Game: New Super Mario Bros. U
Developer: Nintendo EAD
Available on: Nintendo Wii U Only
The last time that a Nintendo console launched with a truly great, memorable Super Mario game, was the N64. Suck it up Mario fans, because in your heart, you know it’s true. There have been some absolutely scintillating Mario games since then though, with Mario Galaxy and Super Mario 3D Land reminding us all that the little plumber with a big heart still has the power to charm us silly while also keeping us informed that when it comes to platform games and the level design within them, Nintendo are the absolute masters.
While New Super Mario Bros. U – referred to as NSMBU from here on – doesn’t quite hit the heights of either of those two games, it’s still an absolute must purchase for anyone thinking of grabbing a Wii U. So let’s strap on our big red boots and save that princess, again.
GRAPHICS: Mario in HD, there, I’ve said it. Get past the excitement of finally seeing a Mario game in HD and you’ll see that, yet again, Nintendo have created an astonishingly pretty game. The reason you never see people complaining about the lack of HD visuals for Mario is because the games always look so good anyway. Take the most recent Wii title (New Super Mario Bros. Wii), it looks great regardless of resolution, so with that in mind, try to imagine just how shiny NSMBU looks; then add a few notches to that thought, because that’s how good it really looks. If you so fancy, you can play the entirety of the single player game on the Wii U Gamepad, too. While the Gamepad isn’t quite high definition, the reduced screen size means that it still looks absolutely gorgeous.
As you’d expect, the level design is top notch, starting out easy and progressing through the traditional world-styles (water, ice, underground caves) there’s a distinct impression that, setting wise, you’ve seen it a hundred times before, but the levels are actually a real return to form, after a rather stale feeling New Super Mario Bros. 2 for 3DS.
SOUND: Nintendo definitely need to inject some new audio into their sound banks, because as much as we’ve all grown to love the soundbites that Mario and Co. spit out from time to time, there’s is very little new audio on offer in NSMBU. The music itself is mostly recycled too, with a few new twists on classic tunes. The question is, if there’s any real way they could break from tradition when you go underground for the first time, for example, as the player almost expects to hear that same tune that feeds the feeling of nostalgia, reminding us of that very first time they heard it.
GAMEPLAY: The closest comparison to make for NSMBU, would be to Super Mario Bros. 3, for the most part. A traditional over-world map with a few power-ups like the flame and ice flowers, along with the new acorn, mean that Mario really has rather gone back to his roots in terms of gameplay. The new acorn power allows you to glide with your squirrel suit, then using the trigger buttons (or shaking the Wiimote) you can gain a quick upward gust.
Just like Super Mario Bros. 3, you’ll encounter enemies on the world map at times, the best being Nabbit, a rabbit who has stolen goodies from a Toad house, whom you’ll get the chance to chase down in order to win a prize, which is usually a power-up you can use from the map, so (for example) you can start a level invincible. Another creature you’ll find on the world map is a baby Yoshi. Each have different powers depending on their colours, but you can carry them through entire levels, feeding them. It doesn’t make up for the lack of Yoshi himself though, as he only appears fleetingly on select levels. But the actual level design reminded me of the third Super Mario title, too. Airships, Bowser’s children; they are all here and look and feel fantastic. Hell, during one session of play I completely lost myself to such a degree that, suddenly, three hours had passed. I don’t know about you, but it’s been a while since I could have said that about a Mario home-console title. The world map makes you feel like you’re actually progressing through the game, and not just an arbitrary set of goals, which yet again harks back to the older NES and SNES Mario titles.
The single player game allows for up to 5 people to play together at once. It has a sort of drop in, drop out ideal to it, with four players using Wiimotes and the fifth player using the Gamepad in boost mode. This mode allows a player to interact with game by placing up to four blocks on the screen at any given time, to aid the players on screen, or hinder enemies too. If you and a friend get together, this block-placing skill can make things really easy, it’s co-op play at its finest. The trouble is that you can only play NSMBU with the Gamepad or Wiimotes, the new Pro Controller is not supported, at all. It’s an unforgivable oversight, especially given how few buttons the game uses, and that the Pro Controller is ostensibly a smaller, non-touch screen version of the Gamepad. The player using the Gamepad also has to relinquish control to the Wiimote users, and if he or she wants to go back to single player, they have to use a Wiimote to switch back to that mode.
The multiplayer is thrilling and chaotic though, but the requirement for four Wii remotes means that a lot of people probably won’t get to experience the full 5 player mode. It’s a guaranteed way to cause an argument; switch on NSMBU and play with 2-3 people, job done. But there’s more, as Nintendo have included some additional modes, too. Boost Rush is a single player or multiplayer mode which has the player run along the levels collecting coins, whilst a gust of wind is constantly blowing. As you collect more coins, the wind (and thus the game itself) gets faster and faster, until you end up making a mistake and dying. It’s a kind of score attack that’s a lot of fun, and somehow manages to make the multiplayer even more chaotic, when such a thing seemed impossible.
The challenge mode is a real star here, and makes the lack of a system wide achievement system even more confusing. Here, you’ve got a mode that sets specific challenges based on different skill sets, that is both ridiculously fun, and a real test of skill. Maybe you’ll have to get a gold medal in a time trial, or perhaps you have to survive by bouncing on a single block that’s surrounded by spikes, whilst enemies pelt you with fire balls. The 1-Up rally gets the player doing the thing you’ve seen on YouTube, where skilled players repeatedly kill enemies without touching the ground, grabbing multiple extra lifes. It’s addictive and compelling, especially when you select your Mii and throw a Mario hat on him for the challenges.
LONGEVITY: You can go through the single player in about 6 hours, depending on your skill level, but it doesn’t really get very difficult until quite close to the end, but when it does get hard, well, there’s some seriously tricky levels here. There are branching path choices which means you can extend the single player by going back and playing the levels you missed at any time. As with all recent Mario games, there are three large coins to collect on every level, and grabbing all of those is no easy task, but is worth it for what you’ll unlock, which I won’t spoil here. Boost mode is a great addition for gamers with young children, as it means the adult can take themselves out of the argument and actually help the players by building blocks, making it easier. You won’t be putting NSMBU down any time soon, it’ll hook you in and the challenges will keep you coming back for more, because some of them are fiendish.
VERDICT: New Super Mario Bros. U isn’t a revolution for the series, but it does a good job of showcasing some of the Wii U’s features. The fact you can just switch off the TV and continue playing on the Gamepad means you never have to stop playing, and with level design this good, you won’t want to; this is the refreshing palate cleanser that Mario fans needed, after the lacklustre recent 3DS release.
Harking back to the very best of Mario titles, creating that addiction, that need to progress, this is a wonderful game. Even with the lack of Pro Controller support, it’s impossible not to fall completely and utterly in love with Mario all over again. If you’re grabbing a Wii U soon, then you should also grab New Super Mario Bros. U. But then, you already knew that.