Well this is unprecedented. Are you telling me that Nintendo went ahead and created a new Mario title to go along with the release of their new console? What?! You’ve got to be kidding! Yep, good ol’ Mario is back as a launch title. Unfortunately this isn’t something like Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario 3D Land that shows off the capabilities of the new system to maximum effect (although we have to assume one of those bad boys is coming). Nope, this is part of Nintendo’s ongoing New Super Mario Bros. series that launched on the DS and helped bring back old school sidescrollers for a new generation. With the in mind, obviously this isn’t a boundary breaking game that redefines the way we view Mario. However, this formula has been keeping gamers giddy since home consoles began and New Super Mario Bros. U is no exception. There are enough tweaks, additions, and graphical facelifts here to justify its existence and while it might not be the most adventurous game in the lineup, this is probably one of the best and most satisfying games in the Wii U’s launch titles.
So, the story. You know the drill. Bowser = evil. Princess Peach = captured. 8 worlds of adventure to follow (plus bonuses). It’s same old same old, but on the plus side that means absolutely nothing will get in the way of gameplay. The “jumping on enemies to kill them” thing still applies. Fire and ice flowers are in effect as well. Unfortunately the game isn’t exactly overwhelming with new suits for Mario to try on and play around with though. You get a flying squirrel suit that allows you to glide around levels like the old Super Mario World cape and you can cling to walls. Admittedly, it’s damn fun to use, just a shame that’s the only addition as new Mario suits/powers are a franchise staple. One other nice addition are the three new baby Yoshis to carry around. You can’t feed them until they grow into big Yoshis this time though. Instead, they each offer a special power. Red babies expand and float, yellows provide light in darkness, and blue babies spit out bubbles that turn enemies into coins and power ups. The new Yoshis are a blast to use and are only available in levels where they might come in handy. So they more than make up for the lack of Mario suits and don’t worry, good old riding-size enemy-eating Yoshis are still kicking around for your enjoyment as well.
This is the first Mario game to appear in HD and it shows. Colors are vibrant, backgrounds are detailed, and levels can be massive in scope. Don’t expect something that will blow your mind with visuals though. With a few exceptions (like the absolutely beautiful level inspired by Van Gogh’s Starry Night) the visual design essentially plasters on the minimum HD upgrade and little else. That’s fine though. It’s not like there’s much that can be done graphically with a 2D Mario game anyways and this does still qualify as the best looking example to date. The map for the game world is inspired by Super Mario World and can be viewed in its entirety at any time, which is nice. The inevitable star coin bonus levels even come in the form or the Star World from that 16-Bit masterpiece which is a nice nostalgic nod for confirmed SNES addicts like myself (and other old school throwbacks like a giant world pop up as well). The main game is about as long as you can expect with a gradually rising difficulty level. The first few worlds can be passed without dying fairly easily for experienced Marioers, while the last world and bonus stages will cause many a fancy Wii U gamepads to be tossed across the room in frustration (be careful with that kiddies). There are some amusing new level designs, but for the most part its just remixes of old classics and frankly that’s exactly what people want. You’ll probably polish it off in about 7 hours or so and then play for that long and or more collecting all of the hidden coins and levels. Without getting into spoilers that could bring about the wrath of Nintendo, I should also mention the final battle with Bowser manages to top the epic finale of New Super Mario Bros Wii and is definitely worth the long sweaty journey to get there.
In addition to the main Story Mode, there are other mini games and bonuses to keep this disc spinning in your Wii U for a while. Coin battles return so that siblings can take out their aggression on each other by flinging their players off of ledges while trying to collect the most coins. There’s also a new challenge mode, which is where more experienced players will take notice. Even though we can always assume some punishing difficulty around World 8, the major complaint about new Mario games from longtime players is that they are just too gosh darn easy. Well folks, you asked for difficulty and Nintendo delivered. Each challenge mode is a unique level requiring players to complete tasks like dodging fireballs or escorting secondary characters through challenges and oh boy can these get tough. It’s a fantastic way to put your Mario skills to the test and an even better way to extend the life of this game once the story mode beaten. These challenges will have you pulling your hair out for quite sometime.
Now at this point you’re probably thinking, “Ok Phil, we get it. You like Mario games. Calm down and tell us why this one is different because of the new system.” Don’t worry, I was getting to that. For the most part this just plays like a normal Mario game (in fact you can choose to simply play the story mode on a Wii controller if you wish). However, there are a couple of bells n’ whistles unique to the Wii U edition that are actually quite amusing. First off, you can play the game on the controller screen instead of the TV if you wish and it plays silky smooth (in fact I sometimes found myself looking at the controller while ignoring the TV before kicking myself and giggling). The main new addition with the Wii U comes into play during multiplayer. Once again you can have up to four characters playing through levels at the same time and it’s just as fun/frustrating as it was on the Wii. However, this time out the player holding the game pad doesn’t control a character, but participates in what I like to call “god mode.” You can draw platforms for characters to jump on, kill enemies, and even alter the level at times. It sounds incredibly simple and it is, but like all good Mario games that simplicity is deceptive. This really opens up a new world of gameplay possibilities. It’s a leveler in four player games, which can often make certain levels impossible to beat. Or if you’re just playing with one Mario and “god,” it’s a perfect way to fly through frustratingly difficult levels, grab those hard-to-reach star coins, and if you’re a jerk like my friend, you could also add another level of difficulty to the game as your buddy tries to impede your path with endless new blocks. This mode offers a fresh twist on a familiar experience that might not be much, but is just different enough to distinguish New Super Mario Bros. U from previous entries in the series and probably makes it the most entertaining entry to date.
To wrap things up, New Super Mario Bros. U expands the legacy of this series about as well as could be expected. The graphics have never been better, the pick-up-and-play accessibility remains, there are new challenges for old veterans, and the game is filled with new powers, enemies, designs, and features to take the series to new places. Sure, it doesn’t exactly push the graphical boundaries of Nintendo’s most powerful system and the general mechanics and gameplay are the same they’ve been since 1985, but the fact that new gamers can still get into that all these years later is a testament to Mario’s universal appeal. This series really should have hit the skids by now, but good ol’ Nintendo keeps coming up with reasons to bring us back. Simply put, if you’re planning on buying a Wii U and don’t pick this title up along with it, you my friend are insane. This is Nintendo’s bread and butter. This is why they are icons of gaming. Recognize. Also, Wii U + New Super Mario Bros U + friends = a party. Just sayin’.