When the fourth entry of a franchise is released just six years after the series’ debut, the “New” in New Super Mario Bros. U starts to become questionable. There hasn’t hasn’t a whole lot of evolution for Mario in his latest 2D adventures, and while Nintendo almost never fails in providing something fun to play, I don’t think it’s unfair to say that most fans have cared less and less with each instalment.
With the first game establishing the dawn of a new franchise on DS, the second bring it to a console audience and the third introducing the emphasised gimmick of coin collecting, New Super Mario Bros. U marks Mario’s (and Nintendo’s, for that matter) first step into HD. While it’s an interesting prospect on its own, it’s not really enough to justify another similar adventure. So the question is, has Nintendo added anything new to the mix and attempted to evolve the series? Just about.
Platform: Wii U
Release: November 18, 2012 (US), November 30 (Europe)
It’s a good thing too, because the HD transition may not be quite as exciting as you think. However, this may be a testament to New Super Mario Bros. Wii‘s graphics rather than any form of laziness on Nintendo’s part. The game still look stunning and while it may not be significantly and noticeably improved from before, the levels do look as beautiful as ever. The colours are more vibrant and bold than ever before, and there’s never any lack of eye candy display in both the foreground action and background scenery.
The big selling point here though is, of course, the gameplay. Again, it’s the same addictive Mario you know, being great fun in solo and co-operative play. There are some new additions to mix up the run and jump controls, namely in the inclusion of Baby Yoshis. These adorable chubby younglings come in three types: pink babies fill like a balloon, allowing Mario and co. to float across the air; blue babies spit out bubbles, which can turn enemies into coins and be jumped on and used as a platform boost; and gold babies illuminate dark caves. Trying out each type is enjoyable and can change the way a level can be played.
Big Yoshis also return, allowing Mario a ride while also gobbling up enemies and fireballs. There appear to be very few levels that feature them though, unfortunately. Sadly, there is also a lack of new suits – and old ones, as the awesome Penguin Suit strangely only appears in a Challenge level and not the main game. The Squirrel Suit is the newest power-up this time around, and while they are useful, they don’t offer anything radically new. While donning the Squirrel Suit, you can glide across distances and press a button or shake the controller to gain an upward boost while jumping. Aside from that, it’s just the usual Mushrooms, Fire and Ice Flowers and Invincibility Stars. Mini Mushrooms are back too, but I can only recall finding them and using them a couple of times at most.
The World Map is structured as it was before, with branching paths and a few hazards along the way. This time however, it appears to take more inspiration from Super Mario World‘s main hub. You can view the entire map with the camera, as opposed to it being separated into the 8 worlds that comprise it. There is also a little more freedom, as not only are there branching paths but you can also decide which world you tackle next to an extent. It’s possibly the best-looking, actively populated world map Nintendo has made so far.
It is also home to the game’s Miiverse integration. Like Nintendo Land, Miiverse in New Super Mario Bros. U is subtle but amusing. After achieving something significant, such as finding all three Star Coins, taking no damage or beating a boss, you are given the option to write or draw a message or picture. You can see posts from users floating above each level, which can be useful for gaining tips or just reading about someone’s victorious triumph, and can be toggled on or off at any time.
As for the levels, there are some incredible and memorable moments here. Some personal highlights of mine include a level with a beautiful night sky and huge, glowing, spinning stars to jump across; a jungle environment overrun by enemies that are unusually giant-sized; and a possible favourite of mine: a level crafted entirely from a watercolour style. The problem is, these are mere highlights, and serve to prove that Nintendo had the potential to take these concepts even further.
For the most part, Nintendo again plays it safe with the usual Mario tropes. There are a desert, ice and sky worlds, eight Koopa Kid bosses, Boo Houses and so on. It seems that a Kirby-style food theme was intended to run across the game, with world names such as Layer Cake Desert, Soda Jungle and Meringue Clouds. However, this idea seems extremely lacking – there are some melting ice creams and cakes in the background of Layer Cake Desert, but overall it really is just the same desert world Mario fans have become accustomed to. I don’t recall any soda in Soda Jungle, unless the familiar purple toxic liquid is supposed to represent a soft drink in some way.
Again, there’s nothing wrong with these worlds per se. We know them, we love them, and I still had a blast playing through them. Nintendo knows this, and it’s undoubtedly the reason why they choose not to deviate from their usual structure. It’s just such a shame to know that the company has these fantastic new ideas, but decides to limit and suppress them. After that watercolour-style level, I wanted more – there is clearly potential to use it as the basis for an entire world.
The amount of enemies from the entire Mario universe is fantastic: Chain Chomps, Lakitus, Bloopers, Wigglers and Boos are all here. But again, while the immerse variety is appreciated, there aren’t all that many new faces to fight. There are Waddlewings, squirrels with the same abilities Mario uses with the Squirrel Suit; Goombrats, an acorn-like species of Goomba; and Flipruses, a cute take on walruses. Aside from this is perhaps the most iconic new enemy, Nabbit. These a purple thieves that will randomly appear over a level on the World Map. When re-entering that level, you must chase Nabbit to retrieve the item he stole, thus receiving a power-up for your inventory.
While some of the music is re-used from previous games (such as the dungeon levels and the Bowser Jr. boss music), the soundtrack is superb. There are cheerful tunes in throughout, and even if you’ve become sick of the “ba, ba-ba” singing by now, it’s very amusing to see how all of the enemies dance and cloud faces sing to it this time around. Unsurprisingly you’ll face off against the Koopa Kids again, with the same strategy applied to defeating them as before – that said, the Bowser Jr. fights and the final boss are definitely new highlights.
For anyone convinced that new Mario games are too easy, this is definitely the New Super Mario Bros. game for you. Not only does the game ramp up the difficulty as you progress, but there is a fantastically hard but addictive Challenge Mode that is perfect for hardcore players. Here you will be set with adhering to an objective, such as time trials, collecting as many coins as possible or jumping on as many enemies as you can before hitting the ground. Completing a challenge may not always be such a struggle, but earning gold medals on all of them is a worthy accomplishment to strive for. Star Coins in levels can also be hidden deviously at times, and once all are found in a world, faithful players will again be treated to levels in a bonus world.
Playing with friends is as fun as ever, and the Boost Mode is a nice addition. A player can touch the screen to place temporary blocks, thus helping their partner out of a sticky situation, helping to reach a Star Coin or assisting them in a speed run. It may make the game easier, but to purists, at least it is optional. Coin Battle returns and is surprisingly more fun than you would expect, with players competing to collect the most coins.
The GamePad screen is symmetrical to the action on the TV screen. This means you can take the game away from the TV to elsewhere in the house within range. The transition is perfect and lag-free, and this semi-portable version is just as enjoyable as it’s big screen brother.
While I’m left with the impression that Nintendo could have put a little more effort into New Super Mario Bros. U‘s innovation, there is still enough here to satisfy fans of the prior titles. As for anyone who is yet to experience one of these games, this is the perfect starting point if you are planning to pick up a Wii U. It’s a solid launch title that you can guarantee a great time with, even if it is a familiar journey for our plucky plumber.