Review by Phange

"Far surpasses the standards expected from the "New" Super Mario Bros moniker"

Fairness is in order. I have never completely enjoyed a New Super Mario Brothers title. The original DS game struck me as a bland (but nevertheless, for the time, new) take on the traditional 2D Super Mario Bros formula. The Wii title brought back some of the challenge and quality level design expected from previous classic Mario titles, but nevertheless still felt uninspired and sterile. The series dipped to its lowest point on the 3DS with the stunningly pedestrian New Super Mario Bros 2, a game with level design so basic and predictable that I seriously questioned Nintendo's capacity to produce a legitimate heir to the classic Mario Bros series.

I'm happy to report that I was wrong.

While New Super Mario Bros U carries the same name as previous entries, it is by any account a completely different kind of game from its predecessors. Gone is the half-baked linear 8-world stage select system, replaced with Super Mario World's interconnected overworld rife with secret exits and paths. In previous entries, "challenge" could only be expected in the games' inevitable secret worlds, but even then, the challenge wasn't up to par with the best of SMB 3 and SMW. Around World 5 in NSMB U, the game's challenge begins to climb significantly, and by the end of World 6 you might be pulling your hair out in frustration as levels require you to do such ludicrous things as - traverse a castle filled with rolling spiked balls solely as Mini Mario in order to get all three star coins, move through a sky stage whose platforms exist solely as flying beetles, or ride a roller coaster filled with dozens of instant-death traps while maintaining a "starman combo" to obtain an otherwise impossible star coin. Many of these challenges manage to be even more unforgiving than classic Mario titles - being more closely akin to the "Kaizo" Mario hacks popularized in SNES emulation. By World 8, things get so ridiculous that it's almost comical. Pools of 99 lives are quickly depleted, and the integrated Miiverse serves almost like Demon's/Dark Souls's communication system - a collective consciousness of people suffering together. As for the secret final world, well, let's just say that Nintendo has plenty of punishment in store for the obsessed.

It's a brutally, gloriously challenging game. The dramatically improved challenge makes the game far more rewarding to play, and a much more enjoyable experience than previous iterations of NSMB.

Amazingly, that challenge manages to ramp up to frankly comical levels in the game's "Challenge Mode" which tasks you with ludicrous requirements such as performing 100% flawless speedruns (in the vein of more modern Sonic games), avoiding enemies or projectiles while standing on a single safe block, or never touching the ground as you traverse an entire level. These challenges are absolutely not for the more casual Mario players, but for the old guard Nintendo fans who have been around since the NES and miss the uncompromising Nintendo of yore. It's a love letter to the fans if there ever was one.

Words can't adequately express how impressed I am with NSMB U. It's simultaneously a brilliant return to form for the official mascot of gaming itself, and a feature-filled package that will keep you playing for a very long time. There's simply so much to see and do in NSMB U, and for once Nintendo chose not to skimp on the game design choices that it used to hold sacred.

In short, New Super Mario Bros U succeeds because it's the first title in the series to actually understand and implement the features and clever design choices that defined the classic Mario titles. Indeed, in some ways it actually manages to surpass them by upping the challenge and infusing a sense of global stress management via Miiverse. It's a spectacular title hampered only by the reputation of its predecessors.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/07/13

Game Release: New Super Mario Bros. U (US, 11/18/12)

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