New Super Mario Bros. U is a solid game, but one whose core experience is as conservative as can be and the level design, graphics, and sound are nearly identical to previous entries. The co-op features, however, are excellent, as are the new challenge modes.
- Boost Mode co-op play with the Wii U GamePad is addictive and fun.
- Challenges are wildly creative, and the additional modes offer plenty of replay value
- Extremely conservative game design, offering very little exciting in the game's primary modes
- Bland graphic and sound design
- No online cooperative or competitive play
- Challenge, at least for the first several worlds, is remarkably low
New Super Mario Bros. U Review:
It may surprise you -- and make you acutely aware of those wrinkles around your eyes -- to learn that New Super Mario Bros. U is the first original Mario title to accompany the release of new Nintendo hardware since Super Mario 64, all the way back in 1996. That title, along with its forebears Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario World, not only reinvented platforming irrevocably upon release, but gave a perfect demonstration of the capabilities of the accompanying hardware.
Whether or not you believe NSMBU achieves that goal is very much dependent on whether or not you have someone with whom to play. And no, not online…despite Nintendo’s verbal commitments, NSMBU supports only local multiplayer. If left to your own devices, you’re getting a rehash of a fairly decent 2-D platformer from 2009. Accompanied by another, the game produces some genuinely fantastic moments…but moments they are, surrounded by what feels like a B-team effort from Nintendo.
Single Player System
New Super Mario Bros U is the first ever first-party Nintendo game produced in high definition, and I’m very unsurprised to say it matters very little. The graphical style (save for a few relatively inspired levels in the Soda Jungle) is cribbed from previous entries in the NSMB series, which was never much worth your attention. Some impressive backgrounds via parallax scrolling are achieved, and boy do those coins look crisp, but this is not a game that in any way shows off the graphical capabilities of the Wii U. Combined with a remarkably disappointing musical effort, in which no risks are taken and entire songs are stolen wholesale from previous entries, one can’t help but shake the feeling of a very un-Nintendo level of polish here.
Before we go on, however, though this is in no way a review of the Wii U hardware, some attention must be given to the “mirroring” capability of the game, the ability to play the full experience down on the Wii U GamePad. One might expect any glitches, any multi-frame delays in the action to be especially noticeable in a precise platformer, but I’m happy to say that the game is flawlessly playable without a television in sight. In fact, given the odd aliasing issues that still pervade certain graphical elements, the game can occasionally look better on the GamePad, given its higher pixel density. It’s oddly freeing to be able to effectively play a full console game as a handheld one, and I expect it to be a popular feature with any game that supports it.
The primary single player experience is nearly identical to previous entries in the series. The difficulty appears relatively consistent with New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and while it takes certain cues from Super Mario World, you’d be hard pressed to differentiate NSMBU from its console predecessor without counting pixels. The few changes include the replacement of the propeller suit with the “acorn suit”, functionally similar but offering less vertical lift for the ability to “stick” on walls for a short period of time, new “Nabbit” sequences, in which you chase a thief across a previously traversed level, and a few remixed 1-Up and item challenges…but there simply isn’t enough, at least in this mode. The level design is far cry from the utterly brilliant Galaxy titles, or Rayman: Origins, or even the recent Super Mario 3-D Land, but still passes among the upper echelons of the industry. Nintendo, perhaps, has simply set too high a standard given its past achievements.
A big, big positive for the game is the additional of numerous challenges, neatly available from the title screen and ranked in order of difficulty. These range wildly: there are speed runs, sequences in which you need to avoid collecting coins, fireball dodging, 1-up collecting, and dozens more. If there is creativity to be found in NSMBU, it’s here, in this mode. There are a few other modes to discuss, but it’s time to jump to…well, Player Number Two.
Twice the Fun
The Wii U modes of gameplay are described as “Boost Blocks”, where the player possessing the Wii U GamePad uses the touchscreen to place down up to four colored blocks upon which Mario may run or jump. This, as first, seems absurdly “overpowered”, but there are limitations: the blocks immediately start shrinking upon being touched, and any moving level geometry crushes the blocks into oblivion. Often, the blocks can be as detrimental to progress as helpful.
Boost Blocks may be used in the single-player experience, where it feels a bit like Super Mario Galaxy…another person joining in to assist the actual “player”. As all single-player levels are obviously designed to be completed without such assistance, the boost blocks can be helpful, but hardly necessary. The player can also, of course, tap enemies to stun them and interact in a variety of ways with the environment. In these cases, the runner is using the original Wii Remote, held sideways, to progress. The game does not support the Wii U Pro Controller, which is inexplicable and mystifying, as it offers a nearly objectively superior experience to the old Wiimote.
Back in the challenge mode, however, Boost Mode really shines. The specially designed co-op challenges are merciless, and require a remarkable harmony between runner and “builder”. If the builder leads, progress is slow and methodical, the runner reacting to available platforms and cautiously roaming rightward. However, to achieve the gold medals for the fastest times, the runner has to make leap of faith after leap of faith, trusting his or her partner to lay down platforms precisely in the right spots over yawning chasms. Expect a learning curve as the chemistry between partners grows, and resist the urge to yell as death claims Mario, time and time again. You’ll get it.
Another mode, Boost Rush, is a set of automatically scrolling levels in which the speed is increased by collecting coins. While this mode is playable without a partner, it becomes far more efficient and enjoyable with an available builder. The maximum speed is barely short of Mario’s running speed, so death will be both inevitable and frequent. It’s frenetic and fun, if not particularly deep.
Finally, Coin Battle pits any number of players against each other (no Boost Mode here) in a scramble for coins. It’s simple and addictive, and NSMBU offers a “coin placement editor” to customize the coin layouts in predetermined levels. We would have appreciated an actual level editor here, but we’ll take what we can get.
It’s worth noting that the myriad “MiiVerse” features in the game were unavailable at time of review, so we’re unsure of how those add to the experience. As primarily social features, though, we don’t expect much in terms of differentiating gameplay.
Run For The Flag
Make no mistake: this is still a solid 2-D platformer, with some great Wii U co-op experiences that show off some of the unique features the Wii U can bring to bear. But the core game, the World Map and the Level 6-3 and the Things You Can Jump On, is a reminder of how conservative gameplay design can sour a once-winning formula. These are levels you’ve played before…in high definition, I guess.
Despite all that, though, the question, “Is it fun?” is easily answered: yes. NSMBU is one of the best reasons to go out and buy the newest kid on the console block. If you want more Mario, this is where he’ll be for a little while.