New Super Mario Bros. U Review

Developer, Publisher: Nintendo

Console: Wii U

Players: 1-5

Rating:

  • E (ESRB)
  • A (CERO)
  • 3+ (PEGI)
  • G (OFLC)

Release Date:

  • November 18, 2012 (US)
  • December 8, 2012 (Japan)
  • November 30, 2012 (Europe)
  • November 30, 2012 (Australia)

Genre: Platformer

-Greg Livingston

There’s a school of thought which holds that video game reviews should judge a game based on its own merits, not how well it performs in relation to other games. Writing that kind of review would’ve been difficult enough with the first New Super Mario Bros game, which played more like an homage to Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World than a fresh take on them. Here we are at the fourth New Super Mario Bros. game, and things haven’t changed much.

Booting up the game with New Super Mario Bros. 2 fresh in my mind, I knew what to expect. New Super Mario Bros. U is a 2D platformer, which means you’ll hop and run through a variety of levels on your way to save Princess Peach.

Squirrel Mario in action. This game’s answer to Raccoon Mario is surprisingly fun.

But the first world defied my expectations. The enemies and platforms were all old hat, and each level was dominated by the same goombas and swaying mushroom platforms that I had seen a zillion times in previous New Super Mario Bros. games. The important part, though, was my Squirrel Suit and pink baby yoshi. New Super Mario Bros. U introduces some smart powerups that do a great deal to rejuvenate its gameplay.

There are a handful of baby yoshis you can tote around, each with a unique ability, as well as the new Squirrel Suit. It slows your descent if you hold the jump button, but if you also hold forward, you’ll fall even slower. This encourages you to keep your forward momentum and find another enemy to trounce in order to stay airborne even longer—in short, it encourages experimentation and just plain fun. It works perfectly with NSMB-style levels, which are largely straightforward corridors that use enemies to set the pacing. This attention to detail is the hallmark of New Super Mario Bros. U’s new powerups.

The pink yoshi is mostly useful for platforming, since it floats when you press the spin jump button. His brother, the blue yoshi, spits bubbles to trap enemies. They both gobble up enemies if they can, and if they can’t, the yoshis act as shields.

New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t give them enough time to shine, unfortunately. Squirrel Mario remained fun to use throughout the game, but it shared equal time with Fire and Ice Marios, which I was already incredibly familiar with, especially because Ice is so similar to Fire. The baby yoshis, which are New Super Mario Bros. U’s greatest asset, are downplayed even further, as you can only collect one per world. These little critters present new ways of attacking and moving, so it’s a shame to see them take back seat to plain old Fire Mario, who plays the same way he did in 1990.

New Super Mario Bros. U struggles to stifle its new elements using old ones, but there are a few shining moments here and there. I had fun experimenting with a splitting goomba enemy which appears for an all-too-brief span in the Soda Jungle, and another level can simply be called the Vincent van Gogh level. By and large, though, I’d seen it all before.

This dragon enemy is another bright spot in the game, as he weaves through the course while homing in on your position—it’s fun playing water ballet with him. On a side note, the baby yoshis are very helpful for swimming.

And when I say I’d seen it all before, I didn’t just mean I had seen these kinds of enemies and platforms before; I also mean I had seen these graphics before. The New Super Mario Bros. graphics were cutesy in a bland sense to begin with, and that’s only gotten worse over time. The koopas dance in their nifty little way, and piranha plants bite with all the liveliness they did five years ago, but it’s all rehearsed.

As I played, I didn’t notice the music, and I had to look it up later. There are some new melodies to be found in New Super Mario Bros. U, but they’re hardly hummable. The soundtrack stays alive by lifting the instrumentation of previous NSMB games. You can also rest assured that there are plenty of borrowed melodies from previous games mixed in with new ones.

New Super Mario Bros. U has a few more elements to introduce, though. The Wii U’s tablet controller gives a second player the ability to place blocks. While this makes for some opportunities to mess with the first player, it’s mostly handy as a platforming tool. If you want to cause mayhem, it’s better to stick to the standard multiplayer mode where everyone tries to keep a character onscreen. On the flip side, tablet multiplayer does allow you to get a fifth player in on the action: four controlling normal characters, and the fifth placing blocks.

My favorite challenges are the speed runs.

There’s also a new challenge mode available. The challenges are fairly predictable—avoid damage for so many seconds, collect all of the coins within the time limit, so on and so forth—but they deliver what they promise.

In each of my reviews, I try to offer some understanding of the game beyond its surface elements, but I’m having trouble here. As someone who’s played his fair share of Mario over the years, I like to think I can pick up on subtle differences in Mario titles, but I don’t see much in New Super Mario Bros. U. Don’t get me wrong, everything is fun and polished, and the powerups and challenge mode make this one a contender for best entry in the New Super Mario Bros series. Just not by much.

Pros:

  • The new powerups are great.
  • Levels are fast-paced and bouncy. Lots of running and lots of jumping on enemies.
  • Three star coins are hidden in each level, and there are plenty of challenges to keep you interested once you’ve completed the main game.

Cons:

  • If you’ve played another New Super Mario Bros. game, you’ve likely seen most of what this game has to offer. Levels are crafted in the same spirit they have been for the past five years.
  • New elements don’t get their chance to shine.

Verdict:5.0

New Super Mario Bros. U is a solid, well-polished, and best of all fun product, but it lacks anything interesting.

Price Verdict: Purchased new in 2012 for $59.99.

There are 8 worlds here with 10 stages or so each. When you factor in the Challenge Mode and Star Coins, this is a pretty hefty 2D Mario title. Even then, $59.99 is a steep price for a 2D Mario of any size. If you crave the insane multiplayer or love Mario levels, I could see spending $59.99.