On lucky year number 13, Nintendo has finally decided to show a little love to gaming’s favorite sidekick, Luigi. He already got the excellent, long awaited Luigi’s Mansion sequel for the 3DS, and now the lanky, green, overalls proponent has his own game for the Wii U
…well, kind of.New Super Luigi U is an intriguing DLC from the folks at Nintendo. It’s not quite a sequel or an original game, but a remix of New Super Mario Bros. U with redesigned levels, increased difficulty, and floaty physics suited to Mario’s big brother (or is it younger? Was that ever made clear?). It’s definitely a fun experience for old school platforming aficionados that recaptures the controller-flinging difficulty of the genre at its prime. As a full retail game, the title wouldn’t really be worth picking up for anyone who already owns New Super Mario Bros U, but as DLC, it’s a clever direction for Nintendo to go for added content. Essentially a reworking of an already strong game, this is a nice way for players to extend their playtime with the latest Mario disc and a creative way for Nintendo to mine online content out of an established title.
So first off, even though the Mario games aren’t exactly known for complex storytelling and continuity, this sucker takes the series to a strange place. It’s either a fantasy world for Luigi, or alternate dimension in which Mario is dead. All of the cut scenes from New Super Mario Bros. U play out in this version, only with Mario mysteriously absent (only his hat remains in a few scenes). It’s as if Mario’s been wiped from existence and no one ever bothered to inquire what happened. On top of that, there are self-portraits of Luigi hidden in every single level (and you’ll be playing every level from the original game again, just with a design facelift). I’m sure it’s all just an in-joke from Nintendo presenting the game that would happen if Luigi took over the directing duties. But without any in-game or out of game explanation for its existence, this adds an undeniably strange flavor to the proceedings, no matter how amusing it might be.
The game itself is identical (it is DLC after all), yet you’d be forgiven for not noticing if you didn’t memorize Mario U after endless replay seeking that coveted 100% completion. Start a level and you’ll get that familiar, terrifying musical announcement that you only have 100 seconds left to race to the flag. It’s not a mistake, that’s the design. Now all of the levels are about half the length that they were last time, so the new time limit isn’t that much of a concern. However, anyone who has dabbled with Mario in the past will receive a familiar wave of panic after hearing those musical tones as a sort of Pavlov-ian reaction. The first instinct is to sprint through the level, and that’s not an incorrect one to have. It’s just that Luigi’s unique physics make that a little tricky. You see, Luigi is the awkward brother in the Mario family. His skittishness comes out through shuffling feet that prevent easy landings. Luigi’s jumps get some extra air from that tendency, but every landing feels like you’re on ice. That’s been how this little guy has worked for a while, and Nintendo have redesigned this title around it. This can be tricky at first, but makes for a more urgent and unique experience. You’re constantly rushing through levels while trying to compensate of longer jumps and awkward landings. That might sound irritating, but it’s not. It’s just different and quite amusing to play out. You’ll also occasionally find an in game item that gives Luigi Mario’s physics, which is like seeing Luigi possessed by his brother, and just like all those hidden portraits, the experience can be a little creepy for longtime Nintendoites (in a fun way).
Character design, the world map, and boss structure, and story are all identical to New Super Mario Bros. U. The difference is all in the feel. The level design is adjusted to Luigi’s unique abilities. You’ll race through shorter levels with sweaty palms thanks to Luigi’s jittery style and find yourself dying constantly along the way. However, this is all part of the grand design and part of the fun once you adjust. Despite all of the undeniable similarities, the experience is different and unique. It’s kind of like a Luigi sprint to Mario’s marathon, and once you change your play style accordingly, the game proves is just as fun, addictive, and immersive as the last one. All of the individual levels have been altered just enough to avoid feeling repetitive, and the difficulty level is a nice mix of speedy ease and crushingly difficult specificity in platforming. Had this only been released as a new game in-box, it might have felt like a bit of a cash grab, but as a DLC edition, it’s rather brilliant. New Super Luigi U manages to make a recently released game feel completely different and will essentially double your playtime on the disc for a quick $20. For a company that essentially avoided DLC last generation, the game feels like Nintendo announcing that they are ready to make that a crucial part of the experience on the new system and if they keep the quality as consistently high as it is here, Nintendo gamers should welcome the Japanese juggernaut’s new journey into the digital world. Now if only they could start making that touch screen feel like a necessity, they’d really be in business.