I have to apologize for reviewing an older game, but I’d rather get a review out there than forget about it. The New Super Mario Bros. U (“NSMBU”) is the latest in the growing NSMB franchise, which started back on the Nintendo DS. The series is a throwback relying on the retro gaming movement, and brings the Mario series back to its 2D platforming roots. At this point, there has been one NSMB title for every Nintendo system that has been released since the first one, which is, apparently, the plan, so I wouldn’t hold out hope of another on the Wii U. At the same time, the Wii U and 3DS versions were released very close to one another, which was led to a lot of complaints about Nintendo releasing the same game over and over again, especially as the NSMB series isn’t big on innovation. NSMB2 on the 3DS was a fairly large disappointment, adding absolutely nothing to the genre, while promising that it’d be innovative due to its squandered coin chasing focus. I am happy to say that NSMBU doesn’t falter in the same major ways as NSMB2. It was a low bar to overcome, but at very least we know that the series isn’t in a downwards spiral.
|It all looks like fun now, but co-op in this game ends friendships.
The gameplay of NSMBU is exactly what you’d expect from any 2D Mario platformer. You’ll be travelling from left to right, stomping on goombas and koopa troopas on your way to a flag at the end. Vestiges of an older style of arcade gaming, which no Mario, not even the first used well, still exist such as the completely pointless score counter at the top of the screen, as well as the limitation on lives. It isn’t hard to find the game dated when most of the game’s core mechanics are built around the chase for lives, when a capable gamer should have 99 by the end of the third world, and a less capable gamer shouldn’t be harassed by a system that was designed to get people to put more quarters in an arcade machine. The core Mario experience is the same as it always was and there’s a reason that, after all these years, it’s still the model which all 2D platformers base their gameplay on. That all being said, the NSMB series is a throwback, and it would be unfair to judge a game, which was designed for the retro audience, harshly because it stuck too closely to its roots. I will say that some of the level design in this game is good, even really good, which is a change from the usual mess of level design found in the NSMB series. There are some updated mechanics, but nothing new for the series, such as the hunt for three star coins per level, and co-op. For some reason, which is entirely beyond my grasp, Nintendo decided to once again go with Mario, Luigi, Toad and Toad, instead of bringing in a fourth unique character from Mario’s huge history.
|Really? There’s nobody else? You go Karting with dozens of people a week and you pick another Toad?
There is some new to be found in this latest rendition of The New Super Mario Bros, however. The biggest addition to the core gameplay is a new powerup for Mario: the squirrel suit. I’m going to be honest, if I were to tell you the worst powerups in Mario history it wouldn’t be the frog suit, it would be: The propeller suit, the ice flower, the gold flower, the box hat, the small mushroom, the giant mushroom, and the penguin suit. In other words, every powerup that has ever been introduced in the NSMB franchise. I’m happy to say that the squirrel suit doesn’t follow suit. It is, perhaps, the best powerup I’ve seen in a Mario game since someone thought that a plumber should embody a mythical animal with giant testicles (Tanooki suit). The gliding mechanics are fun, as is the ability to stay in the air the entire level if you have the skill for it. The other major new in-game powerup, isn’t really a powerup. You can occasionally find a baby Yoshi on the overworld, which will let you run though a level holding them. Each of them have special powers ranging from shooting bubbles at enemies to being able to inflate like a balloon to carry you. Truthfully they aren’t implemented well and you’ll barely ever use them.
|Go home, Yoshi. You’re drunk.
The biggest new addition to the game is the challenge mode. This mode lets you pick a series of challenges to accomplish, which usually amount to: speed runs, don’t pick up the coins in a level, pick up all of the coins, bouncing on enemies for 1ups, avoiding enemy attacks, among various others. Some of these challenges, like speed runs, have become industry standard and, at this point, it’s a strike against you to not include it, rather than a positive that it’s there. However, other challenges are unique and they’re all fun to play through. The main game is probably the hardest of all of the NSMB series, but it still shouldn’t be much against a person who grew up with Mario. However, the challenges provide a much more satisfying difficulty for the advanced gamer. It is unfortunate that getting gold medals on challenge mode levels doesn’t unlock anything. You’d think by now, Nintendo would understand that you should get rewards for completing large challenges, but instead, you’ll have to live with that sense of self-satisfaction.
|Murdering things for lives you don’t need has never been more fun!
The Wii U is new hardware, so the obvious question is how does the fact that the game is on the Wii U benefit it? That answer is that it definitely improves the experience, but mostly in small inconsequential ways. The gamepad has been integrated for two primary purposes. Firstly, if playing co-op, a player can take control of the gamepad and set up platforms for their friends. This isn’t bad, but it’s also considerably less fun than actually playing the game. The other integration is that the game can be played entirely on the gamepad, meaning you can be playing it while the television is occupied by less Mario pursuits. The Wii U also tries to integrate the Miiverse as much as possible and you’ll be able to leave notes if you do well in a level like never get hit, or get all of the star coins. Notes will be displayed all over the place on your gamepad, but you’ll quickly find that most of them are complaining about the difficulty (See, it’s not that easy), or telling Bowser to “suk it”. The last thing the Wii U brings to the table is the most obvious: graphics. NSMBU is the first HD Mario game, and, being so, it is also the prettiest Mario game from a hardware perspective. It also doesn’t hurt that the developers tried a lot more with the backgrounds in this one, and some of them are quite attractive.
|In reality, there’s a lot more complaining and veiled swears.
The New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t really change the game. All of the shortcomings of the series are still around in plain view. Star coins are still a pretty lame collection mechanic; the music is abysmal, which is a shame considering the library of music they could be using; despite being in HD, it’s graphically tame; the premise is still as thin as ever; the bosses are the same you’ve been fighting since the NES, and so on. However, to harp on the weaknesses of the series and not acknowledge the positives of this game would be an injustice. NSMBU is easily the best game in the NSMB series. The level design is above average in the industry, and the challenge mode breathes some seriously needed life into the series. Is it a platformer that we’ll turn and point to, labelling it as one of the best in the industry? No. However, it’s a lot of fun, and I would thoroughly recommend it to anyone who owns the Wii U.
– Challenge mode adds a ton of content
– The squirrel suit is tons of fun
– It actually looks good
– There is some good level design in here
– Doesn’t fix most of the problems found in the rest of the series
– Still can’t shake that stale feeling