Not since 1996 has Nintendo released a new console with a Super Mario game at launch. So it was quite a surprise when they announced that despite New Super Mario Bros. 2 was coming to the 3DS, there was going to be a fourth installment of the “New” series launching on the Wii U. This put a lot of speculation and debate as to which one would be better. Later it was learned that the two titles would have different angles to them. The 3DS title was of course very coin heavy. Then what did that make the Wii U installment? Many suggested that it was Super Mario World incarnate. After having many weeks with the game, and having beaten it entirely, the answer is quite clear.
With all Mario titles, the most important factor for Nintendo to nail down ends up being the platforming. It has to be fun. It has to be challenging. It has to grip you and bring you back. Almost everyone has taken some time to jump through the Mushroom Kingdom in one form or another. So how does the gameplay stack with the rest? Perfection. I know Perfection is a strong word and others might disagree based on their own views of how the platforming should be. If the past history of our beloved italian hero has anything to say, then the platforming this time around is spot on. I had no problems traversing the landscape. Galavanting over a goomba... kicking a koopa troopa, bouncing off a bullet bill... if you died at all in this game, it was your own fault. That’s just how platforming should be. How frustrating is it when you know for certain that the game just didn’t register a jump when it should have? When there are no clearly defined rules. In another recent platforming game I’ve been playing, Thomas Was Alone, while I am having fun and all... sometimes my little rectangle friends just don’t jump when I press the button. When or why this occurs is not a function of my controls or a gimmick of the game. Mario doesn’t have this problem. Frankly I can’t recall the last time he did. For a portly plumber from good o’l Brooklyn, he’s a limber son of a bitch and so are all his friends, Luigi and the two toads.
The controls work great. Yet, there’s no point in having such refined controls without challenging levels to navigate. New Super Mario Bros U (shortened to NSMBU from here out) is simply littered with fun and challenging levels. Nintendo has taken a great care to make sure that no two levels are too similar; a feat which could be daunting considering each world contains at least eight levels. Many old frenemies return in this game. Bob-bombs, Pokeys, and Wigglers all return. New enemies join the fray as well. Goombrats bring a new kind of fungi to the lands. Piranha Plant Eggs are airboirne projectiles from one of my favorite foes, Lakitu. Introducing the new power-up, we also have Waddlewings; cute yet deadly flying squirrels. Nabbit, a particularly annoying fellow, will steal items from poor ol' Toad periodically and it is up to you to hunt him down in whichever level he finds himself in. These minor challenges pop up from time to time to help break up the whole main-campaign efforts. It is a subtle but pleasant little furry addition.
The Cheep Cheep. Getting in your way since 1985.
These new enemies and levels all go together in a beautiful package. Mario’s first foray into HD gaming is a great one. Seeing the high-resolution graphics just make it more pleasing to look at, which in turn makes it way easier to spend hours just jumping away at the game’s challenges. The blues seem bluer and the greens seem greener. The colors just pop! This is how I expected HD 2D Mario to look (well in the ‘New’ line anyway). I feel the same way about the aesthetic that many others surely feel... it looks beautiful but it looks the same still. There’s a clear indication that the ‘New’ series of Mario games has run its course. No other mario games have had such similar presentation ever, or at least in this quantity. Still, while we’re stuck with this aesthetic, we have a lot to admire. The levels are gorgeously done with significantly upgraded backgrounds that beg you to keep your eyes peeled. One of the most famous examples is in a ghost-level where the whole background reeks of Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ painting. It’s jaw droppingly pleasant. This attention to detail is quite what the Mario series needed graphically. I also loved how you could see various objects in the backgrounds of levels depending on their location within the World Map. The World Map is also something to be admired. Once again it links all the worlds together in a sprawling, secret-laden, plethora of pathways. It looks great and it’s fun to navigate. Those are the key aspects of a world map and it’s something the series has been lacking for some time. The game definitely borrowed from it’s Super Mario World cousin on this one. They should be doing more of this. Super Mario Bros. 3 would be another cousin to mock from.
Besides hidden levels and pathways, there are plenty of secrets to be found in the form of star coins and hidden exits. There isn’t much to say here except that all levels have three star coins within them. These are pleasantly hidden and some are a down-right frustrating challenge to find. Also infinitely frustrating is this notion that Nintendo continues to leave any hints to which levels have secret exits. For some it can be obvious but for many gamers it is not. Nintendo should have taken another rule from the Super Mario World playbook and had the level marker be a specific color for which levels were harboring hidden pathways. At the least this should be an option to turn on and off in the settings. What harm would there be in doing that?
Sometimes you just need a little boost...
If you do get stuck however, this game (as one would expect) is a definitive example of how to do the Miiverse right. When I found myself truly struggling, or damn sure I was right near a secret I still could not discover, all it took was a simple press of a button and a posting on the Miiverse. Within moments I had suggestions, hints, and answers. Whatever I wanted I could request. Often, other gamers were kind to not fully spoil the solution for me. Nudges were the order of the day. This is a perfect thing to have in a mario game and any game really. The Miiverse helps this shiny game shine even brighter. Enough to make one think they’ve ‘Shine Get!’.
The music and sound effects are essentially what you would expect from the series. Not much has changed here and that is definitely disappointing. For me, one of the greatest things a new game can do is bring us new music from the series. I like a remixed song as much as the next guy, but the music here just wasn’t changed enough to please my palate. That said though, Nintendo still had a few nice touches in there. The sound quality is nicely done even if it is familiar and the Yoshis add a nice touch when you’re playing levels with them. One might recall how enemies dance to the music on occasion, well, the baby yoshis will sing with the music. It is incredibly cute. They always manage to get me to smile.
Besides the main game, there was one major addition I need to mention. This is the first mario game to feature challenges within the game. These vary from earning one-ups, to speed runs, to even Boost Mode challenges which cause you to rely on another person to complete along-side you. It is a pleasant addition to the series. When you have exhausted all the levels and star coins and secrets, there is still more to have. We all end up making up our own challenges at some point so it was nice to see Nintendo do the leg work for us. I found that these challenges got too hard pretty quickly but then again, I naturally don’t have that much of an interest. This is not a knock on the game more than a personal preference. That said, my girlfriend and I shared a lot of fun moments working together on the Boost Mode challenges. We took turns helming the Wii U Gamepad with varying results. Never has a mario game helped me bond with another person in such a way. Our teamwork was a great experience to have and I highly recommend playing the Boost Mode challenges with a friend or loved one. If you happen to be prone to arguing with someone while playing the main game in a multiplayer fashion, this co-op challenge will be something to soothe your souls.
In the end, this new Mario Bros. game is like your old pal Yoshi... it makes you feel safe, and it’s a lot of fun. It doesn’t change too drastically from the past either. Whether or not this appeals to you is merely subjective. For me though, the game is beautiful, engaging, entertaining, and absolutely challenging. Easily it was worth the new HD premium of $60 MSRP. Any game that can bring me closer with my most beloved is an absolute win in my book.
Whelp, went over to my buddy's house last night and finished the game up, 100%. This game is officially on the done pile. Kind of, anyway. We didn't do any of the Challenge Mode stuff. But the main game? DONE.
Overall, very good game! I was more than a little disappointed by the unlockable world (spoilers?) though. I was expecting a challenge worthy of the unlockable stages in Super Mario World (the ones named after '90s surfer-slang; 'Gnarly' and 'Groovy' and 'Mondo' and all that) but they were not at all that difficult.
A huge missed opportunity, IMO. What a shame.
Still, I enjoyed the entire adventure, so no complaints, I suppose. Good times!
@GameDadGrant I didn't find the last world too difficult either, but the lack of checkpoints just made me hate it them to the point I couldn't finish them. You don't make normal size levels and remove checkpoints! It doesn't make it harder, it just makes it tedious.