OK, it’s not exactly the fresh high def 3D Mario game some would have hoped for with a new Nintendo console launch, but New Super Mario Bros U is a game dismissed at your peril. Hot on the heels of New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS, if you were one of that game’s detractors - displeased with the coin chase mentality and handholding of it all - you’d be forgiven for having misgivings about this title, assuming it to be a mere continuation of the themes seen on the handheld. In some ways it still is, 2D Mario offerings can’t deviate too much, but underneath the hood of New Super Mario Bros U is a game far more in tune with the essence and purity of the platforming royalty brand.For imagery that is familiar to all and sundry, the first thing that’ll likely strike you is how fresh it all appears. The move to HD might not sound like something that’d be instantly apparent with regards visual motifs that have always enjoyed cartoonish looks, but the sheer vividness of it all is positively captivating. The worlds are rich and vibrant, perhaps the best we’ve seen since Yoshi’s Island, and the little fat plumber himself scrubs up well too. It’d be stretching it a tad to say this extra definition has a discernible effect on the gameplay, but it certainly gives those ledge leaping antics the appearance of precision, and every pixel is a welcome friend when timing is key.
With the spit-shine overhaul looking a success the major question on the lips of most will be “what’s the GamePad used for?” The answer is, not a great deal. It must have been a hard decision for Nintendo not to push this feature on arguably their largest launch title, but without an obviously stellar idea, leaving the stumpy Italian to his tried-and-tested routine seems the logical way forward. So, the GamePad is employed predominantly as a secondary display unit, freeing the TV up for cohabitants who’ve yet to realise the delights of gaming.
The other function is for Boost mode; when you’ve got some friends around for some local co-op, the game is played normally by those wielding Wii remotes, whilst the GamePad user can manipulate the environment by drawing platforms to be leapt on, or bop enemies in order to clear a path. Sadly it isn’t nearly as cohesive an experience as you’d imagine Nintendo originally intended. When you’re the one holding the uber-expensive controller - housing a gyro, camera, touch-screen and accelerometer - you don’t expect to be on the periphery of what’s going on; it indicates that the central game was designed with the Wii remote in mind and the tablet-cum-pad is effectively the plus-one to this party.
You can tell the pitch was likely that the GamePad user would be the string-puller, the dungeon master of the game, with the chances of success resting on their shoulders. Instead they’re more akin to the designated driver, performing the vital function that is necessary for their friends to have fun. Once the gimmick of touch-screen control has worn off, most will prefer to have the Wii remote and shunt the GamePad to a less capable player; last one to the sofa gets Boost mode pal.
If all that sounds pretty damning, fear not, although the co-op has been pushed in pre-release coverage, the truly attractive assets of the game lie in other areas. New Super Mario Bros 2 split opinion with regards its skewed direction towards coin hunting and accessibility for the less skilled players. The result was a platformer that held all the right Mario ingredients, but kept their successful mixing in the right measures until the latter levels, by which time - even though you could blast through the first five worlds in double quick time - some had already been turned off. New Super Mario Bros U is different, the coin chase is gone, and although the modern power-ups are present it feels more like a hark back to the golden years of SNES-era Mario.
Away from the central story (hardly a narrative, but the between stages animations are endearing) you have the addition of Challenges, which include Time Attack, Coin Collection, 1-Up Rally and Special. These mini-game offerings can be surprisingly hard, ranging from simple speed runs and quick coin grabbing to fireball dodging and attempting to glide through a stage without touching the ground. Completion unlocks further tasks, all with varying goals to be aimed for. It’s perfect for a quick-dip blast of split second reflex-testing jumping fun; a diversion perhaps, but a very worthwhile one.
The worlds have differing paths through them, and it isn’t simply a case of them all being similar in difficulty, there will be some you favour and others you don’t. The level design has a variation to it, a nice rhythm to mixing up the type of jumping mechanics you’ll need to rely on, from breakneck feats of speedy daring to careful slow-and-steady platform progression, it’s all here and broken up to avoid monotony; the presence of Yoshis is particularly well rationed out with that in mind.
The difficulty spikes are a definite bonus as well, even in the early levels you’ll find the occasional stumbling block. There’s a guide mode for those who find it all a bit too hard, whereby if you die too many times in one spot Luigi will show you a path through the stage; you can take over at any point or leave him to complete it for you. It’s a bit of handholding, but easily forgivable and builds a happy medium between the liberal doling out of excessive power-ups and controller-throwing desperation.
There are hidden paths, a light-fingered rabbit who must be hunted down when he appears on the map in a speed run, the bonus of co-op modes and the ever addictive lure of star coins to find, all of which add great longevity, but in the end you’ll return for the main draw - slick, polished platform high-jinks.
- Polished platforming
- Glorious visuals
- Accessible but still engaging difficulty
- Good variety in stages/mini-games
- No online multiplayer
- Boost mode can isolate GamePad user
New Super Mario Bros U Wii U Review
If you were worried this would falter at the same hurdles as New Super Mario Bros 2, fear not. That title received much unfair criticism, but it switched the focus enough as to make it feel un-Mario-like in places, and even though it was an accomplished platformer in its own right, NSMB U treads carefully so as not to repeat this mistake. By keeping the single player game so focussed on traditional elements within a startlingly vibrant recreation of the Mushroom Kingdom it gives fans exactly what they want - pixel perfect, pin sharp platforming with enough variety and difficulty spikes to maintain interest but ensure progression isn’t a formality.
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