Is New Super Mario Bros U really “new”? We set out to find that answer as it laid captive in a castle, caged by Bowser and company. There is a lot of nice things in New Super Mario Bros U, a few of them entirely new. A majority of this package is content you’ve probably experienced before on the Wii, DS, or 3DS though this Wii U version sports a very nice coat of paint.
Mario and his crew (Luigi, two Toads and your Mii depending on the mode) are determined to get back to Peach’s castle to rescue her from Bowser yet again. I appreciate that the game goes about the way Peach is kidnapped in a slightly different way as Bowser doesn’t take Peach anywhere, he takes over her castle instead.
You probably play 2D Mario games for the level design and I can tell you that you won’t be disappointed. Some of the levels are the most cleverly crafted stages I’ve seen in recent Mario platformers. The stage design puts New Super Mario Bros 2 to shame and occasionally challenges the classics like Super Mario Bros 3.
I felt New Super Mario Bros Wii’s levels relied too much on being cheap and overly difficult at times. In this game Nintendo hit a good balance between being challenging and frustrating. You’ll replay levels during some particularly difficult areas but it never feels like a chore. Stages involving the cheep cheeps and boo’s stand out from the rest as well as the levels at Peach’s castle.
Visually the game is a stunner in some areas, lacking in others. The backgrounds of each stage are the bright spot and look absolutely terrific in HD. Some resemble Van Gogh paintings, others impress with tiny details that the Wii U’s bump in resolution over the Wii can be credited for.
Shadows and lighting aren’t bad in the game either. No one will blame you if you don’t notice how you can see the light from an incoming fireball shine on Mario’s hat, but when you do go out of your way to notice this subtle effect it will impress you.
That said I wish Nintendo had gone for a different art style. The “New Super” style is getting very old and is almost a parody of itself when referred to as “new”. Character models all look good, especially Bowser’s shell, but they’re what we’ve come to expect. I sincerely wish Nintendo would mix things up with the art direction at least a little bit. I’m not saying it has to use UbiArt framework (though that would be amazing) but something a little different would be appreciated.
Don’t get me started on the music. It isn’t bad. It is just as charming as ever. But the soundtrack is heavily recycled and even the new stuff sounds very similar to what you may have heard in past New Super Mario Bros games. This is an issue Nintendo could have easily fixed. They put so much care and detail into designing stages that it is odd they overlook something as essential to a good Mario experience as the music.
This doesn’t help Nintendo against its detractors who constantly say they’re “rehashing” software. New Super Mario Bros U’s soundtrack isn’t bad but it is very uninspired.
Peach’s Castle serves as the final world in the game (not counting a world that is unlocked after you beat the story) and has some of the best, most challenging stages of all. The final fight with (spoiler alert!) Bowser is pretty epic. It is probably the best boss fight in New Super Mario Bros history, though that isn’t saying much.
There is one earlier boss fight with one of the Koopalings that adds a layer of depth unseen in other battles where the player must hop between multiple levels of platforms to reach the boss. It adds depth to the otherwise routine “bop him on the head” design of the boss battles. Sadly this mechanic of having multiple tiers on the playing field isn’t used much else.
Co-op works the exact same way as it did with New Super Mario Bros Wii but with an added twist. The player using the Game Pad can place blocks for other players to use. You can use these blocks to protect players, help them get to greater heights or sabotage them.
It may not sound like a great feature at first but it is. It lets you add the youngest family member into the mix, as successfully completing the stages may be something above their skill level. This gives less experienced players a much better role than I could have imagined. It’s a new and innovative approach to local co-op, one I’m hoping is expanded upon in future Wii U games.
Additional modes like coin rush and the challenge mode extend the value immensely. It will only take you about 8-10 hours to beat the story mode so these are welcome additions.
All in all New Super Mario Bros U is a safe bet by Nintendo. It isn’t all that “new” in most areas but it does shine brightly in the ones that count most like level design. That’s what really matters for Mario buyers anyway. The game is an absolute delight to play and my gripes with the art style and music can only damage the experience so much. The final boss battle is particularly fun, straying from the path of past New Super Mario Bros games. New Super Mario Bros U isn’t all that new but it gets the job done very, very well.