Mario goes HD to deliver the ultimate challenge.
Can you believe the last time a Mario game launched with a Nintendo console was in 1997 (in Australia) with the Nintendo 64? Super Mario 64 was there again in 2004 for the DS and 2006 for the Wii, but we can hardly count those. Truth be told, I was initially hesitant when I heard about New Super Mario Bros. U, perhaps even disappointed, as we just did this three months ago on 3DS. But alas, my fears were unwarranted, as New Super Mario Bros. U is a fantastic return to classic side-scrolling Mario and arguably the best in the “New Super Mario” series.
New Super Mario Bros. U still caters for a wide audience, but feels closer to Super Mario World than any other recent 2D game. It treats you like a gamer, like a Nintendo gamer, not some half-baked casual player who only recently heard of this jolly-good ‘Nintendos’ thing. It is hard. It is challenging.
New Super Mario Bros. U returns to the open world sequential stages of Super Mario World. They aren’t numbered stages, and the branching paths deliver a sense that you’re actually exploring every corner of the Mushroom Kingdom. For that reason alone, it’s more attractive to veteran Mario players who crave variety, and if anything, even alienates the casual cohort who need to be told exactly where to go next.
I like that.
The diverse range of levels are a joyful blend of speed-obsessed courses, precise platforming and testing puzzles. The map is riddled with surprises, from a little critter that keeps stealing all of Toad’s belongings to deadly penguins driving across your path and stumbling across hidden stages as you’re moving along. The overworld map brings Mario to life in a joyous way not experienced for four console generations.
New Super Mario Bros. U is the must buy Wii U launch title and the first game in the modern 2D era that really feels like it’s trying to cater for an experienced Mario-playing audience.
Mario’s first foray into high definition is as marvellous as we all hoped it would be, even if it doesn’t really push itself to be anything better than it need be. The simplistic artistic style of New Super Mario Bros. Wii has been retained, with a considerable increase in sharpness that finally brings gaming’s most iconic mascot into the current generation of high resolutions.
As a single-player game, NSMBU can be played on a full HDTV or entirely on the GamePad, where it looks just as good (although, depending on your TV, it’s always going to look a little more vibrant there). This is how Mario should be played, and I’m absolutely ecstatic to be able to play HD Mario and multitask using my TV for something else (cricket, anyone?).
As a 5-player multiplayer game, up to four people can pick up a Wii Remote and play as Mario, Luigi and two Toads with assistance from a fifth person laying platforms on the touchscreen. At first, I found this to be more trouble than it’s worth as I wasn’t expecting the makeshift platforms to be inserted into the landscape and didn’t accommodate for them; however, with some verbal communication, it will really help lesser-skilled players collect otherwise unobtainable objects.
While it’s intended as a corporative game, we had more fun working against each other. The player with the GamePad can block your path, sending you to death, and the four in-game characters can try and run ahead of each other. If someone gets left behind, they’ll have to respawn.
As an actual co-operative game it’s nothing but frustrating unless everyone is of exactly the same mindset. It’s too chaotic and everything that makes the single-player game a timeless classic is lost with additional players. For mine, Mario is, and always will be, a single-player experience.
HD may be the hook for many, but it’s the difficulty curve that makes New Super Mario Bros. U the best in the series as an avid gamer. Super Guide will still buzz around if you’re really struggling to send a computer-controlled Luigi through the stage to show you what to do. Like previous games, you’ll collect an abundance of lives, but you’ll lose enough to make it feel like you actually need them. Each level is full of enemies to head-bop or blast with fire and the difficulty continues to seamlessly ramp up as you progress.
The opening stages are carefree and gently caress you once more into the world of Mario, but before you know it, you’ll be thinking twice and contending with enemies that can actually kill you -- I don’t recall seeing that too often in other New Super Mario Bros. outings.
The overall experience won’t take you that long to complete, but no side-scrolling Mario game has ever exaggerated an over-extended adventure for length's sake. Instead it’s about returning and doing it all again under a different mindset. If you don’t collect them the first time, the three Star Coins hidden in each level will call you back and really test your skills.
Once you’ve done all you can within the confines of the main game, the experience is extended with Coin Battle, Challenge and Boost Rush modes. Challenge Mode tests your platforming abilities with a series of skill-based levels, while Coin Battle sees 2-4 players fight to earn the most coins. Boost Rush tasks you with completing the stages as fast as possible with a catch: each is auto-progressing slower than a grandmother driving through a school zone. You’ll need to keep collecting coins to speed it up.
Each of these three modes is serviceable, and will add some of the longevity required by a launch game before the inevitable post-launch drought. In particular, Challenge Mode will really put you through your paces.
While it does look fantastic, sometimes Mario himself still comes across pixelated on the GamePad screen, which totally bemuses me. Outside of that occasional flaw, I can’t help but feel that it looks amazing by “Nintendo standards” and only in contrast to the Wii. It doesn’t look bad, not by a long stretch, but Nintendo certainly could have done more to blow us away and prove that the inexplicable wait for high definition was worthwhile. As it stands, it’s a good looking game that could have been released five years ago.
The Final Verdict
New Super Mario Bros. U offers a genuine challenge and is the closest game in the New Super Mario series to the golden 16-bit era of Super Mario World with its open map and pitch-perfect difficulty curve. It’s arguably the best in what has been a great, but very safe, series and it doesn’t do anything to change that notion. The co-op is still frustrating, but its roots lie well within the single-player experience. New Super Mario Bros. U is the must buy Wii U launch title and the first game in the modern 2D era that really feels like it’s trying to cater for an experienced Mario-playing audience.