Super Mario Bros. has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. My first gaming experience was with the NES classic before I could even talk, and despite getting older, the Italian plumber has always been at the forefront of platforming adventures for over two decades. Despite my love for the classic series, the 2D reboot New Super Mario Bros. and its subsequent sequels since then have failed to truly capture the same spirit, style and innovation that the originals had.
Until now that is.
New Super Mario Bros. U is not only the best in the ‘classic’ Mario franchise thus far, but is a shining example of why Mario has managed to be the undisputed king of platformers for over twenty-five years.
“New Super Mario Bros. U feels like a spiritual successor to 1991’s Super Mario World in more ways than one.”
Bowser is at it again, kidnapping Princess Peach, taking over the Mushroom Kingdom. Mario, Luigi and their Toad friends are tasked with traversing eight worlds of mayhem as they run, jump and fly their way through Bowser’s minions to save the princess. It’s the same story we’ve been hearing for years now, but if you’re playing a Mario game for the story, you’re doing it wrong.
While New Super Mario Bros. U starts a little slow during the first world, the scope and difficulty widens considerably as the player becomes more comfortable with their surroundings. NSMBU is bigger and more important than any New Super Mario Bros. title that has come before it, with a huge interconnected overworld, ingenious level design and tonnes of secrets to find.
The overworld looks absolutely stunning, showing off eight very different and unique worlds across the screen. Taking a leaf out of New Super Mario Bros. 2 which was released on the Nintendo 3DS earlier this year, NSMBU has full Miiverse integration, which provides a surprising deep and social experience. Players can post statuses, hints and screenshots at any point in the game, however the game will often prompt the player to leave a message when they complete a certain task. Each level is individually named now, dropping the standard 4-1 naming convention from something a little more memorable plays a big part into the Miiverse integration; I may be racking my brain to remember which level 4-1 was, but seeing Prickly Goomba instantly triggers a memory. Any posts that are made will appear in your friends’ games if they have SpotPass enabled, which means you can keep tabs on how your friends are finding the game as you move along. It’s a simple feature, but I couldn’t imagine New Super Mario Bros. U without it.
The level design in New Super Mario Bros. U is nearly perfect, offering a good mix of classic Mario rehashes and radically new designs that have not been seen in 2D Mario games since Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo. After the opening worlds the levels ramp up the difficulty nicely, offering a challenge for experienced gamers while still maintaining their pick up and play nature for newcomers. The fortresses grow larger in scale, and the path to success often feels less guided.
New Super Mario Bros. U feels like a spiritual successor to 1991’s Super Mario World in more ways than one. Jumping on Yoshi for the first time feels fresh and exciting, just like it was when Super Mario World appeared on the Super Nintendo. The controls feel absolutely perfect, whether playing with a Wiimote or the Wii U’s GamePad. Unlike previous entries in the series, characters feel perfectly weighted, a problem I found with previous iterations where they seemed to ‘float’ across the environment, particularly when in mid-jump.
The GamePad offers two interesting prospects within New Super Mario Bros. U. The first being the fact that the entirety of the game can be played exclusively on the GamePad screen, which freed me up to watch Australia take on South Africa in the latest test match on the weekend while still playing the game. The other is Boost Mode, which allows a player to place up to four floating platforms on the screen simply by touch, in order to help or hinder those playing with Wiimotes. It’s actually more fun than it sounds, and it also means you’ll easily avoid the ‘fifth wheel’ syndrome when you have a four mates joining you in your living room.
New Super Mario Bros. U also introduces gamers to a magical acorn which transforms Mario into a Flying Squirrel suit. The Squirrel suit allows you to hover through air, cling to walls and use a one-time flying boost by shaking the Wiimote to reach higher ground. Alongside the magical acorn, players will have the chance to experiment with a number of Baby Yoshis. While they cannot be ridden like a regular Yoshi, they can perform a number of feats such as eating every enemy in sight, inflating like a massive hot air balloon and blowing bubbles.
New Super Mario Bros. U includes some extra game modes outside of the main story. Coin Battle makes a return from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, with the GamePad player given the ability to place coins. Boost Rush provides a co-op time trial where the GamePad player helps the other players by placing blocks throughout the level, which speeds up as you collect more and more coins. The most interesting however is Challenge Mode, which allows you to compete with yourself and others by completing a series of difficult objectives including speed runs, collecting 1-ups, and tackling an onslaught of enemies.
While I’ve managed to sing the praises of New Super Mario Bros. U, there are still a few shortcomings. Four-player co-op is still a messy affair that will ruin friendships. If you’re playing with gamers who are below your skill level, you will often find yourself rushing ahead and leaving your players for dead, which causes frustration for everyone involved. Another issue is the fact that if you only have two Wiimotes and you were hoping for some three-player platforming fun, you can’t. The GamePad will only work to place Boost blocks when Wiimotes are attached, which seems like a gaping flaw.