Brilliant level design; clever puzzles; Super Mario World-inspired overworld; new enemies, power-ups, and overworld features; Challenge Mode almost manages to outshine the fantastic story mode; level of challenge feels just right; excellent Miiverse implementation; vibrant, gorgeous aesthetics; Five-player multiplayer; DLC support.
Only one new suit for Mario to don; can feel a little too familiar at times; graphics are not presented in full 1080p; some recycled songs.
New Super Mario Bros. U is the pinnacle of 2D Mario. While there have been a number of installments in “New” sub-series of the franchise, U is without a doubt the most polished, most creative, and most charming of the bunch. Though on the surface it may appear like another case of more of the same, calling this a rehash would be an incredibly short-sighted and criminally untrue remark. It would be so because this is a game that takes everything before it and makes it all the better. Sometimes the phrase, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” can seem trite, and such philosophies in game design can be a product of sheer laziness on the end of an imaginatively-starved development team. That’s not the case with New Super Mario Bros. U, though, due to the fact that, the formula isn’t broken. It works so well, in fact, that the fourth iteration in the series still feels solid and innovative– a feat that is truly impressive.
New Super Mario Bros. U starts off in classic form, but with a twist. As Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach all sit around breathing in the solemn melodies of the tranquil Mushroom Kingdom, Bowser crashes the party as if on cue. Where he may have stolen Peach before, here he changes up his dastardly tactics by booting Mario and the gang from their own castle via the help of a giant mechanical hand that he summons from his massive airship. Epic, right? This series of events acts as the starting point for Mario’s adventure.
Traversing the landscape in NSMBU is a true delight thanks to the Super Mario World-inspired overworld, diversity in area themes, and the stages themselves. While the adventure starts off with basic stuff and feels incredibly easy, the game’s difficulty soon becomes apparent as you tread deeper and deeper into enemy territory. Most impressive are the cleverly designed puzzles that feel expertly placed and time, and lend themselves to the list of iconic Mario stages. In fact, some of the mechanics, levels, and puzzles here are among the best in the entire Mario franchise. This seems especially refreshing coming off the lukewarm heels of New Super Mario Bros. 2. Unlike the 3DS entry, though, NSMBU’s level of difficulty for both minimum level completion and total completion is wonderful, and on more than a few occasions had me scratching my chin as to how I was going to solve the riddle of obtaining that very last star coin that seemed impossible and surrounded by certain death. The depth and marriage of complexity, reasonable challenge, and accessibility is just one of the many things New Super Mario Bros. U nails.
In truth, however, the gameplay is what you would expect from a sidescrolling Mario in the year 2012. The foundation from which the title has been built is stronger than any like it in gaming, so New Super Mario Bros. U was a bit destined to be a sensible experience from the beginning. What makes it all the better, aside from the previously discussed puzzles and level of difficulty, are the items at your disposal. Fan favorites such as the Ice Flower and Propeller Mushroom are back along with new additions like the Flying Squirrel suit; all of these evoke concurrent feelings of familiarity and newfangled excitement. Baby Yoshis make a triumphant return as well after being absent from the series for two decades -– and might I add they were sorely missed?
Regardless of that minor issue, we’re treated to a host of new enemies, power-ups, and overworld features. The expansive overworld contains not only the fundamentals such as the standard levels, fortresses, and castles, but also sports roaming enemies that can be tackled, hidden paths and secrets, items that can be found on the ground, as well as the occasional boss fight that ensues within its own context. All of this happens outside of the typical platforming segments, and truth be told, this is a feature that should have been implemented many entries ago because of how seamless it is.
Piling up on these additions and the boastful level of replayability is the Challenge Mode, which in some ways, manages to outshine the story mode. Challenge Mode is all about mastering the art of Mario platforming to a degree not needed or seen in a regular playthrough of a stage in the story. It effectively pits players on small platforms with a variety of blood thirsty enemies to see how long they survive. The tasks required of you are varied, however. For instance, you may be asked to navigate an entire stage without touching the ground. These tasks take incredible displays of skill, and truly make Mario feel like a competitive game to an extent based solely off the level of talent one must possess to pull off some of these stimulating achievements.
Also new to the series is the ability to use your Mii in the game. This option is relegated to the extra modes, but it’s still great being able to see your Mii run side-by-side with Mario and company. Moreover, NSMBU also features DLC, which will be released in the future. All of these features complement the traditional style of Mario nicely, and do a nice job of bringing the mustachioed plumber into a new generation of gaming.
While on the topic of fresh changes, it feels like a crowning achievement to finally see Mario in all his HD glory. Considering this is the plumber’s very first venture into high-def gaming, it feels truly special to see a notorious gaming icon displayed in such colorful vivacity. Mario’s universe is one that has always seemed so whimsical and charming thanks to the vibrant aesthetics, but viewing it through the lens of 720p is an experience not found replicable by any other Big N system. That being said, despite how wonderful the graphics and use of color are, I am still disappointed that we didn’t get true, full high definition. For as large a personality as Mario is to Nintendo, and considering this is their largest launch title in all senses of the word, it feels like a wasted opportunity to introduce Mario to the HD world in a seemingly half-hearted way.
Picking up the slack is the audio department, which shines through and through. NSMBU’s soundtrack, while not as extravagant in scope or grandeur as Super Mario Galaxy’s, is nevertheless comprised of charming overtures that once again capture the spirit of the game beautifully. Fanciful tones pollute your ears as you speed through the Acorn Plains and brooding dirges lament sorrowful notes as you push further into one of Bowser’s castles. It’s well-constructed and well-timed– even if some of what you’ll hear has been recycled from previous games– and takes a great experience and makes it all the fuller and more complete.
Regardless of presentation, though, Mario has always been about the aforementioned replayability. Not only does NSMBU provide off-television play, meaning you can take your GamePad to some other room in the house play the entire game without need of a TV, but it introduces some new multiplayer features. Most notable is five-player support. This allows four friends to run through a level with the fifth using the GamePad to either aid or hinder their progress. While I felt seemingly disconnected to a degree from the experience as the person creating pitfalls or granting assistance with the GamePad, it still made for some memorable laughs and the nigh throwing of fisticuffs usually only associated with playing on-the-couch Mario Kart multiplayer.
What’s also so appealing about NSMBU is its use of the Wii U’s newly touted feature, Miiverse. How it works is effortless, yet a great way to build that needed aspect of community. When you finish a stage or perform an impressive feat (such as finishing a level without taking damage), a prompt will appear on the screen. It will then ask you if you’d like to post your accomplishment to the Miiverse. If you choose yes, you can then write a quick blurb about your exploit and post it to the NSMBU Miiverse page that is accessible by anyone. There, or even in-game on when you’re looking at the Overworld map, people will be able to see what deed you performed along with your specialized message. It sounds so trivial, and yet it feels great being able to boast of your efforts in such a uncomplicated, painless way. The Wii U may lack a universal achievements system, but this truly feels just as satisfying, and maybe even more so because it’s not just your friends who will be able to see your progress.
If you’ve noticed, I haven’t had much negative to say about my time spent playing New Super Mario Bros. U. That’s primarily because there’s simply nothing glaringly bad about the title. It may lack innovation at times, and it does have that certain sense of “been-there-done-that”, but with a series this long-running, it’s hard to avoid those trappings. If I had to dock points for one aspect of NSMBU, it’s that. It can feel like, “What’s the purpose of this game’s existence; haven’t I played this a few dozen times before?” But as soon as I’d think this, I’d stumble upon another brilliantly constructed challenge that had me marveling at the fun of it all, and that’s honestly what this game is about, having fun.
All in all, New Super Mario Bros. U is Wii U’s first must-have title, especially if you’re a fan of Mario or platforming games. It’s the culmination of the New Super Mario Bros. sub-series, and perhaps the best 2D Mario title since the SNES era. This is all thanks to how well it strikes a balance between the offering of recognizable mechanics and original ones. It’s also great to finally see Mario enter the HD era, even if he didn’t get the full 1080p treatment. What’s most important here, however, is how charming and right this game feels. The platforming is rock solid, the puzzles are complex yet not infuriatingly difficult, the Challenge Mode is a glorious addition to the tried-and-true formula found in the story mode, and the new features make it very hard to go back to playing any of the other New Super Mario Bros. games. I’m still waiting with bated breath for a rightful sequel to Super Mario Galaxy 2, but in the meantime, I’m very content with playing New Super Mario Bros. U. Whereas the recent 3DS entry felt like a placeholder, this feels complete. So, here we are; another Nintendo console, another successful Mario game.