"Mario's Still Got It"
Let's go back in time to May of 2004. We were still over two years away from Nintendo launching the Wii and fundamentally changing the way millions of people would play games on a daily basis. It was that year at E3 that Nintendo unveiled plans to re-launch a 2D Mario side-scrolling platformer, appropriately titled New Super Mario Bros. The game was a commercial and critical success when it was released two years later, with over 29 million sales worldwide to date and several awards from the gaming press. A follow-up came out for the Wii in 2009 and introduced multiplayer elements, and a third game was released for Nintendo's latest handheld, the 3DS, earlier this year. The two most recent releases were considered to be solid games, but were criticized for being stale, with few new elements being brought to the series. With the launch of the new Wii U, the retro styled platformer is back for a fourth time in New Super Mario Bros. U.
By now, you should know the drill. New Super Mario Bros. U does very little to stray from the gameplay formula that made the initial series successful over 25 years ago. Run, jump, spin, throw shells and fire, swim and fly, and destroy Bowser and his cronies on the way to saving the distressed Princess Peach from Bowser's treacherous hands. Eight worlds are available from the start, with a ninth secret level unlocked after reaching certain goals. Standard Mario power-ups have all returned, with the added flying squirrel suit allowing Mario or the other characters to traverse longer distances through the air. In the main campaign, the main player will control Mario, but you can add in some extra players, including Luigi, a pair of Toads, and Miis. Yoshi also makes his return for Mario or the other characters to ride on, as do three baby Yoshis, each of which have their own unique abilities (fly up and hover around, attack enemies with bubles, or light up your surroundings).
The multiplayer in the main campaign is just like on New Super Mario Bros. Wii, mostly a platforming mayhem with moments of cooperation, but the one thing that stands out in New Super Mario Bros. U is the difficulty. The first three games in the reboot were easier than most people wanted, and while the beginning levels here skew on the easy side, the later worlds and stages produce some of the most difficult 2D Mario levels of all-time. Tight controls are present throughout the game, and you rarely feel that the reason for your demise is because of poor handling. If you go down, it's probably your fault. Exploration will be rewarded as well, as Nintendo has hidden several areas inside each level, and in a lot of cases, that's where you'll find one of the three star coins. Trying to find all of the hidden areas in the game, assuming you don't just look online for video tutorials, adds significantly value to the game.
Another multiplayer option for the main campaign puts a player in charge of the GamePad while the rest use the Wii Remote for platforming. The GamePad player can tap the screen to place colored blocks strategically and make the game a little easier... or more complicated, depending on that player's will.
Two new modes have been added to the game as well, and they do lengthen the experience. Challenge Mode has you running through an objective while playing one of the game's levels. They're mostly time based, but tweaks like asking you to finish a level without picking up any coins adds something to the formula. Boost Rush is the other additional mode, and it's basically an automatically side-scrolling speed run. Both modes have varying difficulties, and provide an extra layer of replayability, especially as the difficulty picks up.
New Super Mario Bros. U is compatible with Miiverse, and the functionality is solid. Not only can you post your experiences from the game, but it's also a one-stop hub for help if you get stuck anywhere. Seeing where other people struggled and succeeded is really just the beginning for Miiverse, and I expect that games in the future will get the most out of Nintendo's version of a social network. Also, the game is fully playable on the GamePad, so if someone else wants to use the TV, players can take the game straight to the tablet screen, and it works flawlessly.
Mario's first foray into HD breathes new life to the game's visuals. When the Wii U was first announced, there were some people who were concerned that Nintendo wouldn't be able to do games properly in HD, but New Super Mario Bros. U alleviates those concerns. The addition of unique and vibrant textures to the environments makes it different. Having said that, the style of the game is starting to look a little dated in the fourth entry. The audio is standard for a Mario game, with classic and remixed tracks, along with the regular sound bytes from Mario and the other characters from the Mushroom Kingdom.
It's not all positive for the game. Realistically, there isn't a ton here that you haven't seen before. As mentioned above, the formula hasn't changed that much over the last 25 years, and even though the game is fun and new modes have been added, you'll be forgiven if you're a little weary of the series at this point. Also, for all the talk about how Nintendo is committed to a much better online strategy going forward, it's a curious decision that there's no online co-op available. It's local multiplayer or nothing, and while Miiverse represents a step forward for the company and the system, the addition of online multiplayer to New Super Mario Bros. U would have been nice to see.
New Super Mario Bros. U is a very good game, and arguably the best in the rebooted series. For Nintendo, the series represents a safe way to launch Mario on a new console. It's not the Mario game that everyone is waiting for, but it's still a game that shouldn't be missed at the Wii U launch. Outside of the several game ports from the PS3 and Xbox 360, this is the best launch title available for the console, and should be able to tide you over until the inevitable 3D Mario game is released.
GameDynamo's Score for New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
A lifelong Nintendo fan and sports junkie, Adam is from Toronto and a proud Canadian. If he's not writing or playing games, you can probably find him on the golf course.
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