Let me preface this by admitting right at the start that I’m a huge Mario fan. I don’t think I quite reach fanboy status but I, like so many out there, grew up playing Mario titles so a certain affection for the franchise exists at the core of my being. When a new Mario game comes out I look for that respect being paid to the games that paved the way as well as a little bit of good old Nintendo innovation. I can honestly say that New Super Mario Bros. U (NSMBU) does exactly that… and a little more.
The first thing about NSMBU that immediately put a smile on my face was the return to the overworld style map that was brought forward in Super Mario World. You travel the map collecting random power up goodies, fighting roaming enemies (bring on the Hammer Bros), visiting mushroom houses and watching the map subtly change as you advance through the game. It’s a style that works so well and is much more entertaining than the more linear sequential levels system of games past. At times I’ve found myself running Mario all over the map just for giggles. I would say that the only thing that seemed off was the Miiverse balloons with tips and tricks or two word responses to a stage, but I can’t deny that this will be a fun inclusion for many.
When first starting out in this latest Mario adventure, the game seems almost too easy but that feeling of “no worries, I got this” quickly fades into distant memory. The difficulty scales just right making levels that seem unbeatable at first achievable once you figure out the tricks and nuances. Ultimately it is the classic idea of a platformer that requires just the right flick of the stick to perfect. Replay value is brought to you by the elusive star coins that become a real challenge to collect in later levels as well as hidden secrets scattered throughout.
As you make your way through these challenges it is hard not to notice the glorious jump into the world high definition that Mario has finally taken. While nothing insanely mind blowing comes your way there is enough attention to detail and pretty things to look at that you will appreciate the 1080p scale up. Although it is fairly standard at the beginning some of the later worlds, with their painted back drops, are gorgeous to look at and give a hint of where else they could go. I can’t help but think they could have done a little more to showcase the HD upgrade but they mostly keep it classic Mario with just a little more shine and polish. Seeing as this is the beginning of the Wii U’s lifecycle we have hardly seen what the machine can do and I look forward to seeing what the future holds for subsequent Mario titles (*ahem* Mario Galaxy, please and thank you).
Sadly, one thing that failed to attract any of my attention was the sound. It is not that it isn’t good, it is just that there is nothing new. Familiar themes with slightly different arrangements make for an experience that you will play through enjoying but not really noticing. I guess when you are running with such a storied franchise as Mario this might be one of those departments where the developing team thinks “Why mess too much with a good thing?” I mean let us be honest here, who can’t hum the Mario theme song in their sleep? For that reason alone I give the sound a solid pass but I’d certainly like to see something a bit different or more memorable in the future.
Adding to the all-important replay factor of the game is the new challenge mode. Equal parts controller throwing frustration and exhilarating satisfaction, it strikes a perfect balance of anger and accomplishment. No joke, this mode will do exactly as it states…CHALLENGE YOU, A LOT. Whether it is a “no-kill-run” through a level or a “keep-your-feet-off-the-ground” run you will be pushed to better your game at almost every turn. I think the only problem with this in the long run is that the controls on the new GamePad leave a lot to be desired resulting in many, many avoidable deaths. It could just be me and my giant hands but controlling Mario with the large controller seemed clunky and I died more times than I could count due to a slip of the finger or a missed awkward button push. In all fairness the Wii Remote has never provided the ultimate in comfort for my hands either. Playing this with the hand hugging new Wii U Pro Controller would be stellar but alas the functionality is not there for this title.
I found that the multiplayer function proved to be more irritating and confusing than fun. Characters bounce around all over the place, it is hard to follow, and generally it is a pain in the backside to play. Granted I was playing with my wife who rarely picks up a controller and a teenager whose very mission in life is to annoy me, but I feel that the experience would be no less frustrating with more skilled and less annoying companions. Playing the new boost mode where up to four players use the Wiimotes to advance through the level and a 5th player uses the gamepad to place blocks to either help or hinder you also failed to impress. It adds another way to play with friends but seems like an afterthought attempt to make use of the new gamepad. I know that in this day and age multiplayer functionality is vital to a game’s success but to me Mario’s attempts at it have always felt very forced and unenjoyable. That being said, I do know our Editor-in-Chief and his kids enjoyed the multiplayer as his 6 year old and 8 year old kids just loved being in the world of Mario. So I guess it really comes down to personal preference.
Where NSMBU really shined for me was the ability to turn away from the TV and play on the GamePad. It looks amazing on the sizeable screen and being able to play while my wife watches another horrible episode of Grey’s Anatomy was remarkably satisfying. Even more satisfying was the realization that the Wii U GamePad range allowed me to play it while sitting in my bed… ultimate comfort and gaming is a wonderful combination.
All in all I did not find a whole lot of fault in the newest entry to the world of Mario. It is classic 2D Mario done right. I think they played it safe for the most part but it is hard to argue with tried and true success. Considering the side scrolling 2D platformer has been around for the better part of 30 years I will forgive the design team for not really providing me with a ‘Hey that’s entirely new and amazing!’ moment. In the end it’s a great game with some new challenges and it is a bright light for what we have in store as Nintendo’s newest console begins its life cycle.