a run, a jump and a squat about covers it. If the "Toy Story" films, computer-enhanced images and all, are an ode to classic cinematic storytelling at its most charming, "Super Mario Bros." represents game play at its most enchanting and accessible.
Plots are minimal and largely nonexistent. While Mario and his brother Luigi were flying around collecting coins in their raccoon outfits, the Koopalings were swiping Princess Peach from her castle. That sends Mario on a quest for wealth as well as to bring her back home.
In terms of sheer technology, "New Super Mario Bros. 2" isn't as impressive as last year's "Super Mario 3D Land," but it isn't meant to be.
"Super Mario 3D Land" was a showcase game for the system's new technology, and it is often dependent upon 3-D. "New Super Mario Bros. 2" is more traditional, and the beautifully animated backgrounds become blurred when the optional 3-D effect is on. What's more, users who have downloaded the original 1985 "Super Mario Bros." from the Nintendo eShop can see how little the side-scrolling genre has advanced in nearly three decades, and that's entirely OK. Everything here is simply better.
Obstacles include fire-breathing plants, skeletal turtle-like creatures and, for the first time ever, a players' own greed. Lucky gamers, for instance, might come across a giant gold block, which affixes to Mario's head and generates coins based on how fast Mario runs. But this is simply a dare to run off a cliff or straight into an enemy.
When the gold block-wearing Mario doesn't meet his demise, the player is rewarded with applause from an unseen audience. This isn't the first Mario game to feature a clap track, but the emphasis on achieving wealth can make one feel as if poor Mario has been set loose in a "Hunger Games"-like arena, frantically chasing after gold to please the audience.
Thankfully, the lives are endless and even failure is played for laughs. So what, exactly, happens if you collect 1 million coins? Nintendo isn't saying, and there's only so many hours in a week, but let's hope Mario doesn't spend the cash on a security system — not as long as kidnappings result in this much fun.