New Super Mario Bros. U Review (Wii U): “Platforming Brilliance”

With Nintendo’s new console, it’s a no-brainer that they would release a title based on one of their many famous franchises. With the release of the Wii U, Nintendo opted to bring back the character that defined gaming as we know it today, Mario. Returning to his 2D roots with the “New” series, New Super Mario Bros. U enters Mario and crew into HD for the first time ever. However, is the formula still as perfected as can be or is the famed plumber starting to clog up the pipes with staleness?

Gameplay: 5/5

Remember the time where gaming was all about having simple fun? While there are a wide variety of genres people enjoy and various definitions of what gamers find “fun”, Mario has always had that simple, charming fun that can’t be turned down. It was never about having an intricate storyline or complex mechanics. Mario has been around for over 25 years and while we’ve seen the plumber save Princess Peach countless times, whether in 2D or 3D, it still manages to stay fresh. In 2006, Nintendo launched the “New Super Mario Bros.” series on the DS, which brought Mario back to his classic 2D roots. In 2009, “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” released by introducing players to 4-player co-op, a first for the Mario series. In August of 2012, 3DS owners received a direct sequel to the DS installment, “New Super Mario Bros. 2” which introduced players to a new Coin Rush mode and brick ton of coins to collect. A few months later and early Wii U adopters get a new adventure with the famed plumber, this time with more of a Super Mario World feel.

If you’ve never played a single Mario game before, you’ll run and jump your way through levels while stomping on goombas heads. As far as the story goes, Mario, Luigi and the toads are trying to have a meal with Princess Peach. Naturally, Bowser swarms in with his Koopa gang and knocks Mario, Luigi and the toads out of Peach Castle and all the way to the outskirts of the land. From here, you’ll have to traverse Mushroom Kingdom and make your way back to Peach Castle and rescue the Princess. Mario and company will still have their signature Super Mushrooms and Fire-Flowers to utilize, as well as some new abilities such as the Super Acorn and P-Acorn. The Super Acorn will grant Mario to have a flying squirrel suit, allowing him to glide and cling onto walls for a short period of time. The P-Acorn, which is very rare to obtain, will allow you to fly your way through the entire level, no problem at all. Returning items consist of the Ice Flower, Tiny Mushroom and of course, the invincibility Star. Also, Yoshis are now part of the gameplay mechanics, each with different abilities. The regular Green Yoshi will give you more height and air time when jumping, as well as eating enemies and fruit in the area. The Blue Yoshi will shoot bubbles to trap enemies and turn them into coins. The Pink Yoshi will allow you to get massive air for those hard-to-reach platforms. Also, you can play as your Mii in this installment, which is a fun addition.

Earlier, I mentioned that this game has more of a Super Mario World feel. The reason I say that is because the World Map is now one massive world with sub-worlds within it. Each sub-world has a certain thematic element attached to it, as is the case with most Mario games. Also returning is the fact that every level now has a name attached to it (which the “New” series hasn’t had) making them stand out more. With the game’s open-world nature, there will be branching paths so if a level gives you a hard time, you can try a different one to advance. Additionally, you can post messages through the Miiverse when you complete a level. If there’s a certain part of the level that you feel others should know about, you can write a message and when they check the World Map, they’ll see messages lingering around those levels. If you fail a level at a specific location other players have also failed, you may see their messages appear that tells you what their thoughts were during that area. It’s a great feature and one that opens up the idea of a social gaming community. Each area will still have two castles to bring down, one mini-castle and the other the main castle. Upon completing these areas, you can permanently save your game. However, if you’re not up to those points yet and have to shut the game off, you can do a temporary quick save as well. The keyword here though is “temporary”, which means once you load the game, you’ll have to save the game again when you want to stop. Shutting it off without saving again will make you load your game from the last “actual” save point.

The game starts off on a proper difficulty scale but compared to the previous “New” installments, Nintendo has assumed that players have a bit more experience in the series and has decided to amp up the platforming difficulty. By the game’s second level, the platforming already becomes more intricate. Later levels will become a little more demanding, as well as some that could become slightly frustrating (“Frosted Glacier” I’m looking at you). However, boss battles never seem to pose as much of a problem and are fairly straightforward. The final boss battle is pretty grandiose as well. While it may not be better than NSMB Wii’s final boss battle (which in my opinion was the most epic final boss for a Mario game), it’s still a climatic battle.

Now the game can be played solo or with up to five people. Your experience will differ depending on how many people you play with though. If you’re playing solo, you can play with either the Wiimote held sideways like an NES controller (same style as NSMB Wii) or with the Wii U GamePad. When playing solo on the GamePad, the game will always be displayed on the screen, as well as the TV. There’s no button or feature you’ll have to switch if someone wants to watch TV in your room and you’re still busy traversing your way through the Mushroom Kingdom. If you play with the Wiimote, the controls will be exactly the same as NSMB Wii, with the D-Pad used for movement, 1 Button for running/shooting fireballs, 2 Button for jumping, and shaking the Wiimote to do a spinning jump (the GamePad allows you to do this by simply pressing zR). If you’re playing with friends, one player can use the GamePad to place up to four extra platforms on-screen for your friends to utilize while they’re going through the level. If you place more than four platforms, the previous platforms will disappear in the order in which they were created. Although, you could also be the type of person that purposely messes up your friends and obstructs their path with blocks in their way. For the players using the Wiimotes, having up to four of you is still a daunting task that could lead to more frustration than fun. When you guys are all jumping around, there will most definitely be times where you’ll collide into each other and cause someone to fall to their death. On the other hand, there can also be times where you might’ve jumped to a moving platform a little too early and a friend can jump toward you to suspend you from falling for a second so that the platform can move back toward you in time. This is much harder to explain in wording than to actually see it in action. To be honest though, this was more of an art to pull off that both myself and a friend of mine did in a few levels and were astounded by. It’s these type of moments though where playing with someone else shines. In terms of nabbing the Star Coins that are littered through every level, getting them with a partner certainly makes it easier. If a Star Coin seems to be in an area where you can die easily, having you or your partner try to go for it, then pressing the A button to go into a bubble-state and move your way back to a partner provides for an easier time getting these without losing a life. Sure, it seems cheap, but it also adds to the co-op nature of the game, even in subtleties like this.

When you’re done with the campaign, there are separate missions you can tackle through the game’s Challenge mode. These challenges will vary from simple, to downright demanding for even the most advanced Mario player. Challenges are categorized by certain types: Time Attack, Coin Collection, 1-Up Rally, Special and Boost Mode. Time Attack will consist of mainly getting through a level as fast as possible. Coin Collection will have you trying to get every single coin in a level, while being tested on your platforming. 1-Up Rally will require you to stomp on every enemy without ever touching the ground and nabbing as many 1-Ups as possible. Special changes up the parameters a bit. You may have to glide throughout the entire level without getting hit or touching the ground in one challenge. In another, you may have to dodge the fireballs while staying on a single platform. In Boost Mode, you’ll have to co-op with someone using the GamePad to place blocks and provide you safe passage to the end of a level. When it comes to these challenges, you’ll be earning either a Bronze, Silver or Gold Medal based on the stipulation. You’ll unlock more challenges the more you complete as well. Aside from Challenges, there’s another mode called Boost Rush. This is similar to NSMB 2’s Coin Rush mode but with a slight twist. Instead of having an insane amount of coins to collect, you’ll have to get through the levels as fast as possible. To get through them faster, you’ll have to collect coins to speed up the screen so that it scrolls faster. This mode can get frantic but always provides good, solid fun. Lastly, there’s Coin Battle mode. This competitive mode will pit 2-4 players against each other in trying to nab the most coins in a stage. You can either replay a previously completed stage or in one of eight Coin Courses. The really neat thing about playing on a Coin Course though is the option to use Coin Edit. In Coin Edit, you’ll utilize the GamePad’s screen to place up to 300 coins around the map, along with three Star Coins to collect. This competitive mode can definitely provide for a ton of fun, whether with a group of friends or just you and a buddy.

Graphics: 5/5

New Super Mario Bros. U may not be a graphical powerhouse, but there’s no denying the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Seeing the Mushroom Kingdom come to life in full, vibrant HD is simply spectacular. The backgrounds look ultra-crisp and the characters and foreground really pop-out with the HD coating. There’s some excellent lighting effects as well that kick in when near flames or lava. There’s also a nice little touch where you’ll occasionally see the Miis on your console appear in the background of certain levels. Whether you’re looking at the game on your HDTV or through the GamePad’s screen, the game is just amazing to look at.

Sound: 4/5

Mario games always have whimsical tunes that you’ll find yourself humming along to. While the game has a great, memorable soundtrack, most of the tunes found here are repeated from previous NSMB soundtracks. That’s not to say there’s nothing new to listen to here. Normally, I’m all for previous music tracks returning in games if they’re memorable and provide a nostalgic moment. However, when these are tunes that are literally cut-and-pasted in each installment, it’s a bit of a letdown. Again though, there are new compositions to listen to in the game and they’re as much of a standout as the original tunes were. The memorable sound effects are in full effect once again here and this is something that should never change. Mario games have always had audio effects that are simply classic and a true testament that still stands over 25 years later.

Replay Value: 5/5

Nintendo has packed a ton of content into their latest Mario title. Aside from the game’s campaign, you can go back and try to obtain all the Star Coins in every level. Doing so will unlock secret stages in Superstar Road, which is only accessible after completing the game. The Challenges mode will definitely keep you occupied and test your skills for quite a while, whether solo or in co-op. Boost Rush provides numerous courses to tackle in a variety of difficulties. Lastly, the Coin Battle will keep you and your friends busy in some very competitive matches that provide for plenty of fun times. No matter how you slice it, you’ll be returning to New Super Mario Bros. U for quite some time.

Overall Score: 19/20 = 9.5 out of 10

New Super Mario Bros. U is another outstanding installment that shows the plumber hasn’t aged one bit. Whether you’re playing solo, with a friend, or with a group of people, NSMBU provides for some of the most fun you’ll have on the Wii U. It’s simply a beautiful game to see in action, has the same whimsical audio and flawless gameplay that made it the franchise it is today. If you have a Wii U, then you must buy New Super Mario Bros. U.

PROs:

+ Gameplay as flawless as ever

+ Memorable, classic audio

+ Plenty of content

+ Challenges, Boost Rush and Coin Battle are addictive fun

+ Fantastic level designs

CONs:

– Rehashed soundtrack from NSMB, NSMBW and NSMB2

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