REVIEW: New Super Mario Bros U

Monday, November 26th, 2012

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New Super Mario Bros U Title: New Super Mario Bros U
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Console: Wii U
Release Date: November 18th, 2012
Genre: Platformer
Rating: ESRB E
Official Site

During E3 2012, Nintendo of America showed off the Wii U console in its full glory. After entertaining us for a while with Pikmin 3, Reggie went on to say something to the effect of, “When you launch a new Nintendo console…you’ve gotta have a Mario game!” I could picture the expressions on my peers’ faces as Reggie went on. Some went flat and lost interest very, very quickly. Others, like me, were hopeful—until Reggie showed off the logo for Mario’s first high-definition outing:

New Super Mario Bros U. Collective groan. Collective “BUT YOU’RE JUST ABOUT TO RELEASE NEW SUPER MARIO BROS 2!” And, months later, collective, “THIS GAME IS GOING TO SUCK!” when reviews for New Super Mario Bros 2 reflected “more of the same, but with a new pointless gimmick” Ladies and gentlemen, I remind you: I was there. I watched the Internet; I played through New Super Mario Bros 2 until I completely lost interest in that dry cash grab and moved onto the next big thing—likely Pokemon White 2 (read: another cash grab?) or Code of Princess.

But I disagreed with my fellow editor’s decision to skip New Super Mario Bros U, and I was even skeptical about our own hands-on impressions with the game at E3 at the time. I thought from the trailers, from other folks’ experiences with the game at E3, and from my gut instinct, that this game was Super Mario World HD with a bit of an unfortunate label attached to its concept.

New Super Mario Bros U

I am pleased to report that I was…half right. New Super Mario Bros U (hereafter NSMBU) is a bit of an odd beast to describe. Realistically, to summarize what I’m about to say, it’s the greatest thing to happen to conventional 2D Mario platforming since the DS game first ignited the brand that “destroyed the integrity of Mario” in 2006. It truly does feel inspired by Super Mario World and the great games of Mario’s history. But at the same time, NSMBU is a spiritual successor to the Wii outing that shares a similar name and sense of foreboding—and it has all of that game’s flaws.

I’m going to get the obvious stuff out of the way.

For over twenty-five years, Princess Peach has been kidnapped, and Mario goes off to save her. Super Mario 64 offered a slight deviation from the conventional story insofar as Peach was imprisoned within her own castle. NSMBU does the same thing. Rather than kidnap the princess, Bowser and company decide to fling Mario, Luigi, and the Toad Squad way far away from Peach’s castle (the game makes sure you see how far off in the distance it is when they land) and take it (and her) for himself.

And it’s “New Super Mario Bros Wii 2” for all intents and purposes, so you’re going to see the same overall art style and some reused assets, the same normal Yoshi that really ticks you off when the game forces you to dismount at the end of the level rather than take him with you everywhere, and the same music you and I have both grown sick of hearing, at this point (there’s some variation, but… it’s still the same stuff). Luigi is still not playable in the game’s main story (unless you’re playing multiplayer, or you die one too many times and hit the same ole green Assist Block), and the game still boasts that 1.5 second lag when someone dies in multiplayer that vexes even the most seasoned Mario vets.

Two paragraphs of “more of the same” should be enough. From here on out, folks, it’s all about what makes NSMBU unique. First and foremost, and this is something that should be quite obvious to a majority of you….

It’s on the Wii U.

I feel like I’m channeling one of my favorite game journalists from 1996 who said “It’s Mario in a new dimension!” in regards to Super Mario 64 when I say the following: NSMBU has new definition. Shorthand version of that statement: It’s really, really pretty. Doesn’t matter if it’s the “same old stuff” from the Wii version of the game, the graphics offer a fine sense of detail. This is the most visually impressive Mario outing to date, beating the Galaxy games and anything you could have ever hoped Mario to achieve (until his next Wii U adventure). I knew the names of certain environments were an allusion to Super Mario World, but sometimes I couldn’t help but think Nintendo named some of these spots after candy because they’re eye candy. It’s like chocolate for my senses. This isn’t a joke, and if I sound hyperbolic, it’s completely intentional.

New Super Mario Bros U  New Super Mario Bros U

And the same visuals can be experienced on the Wii U Gamepad. Well, the same everything, really. If you so desire, you can play the game with your Wii Remote, while the Gamepad serves no purpose to you during solo play except to remind you that the same visuals are being projected onto two screens. If you’re really talented you might somehow manage “Boost Mode” on your own.

New Super Mario Bros U

Ooor you could switch to Gamepad controls and treat the game like you’re playing it on a handheld system as your girlfriend watches TV, or you’re expecting such a dullsville game like Mario to lull you to sleep in your bed! I am happy to report that the Gamepad mode for NSMBU is virtually flawless, and whether or not you choose to play your game tethered to your television, or slightly on-the-go… you’ll be experiencing the same exact thing (barring the tiniest of visual discrepancies?). Something disappointing among all this praise: This game isn’t compatible with the Wii U Pro Controller. …Missed opportunity, much?

New Super Mario Bros U

So, what DOES the Gamepad do? Remember how NSMBWii had chaotic multiplayer that could host up to four people? This game hosts five people, and I tried it out, and my close-knit group of friends was cursing each other and the game by the end of our several-level-long romp in the middle of the Layer-Cake Desert. The game supports up to four player characters and one additional person that uses the Gamepad to create platforms for the other person to jump off of.

While this may sound like a completely novel concept on paper, and it might make playing the game with one other person just dandy, having everything go smoothly when four people are on the screen and one individual is creating platforms that can help or hinder players (or enemies!)… the whole idea turns into anarchy really fast.

It also serves as a better means to write messages to post to Miiverse, which the game prompts you to do about as often as Navi says “Hey! Take a break, Link!” in Ocarina of Time 3D. Messages from your Wii U friends and strangers can be seen littered across the entire world map if you so desire, including levels you haven’t reached yet, from players who have accomplished various tasks. Fun concept, useful execution, but my goodness does the game ever beat you over the head. Collect all the star coins in a level? Post about it! Complete a level without getting hurt? Hey, post about it in the form of a rhyme! Did you die a lot? Post a WARNING for other users! Did you beat the level in 20 seconds? Write a letter to Bowser expressing victory!

New Super Mario Bros U

After the game bugged me so many times, I decided to drop subtle hints.

Over. And over. I suppose you get used to it, and it does serve a greater purpose (since some people offer handy advice, and everything is organic), but I assure you this Miiverse posting in NSMBU will become the “Hey! Listen!” of a new generation of Nintendo fans. I will admit though, being able to seamlessly switch between the Internet/Miiverse and the game itself for hints when searching out Star Coins or hidden exits has made for a more streamlined Mario adventure than ever before!

But what’s so different about the game itself?

New Super Mario Bros U

This is a high-quality scan from the game’s instruction manual.

1) The World Map: Behold, ladies and gentlemen, the natural progression of Super Mario World. This world map is absolutely insane. It’s a refreshing departure from the bland “1-1” mechanics of almost every 2D Mario ever. Every area has a name; almost every level has a title associated with it. Beating a castle in the desert world might prompt the game to ask if you want to go to an icy mountain next, or a calm sea. Finding secret exits invokes fascinating cutscenes in which Mario moves from one world to another, rather than just a silly little “secret segment” within the same area like so many NSMB games have done in the past. You might go from the game’s very first world to somewhere way off in the distance by means of a giant rainbow that takes Mario across the entire world map. The game boasts the typical mushroom houses, but it’s much more difficult to obtain the spoils within. And there are enemies and items littered around the world that take strategy and timing to avoid (but not necessarily to defeat). Oh, right. And the world map has…

New Super Mario Bros UNew Super Mario Bros UNew Super Mario Bros U

2) Baby Yoshis: They’re back for the first time since Super Mario World, they’re tiny and chubby and cute, and they made the few girls around me squeal in delight. No, they don’t grow up into a bigger Yoshi you can use later (and I threw a temper-tantrum when I realized this. Moving on…), but yes…the baby Yoshis actually follow you around from level to level, until you die or lose them, with only one exception.

The ones you’ve heard about float like balloons or light up dark places. Baby Yoshis—brought to you by Super Mario Galaxy 2! Okay, so they’re a little different. But they work effectively the same way. Several of these baby Yoshis are found on the world map itself! They follow you from level to level (except castles and ghost houses), because…you know where the food is.

New Super Mario Bros U

You can play as your Mii in Challenge Mode, but nowhere else. Missed opportunity?

3) Challenge Mode (read: Replay Factor!): In an Iwata Asks, there was a reference to some of the game’s testers thinking some levels in Challenge Mode were impossible to beat and were bugged. Nope. It’s all possible. But whether you’re playing through Time Attack, Coin Collection, 1up Rally, or the game’s Special challenges…they’re tough. Maybe not “NSMB2 Nerve Wrack Pack” tough, but…getting the gold medals for each of those courses isn’t going to be easy (even for those of you who can beat The Perfect Run in one sitting without pulling your hair out). I’m nowhere near completing these challenges for myself, but I’ve played a good handful of each type; they’re definitely a worthy addition. I just hope the confirmed DLC for the game features more levels and gameplay options versus added challenge mode content!

4) It’s taken me over 1,500 words to get here, but Level Design or Gameplay!): I’m a pretty big Mario fan, as you may have gathered by the nods to past games in this review. I’ve played them all, even the bad ones. And I know a good “Mario level” when I see one. Tubular from Super Mario World? If you’re young and you haven’t played it—I consider it the Mecca of the SNES era. Go there. Play.

So: The levels from NSMB2 and NSMBWii were fun, but they didn’t have the “magic” of games like Galaxy, Galaxy 2, or even SM64 and the games that came before it. These levels…do have that magic. They’re a blast to play, they’re fun, they’re inventive, they’re difficult…. NSMBU may look like the Wii predecessor to those who don’t live and breathe Mario like I do, but they definitely don’t play like it. The worlds tend to follow the Mario formula insofar as there’s a theme to them, but the levels actually use these themes to their advantage (and ramp up the difficulty where appropriate) like, oh… Super Mario 3.

New Super Mario Bros U  New Super Mario Bros U

I’m not going to give anything else away here, folks. But these are not the levels from the recent mediocre 3DS outing, and they are superior to the Wii outing as well. Despite falling into the trap of the “NSMB” appearance/universe, this game’s design breaks that mold. I promise you that. My $60 is completely justified based on what I played. Goodness knows this game might stick with me for a change, instead of becoming eBay or Gamestop fodder like this year’s August 19th cash grab and NSMBWii before it.

You reading this review means that I’ve beaten the game’s main story. But I can’t move quickly enough (read: I’m not skilled enough) to tell you whether or not collecting every Star Coin or beating every challenge unlocks something worthwhile… yet. But I can honestly say, even without neat bells and whistles and rewards, this game still has staying power because of its levels and environments. It’s as pretty as it is playable. And that’s saying something for a game that bears the “New Super Mario Bros” title like a scarlet letter.

The Verdict:

This isn’t “just another Mario game”. It’s not going to be easily bested by Rayman or Super Meat Boy. This is truly a Mario game worth experiencing, and the re-invention his 2D outings have so desperately needed since they were introduced so long ago. But because it’s still shacked by the things that made NSMBWii so polarized, it’s going to dismiss some of you, even if you’ve read everything I say and take my promises as gospel.

This is the best Mario game in some twenty years. Its world map is a progression of one of the greatest Mario games ever created, its levels are truly unique, its replay value is super high, and…yeah, it’s Mario. But I’ll re-iterate what I said before: I was half right. This isn’t Super Mario World HD. It’s Super Mario World’s natural creativity held back by the same “New Super Mario Bros” weaknesses.

New Super Mario Bros U + New Super Mario Bros U

Creative meets Uninspired

Review Score