New Super Mario Bros. U for Wii U
Nintendo has been receiving a fair amount of flack lately when it comes to the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ franchise, with many gamers feeling that Nintendo are simply resting on their laurels and leaving the innovation in sidescrolling platformer gameplay to smaller indie studios, or games such as Rayman Origins. Perhaps this accusation is understandable; there were two games released in this line in 2012, New Super Mario Bros. 2 for 3DS and this, New Super Mario Bros. U, a launch title for the Wii U. Nintendo have countered that they only release one game in this line per console, which is actually a pretty fair response, and I can understand Nintendo wanting to launch a new console with a Mario game under their belt. So here we are again, another Mario sidescroller to add to the pile; if you’ve played one you’ve played them all, so is it worth dipping into this one as well? I believe, on balance, yes.
Probably my favourite aspect of this game is the return of a Super Mario World style map. The other New Super Mario Bros. games have been very much focused upon emulating the Super Mario Bros. 3 template. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a fantastic game, and certainly one of the most important ever made, but I still generally prefer the intricacy of Super Mario World. New Super Mario Bros. U returns secret exits to the series, where new levels can be unlocked, an unlockable extra world and a dynamic and fun world map. Super Mario World classics such as Boo Houses make a welcome return as well, leaving New Super Mario Bros. U as a spiritual successor to my favourite Mario sidescroller. Perhaps it’s silly to praise Nintendo for returning to an innovation they first bought about over 20 years ago, but it’s still very pleasant to be playing this specific kind of Mario game again.
In a stunning twist on the standard Mario formula, rather than kidnapping Princess Peach and bringing her to his castle, Bowser in fact kicks Mario, Luigi and two Toads out of the castle and our heroes must make their way back.
Although I’m not generally opposed to the simple story of the Mario games, I do sometimes wish that Nintendo would take some risks. I suspect that after the voice acted weirdness of Super Mario Sunshine Nintendo resolved to keep plot out of their Mario platformers. That said, the game really doesn’t need a plot and doesn’t really suffer for the lack of one, unlike Paper Mario: Sticker Star.
In addition to the classic Mario staples of running and jumping, we have the return of such classics as the fire flower and Yoshi, although the latter feels severely underused. New power ups include the squirrel suit, which allows Mario to enter a graceful glide and baby Yoshis, which can be carried and have different properties. Like their grown up brethren, these baby Yoshis also feel underused, which is a shame as they’re a fun idea. One pleasant highlight of this game is the boss battles, not something I’ve ever really enjoyed in platformers. The final boss battle against (spoiler alert!) Bowser is a lot of fun, and I’m tempted to call it the best Bowser fight so far. I also thoroughly enjoyed the ability to play the game directly on the Wii U gamepad; I rarely bothered to even turn on the TV when playing this game.
Nintendo have the basic mechanics of a Mario platformer so nailed down now that it always feels satisfying to play. This game is actually fairly difficult, but is rarely frustratingly so, as any mistakes made feel due to player error rather than bad game design. A major exception to this is the shoehorning in of clunky motion controls using the Wii U gamepad towards the end of the game, which felt imprecise, gimmicky and unnecessary. By and large though, the game just works; it’s impressive that the series is still so much fun, and it can be tricky to pin down exactly what it is that makes these games work so well.
Mario’s first HD outing looks rather lovely, particularly in the backgrounds and in the animations of Bowser and the Koopalings. It’s all a bit conservative however, with the odd inventive level only serving to show how stagnant the art style in the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ range has become. One level designed around Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ is absolutely beautiful, but fleeting, and I really wish that Nintendo would experiment a bit more in this area. That said, the basic aesthetic is as charming as ever, and I never tired of seeing the enemies dance along to the music. As has been the case with the last few Mario games, the best tunes are remixes of those from the past, with the new ones not impressing half as much. The last great Mario soundtrack was the spectacular score for Super Mario Galaxy, and I hope Nintendo pull out all the stops musically for the next big 3D Mario platformer.
This isn’t an easy sort of game to review, as since almost all gamers will have played a Mario sidescroller at some point they all already know what to expect. This game is what it is; more of the same. If that appeals to you, as it did to me (having skipped the recent 3DS outing), then go for it, this is an incredibly fun and charming ride. However, for those who are burnt out on the series, and I couldn’t blame you for that, this game isn’t going to change your mind.