New Super Mario Bros U Review
Nintendo's classic platformer returns for another fun-filled side-scrolling adventure
Even after thirty years of Mario titles spanning every platform from arcade machines to the Nintendo 3DS and branching into half a dozen genres, it would be difficult to claim that the franchise is getting old. New Super Mario Bros U is constructed around a formula that may prove to be truly timeless, but it also exploits enough fresh ideas to feel like a new experience even to seasoned players. The game is a meticulously balanced blend of old concepts not seen in decades and new features that integrate the motion controls native to the Wii U, all rolled into a beautifully designed classic style.
The basic premise of nearly every Mario game makes a return in New Super Mario Bros U. The infamous bad guy, Bowser, and his gang of Koopalings kidnap Princess Peach and hold her captive until our favorite plumber can come to her rescue. Though this one does something a little different: instead of carrying Peach away, Bowser instead takes over her kingdom and locks her in the tower of her own castle. After being thrown all the way across the kingdom, Mario begins his long journey through different worlds infested with Bowser's turtle-ish minions to battle the King Koopa and free the princess. And, unlike in New Super Mario Bros 2 for the 3DS, there will be no shortage of challenge in this adventure.
In acknowledgment of the franchise's origins in the days before game saving was a standard feature, this title limits the player's ability to save progress to certain checkpoints. This requires the player to be careful with their lives or lose all progress since the last permanent save. Quick saves are also possible at any location, but these only allow you to resume at that level one time. Repeated deaths on a level will spawn a green help box, which starts a tutorial of sorts with Luigi showing off a perfect run through of the course. At any time, the player can exit the video and take control of Luigi, continuing the course from that exact position. Finishing the course this way will give the option of retrying it or counting it as cleared and allowing the player to move on. The helpfulness of the video is negligible (especially with the ease of finding a video walkthrough online) and at times can be somewhat annoying, but it does present an option for anyone who just cannot make it past a course. Making it through the final castle in New Super Mario Bros U may not be nearly the accomplishment it was in the NES days, but it is at least more satisfying than other recent installments in the series.
The game also features a wider variety of enemies and powerups, including Ice and Fire Flowers and the new Super Acorn that turns Mario into a flying squirrel, and brings back a fan-favorite gameplay element that has been absent for many, many years: Baby Yoshis. These droopy-looking little guys can help Mario in an assortment of strange ways, such as trapping enemies in bubbles, carrying Mario from a balloon, or even acting as a flashlight. Though holding on to them all the time can be tedious (typical babies), they can make travelling through a difficult level much easier and more entertaining.
The courses in New Super Mario Bros U offer a bit more variety than the strictly linear style of most of its brethren. Though the classic lineup of worlds is still there - grassy hills, desert, water, ice, jungle, clouds, etc. - it is up to Mario which challenges he wants to tackle. Players will quickly come to a fork in the path where they may choose which world to enter and play through. Slipping across floating blocks of ice and swimming through treacherous watery caverns start to feel equally daunting when you're forced to choose between them. This can be quite a blessing for those who have a fear of water levels. If nothing else, being able to choose what path to follow adds a little more excitement to the otherwise bland progression through the game. There are also plenty of world-skipping shortcuts, which may be convenient for finishing the game, but cut out a lot of the actual entertainment value. It simply isn't the same to go back and play skipped worlds after you have beaten the game, as much of the challenge is now removed by the ability to permanently save progress at any point. The ease of using world-skips is a bit disappointing; I skipped three entire worlds (nearly half the game) on my first playthrough completely by accident, and was left feeling a bit unsatisfied with the experience.