Like some folks, I was a bit disappointed in Nintendo’s efforts with New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS. It’s lack of any real difficulty kept it from being a standout 2D Mario adventure, and while there was some decent level design, and an interesting hook behind it with the whole coin collecting extravaganza, it’s the first, core Mario title that I can remember feeling a little let down by. It was still fun, sure, but not quite what we’ve come to expect from Nintendo and their mascot.
So I’m happy to say that I think New Super Mario Bros. U on the Wii U manages to turn that around quite a bit. It’s not a flawless 2D platformer, after all, there’s still some reason Nintendo keeps recycling that less than stellar soundtrack, but overall this is definitely a step up from NSMB2, and might be the best of the “New” series style of games so far.
Most of the elements you’d expect to see in a 2D Mario game are still in place here. Bowser is up to no good, the Princess is in trouble, and it’s up to Mario, Luigi, and two Toads to save the Mushroom Kingdom. There’s little emphasis on story or set-up outside of a humorous opening cinematic, and once that’s out of the way you’re ready to delve into the eight different worlds on display in New Super Mario Bros. U.
As Mario, or one of the other three characters if you’re playing through local co-op, you’ll leap, smash, and stomp your way through a variety of stages themed around familiar settings for the series. Mainstays like desert worlds, poison lakes, giant settings, and underwater lairs are all present here, but with enough design changes to stand out from what has come before. Take the Soda Jungle setting for instance, which midway through turns into a haunted experience filled with Boo’s and wonderfully painted backgrounds that add to the oppressive and dangerous nature of the world around you. There’s some fun departures scattered about the eight different worlds, and while it might seem a bit same-y at first glance, playing through the levels reveals a number of new elements.
There’s still an element of ease present in New Super Mario Bros. U, after all, extra lives are still in abundance. But at about the midway point you’ll find that you start to burn through that high life count a little more often, as the challenge manages to ratchet up in a way that the “New” series hasn’t really seen before. Even more so than New Super Mario Bros. Wii, which for me was sort of the landmark, challenging game in the series up to this point. Of course, this becomes even more pronounced if you’re at all into chasing down the three hidden star coins in each stage, and seeking out hidden exits that’ll lead to new stages (and occasionally new worlds).
Worth mentioning as well, New Super Mario Bros. U seems to take a whole lot of influence from Super Mario World on the SNES. There are a handful of enemies clearly pulled from that universe, along with an overworld, connected map that’s very reminiscent of SMW. There’s also some neat elements present in that overworld map, including different points where you’re able to actually choose the next world to visit, as opposed to being forced along a particular path. There are even a couple points that pretty much force you to look for alternate exits in worlds in order to advance, requiring just a tad more effort than you’ll typically find in a modern 2D Mario game.
For new elements there’s not a lot else introduced here, outside of one new suit called the Squirrel Suit, and the addition of Baby Yoshi. The Squirrel Suit takes familiar elements found in the cape in SMW, the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario Bros. 3, and the Propeller Suit of New Super Mario Bros. Wii, allowing some limited flight but without feeling grossly overpowered. You can’t simply fly high above a stage and complete it, but are limited to one boosted mid-air jump and the ability to flutter down slowly to safety. There’s an added element here that allows you to grip to walls, which can assist you a bit in reaching difficult spots and star coin locations, but as far as flight power-ups go, this is certainly the most balanced one we’ve seen.
However, if you’re interested in something new from your 2D Mario experience, you’ll need to look no further than the new Challenge and Boost Rush modes found in New Super Mario Bros. U. Challenge mode provides a series of themed challenges, like Time Attack which gives you three medal goal times to clear in either truncated or altered versions of single player stages. There’s other challenges to tackle as well, including ones involving the Squirrel Suit which task you with never touching the ground before hitting the end of level flag, or an interesting 1-Up themed event that has you bouncing off enemies in an effort to score as many extra lives as possible before hitting the ground.
Boost Rush mode incorporates the new Game Pad from the Wii U, and gives you timed event courses that require one player to lay down colored platforms via the Game Pad while the other player runs through the course with a Wii U remote. This provides one of the most frantic and fun experiences I’ve had with the game, and will really tax the ability of both players involved. I sort of liken it to those infamous trust exercises you always see in TV and film, where one person needs to fall backwards into the arms of another. In order to do well at Boost Rush you essentially need to commit to jumps that would typically result in your death, and trust that your partner will be able to plan your trajectory with well-placed platforms that allow you to continue on to the end of the stage. It’s very difficult, but also very rewarding to pull off.
All in all, I found New Super Mario Bros. U to be a very rewarding, fun breath of fresh air for the series that does a pretty good job of showcasing new elements found in the Wii U system. It’s certainly a step up in terms of visuals, and looks great both on the big screen and on the Wii U Game Pad. I do, really, really wish the soundtrack could get a bit of a makeover, but outside of that I have little in the way of complaints to level at the game. One glaring omission, on the side of local co-op, is that you can’t use a Game Pad and single Wii U remote to play traditional co-op with, instead it only gives you the option for Boost mode, forcing you to use two Wii remotes if you want to play standard co-op. It seems like a weird thing to force on players, and should really be changed if possible. Besides those two grievances, I definitely think New Super Mario Bros. U is well worth picking up alongside your brand new Wii U system, and makes for a suitably fun and engaging launch day experience.
New Super Mario Bros. U adds a new star to the side-scrolling show: you! Play as Mario, Luigi, Toad, or your Mii on a new adventure to save Princess Peach. Up to five players can team up, with one player using the GamePad to create routes through levels, distract enemies, and discover hidden items and pathways. Finish levels as fast as you can in the co-op Boost Rush Mode, where you're forced to keep moving by a screen that never stops scrolling. Go for the high score in single or multiplayer Challenge Mode. You can seamlessly switch between single-player play on TV and on the GamePad, so you can keep playing even when someone else wants to use the big screen.