Review by horror_spooky
"What's "New" is new again"
When Nintendo launched 3DS, they failed to have a major first party title available for the system. This saw 3DS sales lag behind. One price drop later and plenty of amazing Nintendo exclusives, and Nintendo was able to turn their misfortunes around. They didn't want to make the same mistake when they launched Wii U in late 2012, so Nintendo made sure that their iconic plumber was launching alongside their eighth generation home console. And in typical Nintendo fashion, they've hit it out of the park.
Many have worried that the "New" Super Mario Bros. formula has run its course. New Super Mario Bros. 2 lacked the Mario magic, but it was still a very good game. That being said, New Super Mario Bros. U recaptures that 2D Mario magic, and makes it feel like it never left. New Super Mario Bros. U takes the classic Mario story and characters, and thrusts it into the HD realm with a wonderful tribute to Super Mario World.
Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser, Bowser Jr., and the Koopalings yet again, but this time they make things a bit more interesting. Instead of snagging Peach and whisking her away, Bowser uses a huge mechanical arm to throw Mario (and in co-op, Luigi and two Toads), far away from Peach's castle in the Mushroom Kingdom. Now our heroes have to fight their way back to the Mushroom Kingdom and rescue Peach from her own castle.
New Super Mario Bros. Wii and Super Mario Galaxy were both excellent examples of a how a nice, simple story in a Mario game can be conclusive and fulfilling at the same time. This was true for Super Mario Galaxy especially, but the final moments of New Super Mario Bros. Wii were nothing short of epic. New Super Mario Bros. U is slightly more tame, but there's still a lot of really exciting and awesome moments in the final levels, with a nice sense of finality that simply can't be found in a lot of platformers.
For the first time since Super Mario World on SNES, all the levels are connected through an overworld map. This map is highly detailed and animated, and each world feels original and has its own personality. Yes, the worlds move in a predictable order for the most part, with the second world being a desert-themed level, but this game tries to add twists to the basic worlds. Yes, there is a desert level, but it also adds in elements of dessert based platforming in the desert. So not only is Mario and company dealing with the hazardous quick sand like usual, which is a nice touch that gives these old concepts new life.
The overworld map is more than just a hub to enter the levels. Through it, there are sometimes puzzles that need solving in order to progress. These were present in past games, but they are more common and more engaging than before. Enemies can be encountered on the overworld map that then result in a mini-level, which, if it is conquered, can see the players earning another item to stash away in case of emergencies.
A new enemy can steal these prizes and take them to another level. Players then have to go to that level and blow through it in an attempt to catch up to him to retrieve the stolen goods. Also on the overworld map are pipes that allow for fast-travel, visual cues as to which levels contain secret exits and the like, plus the Toad Houses return. Toad Houses are mini-game areas that see players completing challenges for prizes. These are pretty simple, but increase in intensity after the core game is completed. 1-Ups aren't necessarily hard to get, but these Toad Houses hold a lot more value than say, New Super Mario Bros. 2, because New Super Mario Bros. U is much more challenging and getting a "Game Over" is most certainly a possibility for most players.
Like in the other games, losing all your lives results in going back to the last save. Saves happen after a mini-boss castle or a full-fledged boss castle at the end of the world. Upon completing the game, players are able to save the game at any point in time, which helps the collect-a-thon nature of the "end game" be a lot less of a hassle and much more fun. Some may call this system archaic and will be irked that they have to redo levels sometimes, but I feel like this system gives dying a lot more weight in the game, so people aren't just blindly running through levels as fast as they can.
New Super Mario Bros. U is low on new power ups for Mario and the gang to take advantage of, but what's here works well and is balanced. Newer items like the helicopter hat and the penguin suit aren't available for most of the game, but a new squirrel suit, acquired by collecting a rolling acorn, adds a twist on the typical Mario flying mechanics we've seen in the earlier games. Mario can glide with this suit, and a shake of the Wii remote sees Mario pick up on a wind current and soar higher into the air. This can only be done once before Mario has to bounce on the head of another enemy, which keeps this power up from being over-powered.
All the typical power ups return. The fire flower is back, the star is back, the mushrooms are back, and even the mini mushroom returns, with added capabilities that help it mimic the cape from Super Mario World. Now when players are pint-sized thanks to the mini-mushroom, Mario can run up walls, which is a nice touch that gives that mushroom a bit more importance in platforming challenges for the later levels.
Star Coins are still a focus for those that are looking to fully complete the game. Each level has three Star Coins to collect. The Star Coins are dotted throughout the level in order, which is what I really liked about the "end game" for the New Super Mario Bros. titles. Lesser games would just have these collectibles strewn about, forcing the player to look randomly everywhere for it, while New Super Mario Bros. U actually provides a hint as to where the Star Coin will be in the level, which makes collecting them less of a pain and more entertaining.
Star Coins aren't used as currency, but rather they are used to unlock the final levels of the game. These levels are so incredibly unique and fun that they make collecting the Star Coins that much more important in my eyes. New Super Mario Bros. U has a ton of replayability, and I'll probably spend much more time with this game than any other game in the "New" series. The Star Coins add a lot of replayability, plus the option of co-op play is there, there is unlockable content that will surprise Mario fans, and secret levels abound, making this one of the most replayable Mario games in history.
But wait, there's more! Besides the core game, there are three different modes in New Super Mario Bros. U that serve to sweeten the pot even more. Firstly, there are Challenges. Since the Wii U lacks a system wide achievement system, New Super Mario Bros. U compensates with Challenges, which are like achievement-style mini-levels with specific instructions to complete. Players can earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal for completing these, and by doing so, unlock more levels. New levels are unlocked by playing through the core game as well.
Challenges are separated into a variety of different categories. There are Speed Runs that will test the platforming skills of any Mario veteran. Coin collecting is another one, that sees players scour levels for every last coin available. A "Special" category offers more unique challenges that will puzzle and delight gamers, and there is much more. The Challenges are incredibly challenging and will only yield to the best, most skilled players. Every Challenge conquered is incredibly rewarding, but the best part is that it's actually fun to do them, and they don't feel like an achievement chore.
Boost Rush mode is another mode in the game. Boost Rush allows one player with the GamePad to place platforms on the screen while the people with Wii remotes go through the game normally, with the goal of beating levels quicker. By tapping the GamePad, those playing Boost Rush can help the Wii remote holders by stunning enemies and providing new platforms they can use to platform up to hard-to-reach spots.
Boost Mode also makes an appearance in the game's story mode. Someone can choose to use the GamePad and help the people playing as Mario, Luigi, and the Toads to get through the game with the added help of the Boost platforms. Boosting is, surprisingly, very fun, both for the person with the GamePad and those playing on the television screen. This allows for up to five players to enjoy a Mario adventure for the first time.
Unfortunately, I do have a gripe with the GamePad implementation. When playing in co-op, if everyone wants to control a character instead of doing "Boosting", everyone has to use Wii remotes. For example, say you and a buddy want to play New Super Mario Bros. U together, with one of you controlling Mario and the other one controlling Luigi. However, you only have a GamePad and one Wii remote. Basically, you're screwed. The GamePad can't function as a regular controller when playing in co-op, though it works just fine in solo play.
New Super Mario Bros. U fails to take advantage of the Wii U's unique features, for the most part. I'm disappointed that there were no mini-games here, like the ones seen in the original New Super Mario Bros. on DS. Those mini-games allowed New Super Mario Bros. to not only provide a traditional Mario adventure with no gimmicks, but they also gave the game an outlet that used the unique capabilities of Nintendo DS to provide a completely new experience. Yes, there were just mini-games, but damn it, they were fun. I think a pretty sizable opportunity was missed with New Super Mario Bros. U by not including mini-games from the get-go.
The way that New Super Mario Bros. U does use the GamePad is with the aforementioned Boost mode, but it's entirely unnecessary to complete the game. Another way that the game uses the GamePad is that it can be played entirely on the GamePad screen. Anyone that knows anything about Wii U will know that one of its most advertised features is the ability to play entire games on the GamePad's screen so that someone else can use the TV if they want. New Super Mario Bros. U is one of those games, in which players don't even need the TV on in order to play it any of the modes that aren't "Boost Rush".
Speaking of modes, I forgot another one. There is also a Coin Battle mode that is a Vs. mode which sees players trying to collecting more coins than the other. This was fine, but most people aren't going to play it more than once. Yet again, I was reminded of a mode from the original New Super Mario Bros. that was a thousand times better than this. The Vs. mode in that game was a lot of fun and hilarious, and it pains me that we still haven't seen it return.
Mario's first foray into the HD realm comes with satisfying visual results. Characters and environments are crisp and detailed. Backgrounds are gorgeous, accentuating the action up front and making everything pop out. Enemies are highly detailed as well, and when the camera is close in, the full visual glory of the game is shown off, proving that Wii U is quite capable of pretty graphics. New Super Mario Bros. U runs without a hiccup, which is typical for Mario titles, with a framerate as smooth as butter and zero problems with the game crashing. If there's one thing you can say about Nintendo, it's that they make sure that their games are polished as all hell before they ship.
Musically, New Super Mario Bros. U largely recycles tunes and sounds from the older games. No, this isn't a big problem, as these sounds are easy on the ears, but it's still a bit disappointing that a new score wasn't spruced up for the franchise's first appearance on Wii U.
New Super Mario Bros. U is a wonderful 2D platformer, and the best entry in the "New" Super Mario Bros. series since the Wii iteration a few years back. Providing gorgeous HD visuals, tight platforming, brilliant level design, and new modes that keep players coming back for more, New Super Mario Bros. U is the most comprehensive entry in the series yet. There are minor kinks in the armor (like why the hell can't the quartet be Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach!?), but overall, New Super Mario Bros. U is a fantastic and memorable platforming experience that likely won't be topped on Wii U or anywhere else for a long time to come.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Originally Posted: 01/04/13
Game Release: New Super Mario Bros. U (US, 11/18/12)
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