For the first time since the Nintendo 64, a brand new Mario game is releasing on launch day alongside a Nintendo console (I don’t consider Super Mario 64 DS as new, so the Nintendo DS doesn’t count). New Super Mario Bros. U struck me as the kind of launch title Nintendo needed to sell the system, as Luigi’s Mansion couldn’t make a convincing case for the Gamecube, and there seems to be a lot of confusion among casual gamers in distinguishing between the Wii and the Wii U. Quite a number of times, in fact, I have heard it described by people as simply a peripheral for the current Wii. And while Nintendo Land makes a strong case for what the new console can do, it’s not nearly as great of a game as Wii Sports, nor does it have the same kind of appeal.
Which begs the question, is New Super Mario Bros. U enough to sell people on the Wii U? Only if you were already a Mario fan.
New Super Mario Bros. U begins as they all do, with Princess Peach getting scooped up by Bowser and the nefarious Koopa Kids, while Mario, Luigi, and the Toads are swatted away effortlessly. Upon landing, they realize that Bowser’s airship not only guards Peach’s castle that he has now taken residence in, but it is covered in a thick whirlwind of purple smoke. Once again, it’s up to Mario and friends to save the kingdom and rescue the princess.
While the plot doesn’t even pretend to be different this time around, there are a number of additional modes that have been added alongside the main story mode. Challenge mode has several sub-categories of various challenges you can try to complete in the stages provided. Time Attack has you attempting a speed run through each course. Coin Collection has you not only trying to navigate to the end of the course, but collecting every coin you find on the way as well. 1-Up Rally is just as it sounds: get as many 1-Ups as you can, usually by hopping on the heads of foes. Special is where all the miscellaneous stuff goes; things like dodging fireballs or gliding in flying squirrel form are found here. Finally, there are Boost challenges, that require you to use the Gamepad to navigate the course by putting blocks in place with the touchpad.
Boost Rush mode is another form of speed rush type game, except that the screen automatically scrolls behind you and collecting coins increases the speed. Taking damage or losing a life slows this down, so you have to avoid damage and net as many coins as you can to get the best time. Finally, Coin Battle returns as a competitive multiplayer mode, tasking everyone with netting as many coins as they can.
Story/Modes Rating: Above Average
There’s no other way to say it: New Super Mario Bros. U looks amazing in HD. While most Nintendo franchises have never gone for photorealism, the kind of sprite work demonstrated by Mario and friends running and jumping through each stage is exactly what fans had been hoping to get out of its predecessor, New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Perhaps even more than that, despite being a 2D game, the backgrounds look phenomenal. Many of the locales that you visit have many layers to them, and it’s natural looking enough that Mario could just turn away from the screen and dash endlessly into the backdrop. I look forward to more titles, Mario or otherwise, investing the same amount of time into such details.
Graphics Rating: Incredible
Many of the remixed tracks that have become commonplace in games like New Super Mario Bros. 2 show up again here, though fortunately, after more than two decades of hearing them, they haven’t gotten old. This game brings with it some new music as well, but like the other games in the series, they suffer from being eclipsed by the more familiar songs. This isn’t to say any of it is bad; it’s all quite good, just not nearly as memorable.
Of course, Charles Martinet reprises his role as a number of the characters, including the main star of the show, Mario. Other characters similarly sound as they had in prior games, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they just re-used the sound bites for this game. There is no consistent dialogue in Mario titles, so many familiar quips such as â€œIt’s-a-me, Mario!â€ sound no different than they always have. Not bad, mind you. Just the same.
Sound Rating: Great
You can play New Super Mario Bros. U with the Gamepad or a standard Wii remote turned sideways. In fact, four player games require the use of the four remotes. Regardless of your setup, things control similarly. You can use the joystick or directional pad to move and a button to jump. Another button is reserved for dashing when held down or using any of the special abilities granted by power-ups, as well as picking up objects. Hitting one of the R buttons or shaking the Wii remote will cause the character to spin jump. There are numerous other abilities activated by hitting buttons at just the right time, such as triple jumps, ground pounds, and wall jumps. Despite the limited amount of buttons required in the control scheme, Mario’s moveset remains versatile and one of the reasons he remains the head of a relevant franchise.
Mario and friends will run across various power-ups along their way, many of which return from previous entries, such as mushrooms, fire flowers, ice flowers, and stars. New this time around is the Flying Squirrel ability that lets you glide in the air momentarily as well as latch onto walls you land on. I was a bit disappointed that not only was this ability not as useful as other former abilities, but that there wasn’t more of them. Power-ups that you earn from Toad houses and other encounters can be stored for future use, though your item space is far more limited this time around, leaving room for only ten items.
Yoshi makes his return as a support character, allowing players to ride him and eat enemies so long as they don’t get hit. There are also baby Yoshi’s now that grant abilities based on their color, though only when being carried. Magenta ones will inflate like a balloon, allowing you to cross large gaps, blue ones blow bubbles, and yellow ones will light up dark areas. Unlike the rideable green Yoshi’s though, the baby Yoshi’s can be brought with you to nearly any stage, granting advantages that you wouldn’t normally have on those levels.
The world map, rather than being divided into separate worlds as it was in previous NSMB games, behaves much more like Super Mario World this time around. It’s one gigantic map, with lots of hidden shortcuts and alternate routes. This allows players to explore each individual level if they so choose, or they can skip worlds entirely if they’d rather save them for a later time.
New in this version is the ability to have a fifth player create blocks for the other players to step on, called Boost Mode. Anywhere that is touched on the touchscreen, a block will appear that will disappear after a player has stepped on it or if a certain amount of time has passed. The player can also touch enemies and stun them momentarily, much like what was done with the star shards in the Super Mario Galaxy titles. Of course, someone playing on their own can take advantage of this feature in some of the modes that require Boost Mode to be utilized, though it is tricky to focus on doing that while platforming simultaneously.
Control/Gameplay Rating: Classic
New Super Mario Bros. U is a much meatier game this time around, and not just in regards to the story mode. There are a ton of hidden stages to find and unlock, not to mention that each level has three giant coins that must be collected. Nabbing them all gives you access to the levels in Superstar Road, which are more challenging than the standard stages.
While Coin Battle still doesn’t particularly interest me as a mode, the other two, Challenge and Boost Rush, are most certainly worthwhile time sinks. Each stage in those modes awards gold, silver, and bronze awards for meeting particular thresholds in each stage, and even though Nintendo still doesn’t have a standardized achievement system in place, these are worth revisiting to see if you can perfect them all. They can even be played multiplayer.
Replayability Rating: Great
While still not as difficult as Mario titles in the 80′s and 90′s, New Super Mario Bros. U will still give you a run for your money. Especially since having more players doesn’t necessarily make the game easier. In fact, it may make it harder, since you may accidentally damage one another or jump on each others’ heads. Still, concessions are made to make the game more approachable to casual players of platformers, and the infamous Super Guide returns in order to get you through a level any time you die too much. Between that and the fact that the game throws handfuls of 1-ups at you at every turn, the game manages to maintain that fine line between catering to the mainstream and challenging the hardcore.
Balance Rating: Great
I know I’ve made this joke before, but there isn’t much that’s â€œnewâ€ in New Super Mario Bros. U. Still, the game has polished the core gameplay far more than previous entries have, and the addition of Boost Mode makes use of the Wii U Gamepad in a way that no other platformer has yet to do. I would’ve liked to see more abilities as well as perhaps a new villain for once, but for all of the reused mechanics, the game is as fun to play as it always was.
Originality Rating: Mediocre
While I haven’t played as many titles on the system as Alex has, this is easily my favorite one, and probably the sole reason I keep turning on the Wii U right now. Regardless if you’re playing alone or with friends, the gameplay remains fun, the level design is top notch, and there is a ton to see and do. All of the familiar Mario magic is there, and if you are a fan of the franchise, you’ll likely feel the same. Keep in mind, you may find yourself tethered to a wall outlet more than you like on account of the Gamepad’s limited battery life, though if you have Wii remotes in the house, you can switch to one of those in game and continue playing (assuming you weren’t using the Gamepad without the TV, of course).
Addictiveness Rating: Unparalleled
While Nintendo Land was poised to show Wii U owners what kinds of new things they can experience with the console, New Super Mario Bros. U is there to remind them of why they buy Nintendo systems in the first place. Mario is one of Nintendo’s biggest franchises next to Pokemon, and as such, is the one most likely to move units for them. It doesn’t hurt that those who grew up with Nintendo systems are drawn to it, it’s easy enough for anybody to learn, and is a title designed to allow families to play together. Of all the games that can be considered a system seller for the Wii U, at least until other things come along, this is it.
Appeal Rating: Unparalleled
If you remember from some of the earliest videos shown off about this game, it demonstrated how it can be played using Mii characters. While they can’t be used in the story mode, this remains true. Any of the extra modes will allow the player to pick any character, including their Mii, and allow them to choose whether or not they wear the hat with it. This is entirely a cosmetic choice, but it’s neat that you can let your creations run wild in the Mario universe.
It’s also worth a mention that New Super Mario Bros. U still lacks any sort of online multiplayer. Granted, this is likely a feature I never would have used anyway on account of the number of trolls gameplay of this type would bring. Still, if you were looking forward to online play with your friends, you’ll have to find a different game as this one is local only.
This isn’t to say the game is entirely without online functionality. It directly interfaces with Miiverse and upon performing specific tasks in game, such as making it through a stage without taking damage, it will ask you to create a post. It can be anything from tips for other players trying to make their way through the stage to cute pictures bragging of your success. These will then show up at random to other players, giving it a kind of Demon’s/Dark Souls feel in the way of information sharing.
Miscellaneous Rating: Great
Story/Modes: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Unparalleled
Final Score: Great Game!
Short Attention Span Summary
While New Super Mario Bros. U still doesn’t revolutionize the platformer genre or even this particular franchise, the return of a more cohesive world and the addition of a fifth player via Boost Mode is a step in the right direction. Further, the game succeeds in being one of the best looking titles in the franchise, bringing with it some well detailed environments and impressive looking sprites. As before, the game can be played with up to four players, with a fifth using the Gamepad to provide platforms for the others, and the addition of the new Challenge and Boost Rush modes give everyone much more to do than prior Mario titles. If you’re a fan of platformers or Mario in general, no Wii U library should be without it. If Nintendo first party releases maintain the same level of quality as this one, then I can’t wait for Pikmin 3.