A new Mario game released with the launch of a new Nintendo console is always something to look forward to. However, though solid and enjoyable the ‘New Super Mario’ brand has been somewhat tired of late. Both New Super Mario Bros Wii and New Super Mario Bros 2 were largely forgettable and 'by the numbers' in terms of the quality we have come to expect from the heroic plumber.
With this in mind we approached New Super Mario Bros. U with hesitation. We are delighted to say that what we found was a game with all the charm and style of the best in the series. This really is a game worthy of the Mario name.
Right from the first level you can tell something is different. It just feels so much better than other games in the NSMB series. Everything seems to have had just that little bit more attention paid to it. The mechanics feel tighter, the music seems stronger and it looks absolutely beautiful - all little things that add up to something which just feels so much better than before.
It all starts with the world map which is now in the more traditional style of Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World instead of the line of levels running from left to right. It helps makes the multiple routes feel more like an exploration and the secret levels see paths winding off into unknown parts with islands popping up and rainbows forming. What is on display shows the imagination of classic Mario and this is also present in the level designs.
Many of the NSMB levels before this felt generic and tired. Here, levels are fast and devious and contain tricks and gimmicks that may only appear in a handful of places, or even just once. This means that players will come away with levels that they remember and love playing. Nothing is overdone and some of what is here is equals the very best of Super Mario Bros level design.
One level in particular is set out in a spooky illustration style, a graphical effect which is present nowhere else in the game. One water level might have you dodging a continually circling dragon, while the next will see you climbing up through a series of water bubbles trapped in the air. Everyone will have their own favourites.
The bosses are also much better than NSMB2. The Koopa kids return along with Bowser Jnr and a few others. But this time they take more than five seconds to defeat. Still not as difficult as some of the bosses of old but at least now you feel a sense of achievement for toppling them.
In terms of power ups there are the usual suspects of the fire flower and invincibility star. The ice flower also returns (but is now much better implemented), and the mini mushroom makes very fleeting appearances. Yoshi is also here in both adult and baby form, though he will leave you at the end of a level. The new addition is the flying squirrel suit. This allows you to float over large distances and gives you one extra jump while in the air. This subtle difference to the Racoon, Cape and Tanooki costumes of the past allows for some excellent and clever use through the levels – something you’ll have to make good use of to find all the hidden coins.
The game is likely to last you a while as well. You can race through the main levels in three or four days but there are many secret routes to find and getting all three star coins will take a long time. Once all the coins in a land have been found it unlocks a Star Road level which will put your reflexes and brain to an even tougher test. Even with all the levels finished and secrets found we find it hard to believe any gamer would put it away and never play it again. It manages to capture that retro ethos of running through the levels you already know just for the sheer fun of it.
The social and multiplayer aspects of the game also work well. Whenever you do something such as collect all three star coins or get through a level without taking damage, the game invites you to post a message. This message can then be read by your friends and other gamers on the world map. The game also invites you to post if you have found a level particularly tough. This allows for gamers to give hints to each other or post warnings in a kind of friendly version of Dark Souls savage system.
Challenges are available such as time trials and the coin attack mode found in NSMB2. There are also specific special challenges such as dodging fireballs or staying in the air for as long as you can by bouncing off Goomba heads. There is also a special boost mode which allows one player to play while the other adds platforms to help them through the level.
Multiplayer takes the form of Coin battle mode as players fight to gain the most coins. The four player story mode in the previous Wii game is also here and still proves as awkward and chaotic as ever. A fifth player can now join in to add platforms via the Wii U pad. The levels of the main game certainly seem to have been designed with single players in mind and it’s fair to say there’s nothing amazing here but they prove fun additions and distractions from the single player story game.
There may not be anything as revolutionary here as Super Mario galaxy but New Super Mario Bros U shows that the old 2D Mario still has the magic when the property is treated with care and affection. In truth this is a fine successor to Super Mario World and could have held the title of something closer to Super Mario World 5 (if we don’t count Yoshi’s Island). That alone should be enough to convince you to own a copy. It’s close but not quite strong enough to warrant a purchase of a Wii U on its own. However, it certainly is a game that every Wii U owner needs to have and by far the most fun Wii U game we’ve played so far.