Not even six months have passed, and Nintendo is already release yet another New Super Mario Bros. title to the world. I’m not sure about you, but after New Super Mario Bros. 2 earlier this year I was ready to give the classic series a little bit of a break (at least, the 2D iterations). There was nothing wrong with the game conceptually, but it did lack that spark of joy most players feel when playing a classic Mario game. With the release of New Super Mario Bros. U – can Nintendo provide that spark with their new console? After all, it’s got all the right ingredients – it’s on a new platform, it’s on a new controller, there’s online possibilities and high definition. Mario’s got something for us this time around right? You bet.
Once you move past the initial and always inconsequential story in New Super Mario Bros U you’re dropped into the wonderful and always gorgeous Mushroom Kingdom. Immediately you’re dropped into the world map, something we haven’t seen in this form since Super Mario World. Both levels and worlds have names this time around, with each level usually having a specific identity or character/enemy being centred on it. IT’s a nice touch that’s been sorely missing from previous Mario games. Following your first couple of worlds, players can take multiple paths and branches to decide wherever they want to go. Though the choice between the Frosted Glaciers or Sparkling Waters is like choosing which finger you want to cut off first.
The world map is surprisingly big and offers many different worlds, each one and the levels within them have their own style and atmosphere, the music tracks are thematically matched to the world and the games backdrops are just stunning. It’s the first time in a ‘New’ Super Mario Bros title that I’ll be able to walk away and remember a level or world some months later. All of the previous games just blur into one for me, nothing from them stands out.
While the levels are perfectly built from an artistic standpoint, Nintendo’s crafting skills should not go unnoticed. The level design in New Super Mario Bros. U is nothing short of amazing, and will test even the most seasoned of platforming fanatics. It’s also clear that Nintendo have built these levels with all kinds of gameplay setups in mind – they work no matter how many people are playing and no matter what mode the player chooses. It’s also astounding how many secret areas and paths are hidden within the levels themselves. Between finding the secret exits and the (now standard) Star Coins, you’re going to have a hell of a time finding everything.
In the past, Nintendo have stocked these “New” Super Mario Bros. games with a whole wad of new power-ups and suits in an attempt to keep things fresh. Surprisingly, the number of new things here has been kept to a minimum. The Super Acorn allows players to glide and the ability to grip onto the side of walls (for a short amount of time). This is the only new power-up in New Super Mario Bros. U. as you’d expect – the Ice Flower, Penguin Suit and Mini Mushroom all return here but don’t play a huge part in the game outside of the levels they predominately feature in. The Baby Yoshi are back now too, and their different singing abilities make a return. We’ll let you discover their tricks but they’re just so adorable and cute.
Given its platform, the real new features of New Super Mario Bros. U comes from the use of the GamePad and the spread of new game modes available to play. Thankfully, players can dive in using only the GamePad but also use their older Wii Remotes if they wish as well. In all single player modes the game is entirely screen agnostic. That means whatever you see on the TV you’ll see directly on GamePad. Play the game in your bed on the small screen, sit next to your family and play the game while they watch a movie – it works just as advertised. Nintendo’s even made it so there’s no checkbox to click to enable it. This is something that third parties have yet to come to a proper, unified solution for.
In multiplayer though the GamePad takes more of backseat role with everyone playing the main game with Wii Remotes horizontally just as if it was on the Wii. Someone can pick up the GamePad at any point and assist everyone in what they’re calling ‘Boost Mode’. At a basic level this will allow GamePad players to save and assist players in their platforming, however, it could be a great way to assist people in setting speed runs if there’s just the two of them. Boost Mode players don’t have to assist, they could be evil and block players and when there’s four players playing someone is going to get hurt.
In the past the New series of Mario titles have been labelled easy, in some ways this was perhaps true. The real difficulty often was hidden or included in post-game content, this time around there feels like there’s a general difficulty increase in general. That or I’m getting worse at Mario titles. The helpful Luigi walkthroughs are still there for the players who are finding a particular level or section hard but there’s no uber-Mario white raccoon this time around to help you through difficult moments. The mid-level boss battles remain as easy as ever however, which is something Nintendo need to look at.
Outside of the standard single player and multiplayer platforming fun there is a bunch of separate Challenge modes. Some of these are time attacks of levels from the game, coin collection, 1-up challenges and fireball dodging. These are great side diversions to the game and take the Mario ‘platform’ and use it for other mini games. We can probably expect Nintendo to add more and more of these as time goes on both paid and for free such as they already have in New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS.
One of the most exciting things about New Super Mario Bros U is the jump to high definition. Everything is as smooth and clean as you would expect it to be given the higher resolution. On the surface or from a distance though you might not be able to appreciate the changes here in the HD world Nintendo has made with this game. Sure Mario looks like Mario, the Koopa look like Koopa but the extra resolution has given Nintendo’s artists a whole new canvas to paint on with regards environments. It’s not only the world map that looks terrific but it’s the levels with detailed and depth filled backgrounds, the level with the amazing aurora in the night sky, the poison level with stained warp pipes and the stunning vistas that really hammer home how much high definition has brought to the game’s presentation. The impressionist art style on one level, the best. These visuals unfortunately don’t translate very well to the GamePad, with the lower resolution and compression failing to meet the total fidelity you’d get from a high definition TV. In some instances, aliasing (jagged edges) even appeared.
The game’s soundtrack doesn’t deviate too much from what we’ve come to expect from the New Super Mario Bros. series, the whole “wah-wah” dancing enemies beats/tunes are still there. You’ll either love it or hate it but your opinion will definitely not change.
New Super Mario Bros. U isn’t the game changing Mario launch title that Super Mario 64 was, it’s almost going to be impossible to ever replicate that experience. What the game is, however, is the best 2D Mario platformer in some time. New Super Mario Bros 2 felt like a re-tread of a Mario game with a fun coin gimmick thrown in and if this were to continue with New Super Mario Bros. U, the brand would be effectively tarnished. We can only make one recommendation at this point. Cast aside your aversion and apprehension to the franchise and enjoy the subtle additions to the game, the superior level design and high definition graphics that New Super Mario Bros. U brings to the table. It’s a fantastic package that any Wii U owner cannot be without.