New Super Mario Bros. U: same princess, another castle

Tuesday, 27 November 2012 09:26 GMT By Dave Cook

New Super Mario Bros. U launches alongside Wii U across Europe from November 30th. VG247’s Dave Cook has been jumping his way through it to see if it’s worth a punt.

“As the game takes place across Super Mario World’s Dinosaur Land, it doesn’t take long for the wave of SNES-era nostalgia to wash over you. Seeing a line of scurrying Monty Moles bearing down on your position, or hearing the odd sting of Koji Kondo’s original score peeking through the new arrangement is enough to make hearts melt.”

Mario has become far too good at his job. No, I don’t mean plumbing, because how often do we actually see the portly plumber with his fist down a stagnant toilet? Even though it’s been 27 years since we first saw the Mario Bros. hopping around on the NES, they’re still showing most rival studios how platforming should be done.

When you’re already at the top of your game, where else can you go? After all, if Nintendo tried to dramatically shake up Mario’s core 2D exploits in a significant manner, then you could bet that many gamers would cry foul. Such experimentation seems to be what spin-offs like Paper Mario are for.

No, the best way for Nintendo to take Mario forward in his Wii U debut is to look back to the past and redefine what came before. Specifically, New Super Mario Bros. U is – in many ways – Super Mario World wearing HD skin, delivering a slew of familiar gameplay mechanics, locales and enemies that retro fans will appreciate.

Yet there is no sea change here, no Super Mario 64 moments of awe, or the revelatory design of Super Mario Galaxy. What you get is another solid platforming adventure across eight worlds in constant pursuit of Princess Peach. It’s a bankable format that you can rely on, and Nintendo knows it.

As the game takes place across Super Mario World’s Dinosaur Land, it doesn’t take long for the wave of SNES-era nostalgia to wash over you. Seeing a line of scurrying Monty Moles bearing down on your position, or hearing the odd sting of Koji Kondo’s original score peeking through the new arrangement is enough to make hearts melt.

Mounting Yoshi causes the drum lines to ramp up just like it did in 1992, the Koopalings -Bowser’s bothersome offspring – are also back to terrorise players at the end of each world, and shifty wizard Kamek pops up every so often to gum up our hero’s quest.

This is indeed a celebration of all things Super Mario World, although its rigid eight-world structure feels restrictive when compared to the branching paths and secret levels of its SNES predecessor.

Bonus Toad huts and warp pipe shortcuts break up the straight path a little, but this is a decidedly old-school approach to progression, with all of the forest, desert, ice, water and cloud world staples thrown in just to be safe.

One major setback of the old ways is that you still can’t perform a hard save anywhere on the world map. You can do a one-time only quick-save if you need to dash off out of the house, but hard saves require you to re-complete a mid or end-level castle. That’s just plain frustrating.

“Yoshi is also a powerful asset, as he can still gobble up enemies, hover while jumping and tread over some spiked foes, although he always pisses off at the end of each stage, which feels restrictive and out of sync with Super Mario World.”

While Nintendo has largely looked to Super Mario World for level inspiration, there are gameplay nods and musical riffs that span the series’ entire legacy, making stages something of a mash-up of ideas.

Only those with hearts of stone will refuse to be drawn in by the fun, and deny all memory of their misspent youth sat in front of the SNES. Personally, I loved living in the past while playing but still, even I can’t overlook the fact that much of the content here isn’t exactly new, it’s just delivered in a different way.

It’s clear to see that a Goomba will always be a Goomba, a Koopa Trooper likewise, and that there is only so much to be done with the source material at hand. What does impress however, is that almost every level within each of the game’s eight worlds delivers a unique hook.

One minute you could be scaling a giant stone fortress full of spinning cogs, then the next you may find yourself in an icy canyon being set upon by a gang of sliding penguins. There is a wide range of themes and mechanics at play, carefully sectioned so that every level on the world map offers something that feels fresh without breaking the mould.

New and returning power-ups also add a layer of fun into the mix, and are essential to collecting all three giant coins hidden in every level. New to the series is the Super Acorn, which dresses up characters in a flying squirrel suit. You can use it to glide a short distance, or boost up into the sky using the GamePad’s right trigger.

It’s an excellent power to use when falling to your death, or when trying to reach floating platforms or collectibles. Combine this with previous New Super Mario Bros. power-ups such as the shrinking mushroom and ice flower, and you have one of the most expanded skill-sets in the series’ 2D history.

“As is Nintendo’s nature now, New Super Mario Bros. U has been designed to cater players of all skill levels, and as such is rarely challenging. You can quite easily hold in excess of 50 lives if you know what you’re doing, making the gameplay feel like it’s set on some kind of hypnotic cruise control.”

Yoshi is also a powerful asset, as he can still gobble up enemies, hover while jumping and tread over some spiked foes, although he always pisses off at the end of each stage, which feels restrictive and out of sync with Super Mario World. Yoshi was a core mechanic in that game, but feels more like a side attraction here.

However, Yoshi babies can be found loitering around the world map, and are perhaps more useful than their grown-up equivalent. Simply walk up to one and it will follow you into the next stage.

From there you could theoretically hold on to one until the end of your current world if you wanted to, but doing so requires a great deal of patience and skill. Drop one in a level and it will eventually respawn on the world map after a while. Keep it safe however, and it can prove invaluable.

Pink Yoshi can inflate like a balloon, while blue Yoshi can blow bubbles that ensnare enemies and turn them into coins. The golden breed only appears within dark stages and can emit a powerful light that reveals hazards and collectibles. They’re all useful and slightly different, but again, they aren’t revolutionary.

As is Nintendo’s nature now, New Super Mario Bros. U has been designed to cater players of all skill levels, and as such is rarely challenging. You can quite easily hold in excess of 50 lives if you know what you’re doing, making the gameplay feel like it’s set on some kind of hypnotic cruise control.

Super Guide also returns, which gives you the option of seeing a tricky level completed by Luigi, essentially showing you how it should done. If you still can’t face it, you can opt to have the level complete itself, and while some some might applaud this option as a way of helping young kids or elderly players unfortunate enough to be born with two right thumbs, I simply can’t condone it personally.

It’s a cop-out if ever I saw one and in a game that isn’t exactly the pinnacle of difficulty to begin with, it feels like a coddling step too far. But that’s just me, I was born in a decade where games gave you one life and no continues, so it’s possible I’m just being a stereotypical Scottish grump.

Through all of this – the comforting familiar mechanics and design, the charming music and cute animations – there is a real sense that Nintendo has this formula so perfectly nailed that it doesn’t need to try too hard in order to create something special. It feels effortless, yet it’s clear that a lot of love has been poured into every level.

“It’s not quite a sequel to Nintendo’s SNES masterpiece, but it does enough to tickle your nostalgia bone for the duration while trying its hardest to shake up what you already know. However, that seismic shift is likely a task for Mario’s next 3D outing, whatever that may be.”

The HD visuals sing on the screen, helping each painfully detailed backdrop and character animation leap off the screen. It even looks superb on the Wii U GamePad, should you wish to be lazy and play from your bed on a Sunday morning like I did once.

In a weird way, the Wii U could be considered a powerhouse handheld, if it didn’t need the base console to function. It’s not of course, but the option of playing in different rooms is welcome, even if it guzzles batteries like two Game Gears taped together with the volume and brightness turned up to max.

For device-hungry fans you can even get four WiiMotes and your GamePad synced up to play co-op mode over a game of Boost Rush, which sees four on-screen players scrambling to survive a continually scrolling level while the GamePad operator creates platforms to help or hinder them. There are even single-player time attack and coin challenges in there too.

I’m usually more hyper and excited when talking about a game as polished and well-crafted as New Super Mario Bros. U – you’ve probably seen what I mean on these very pages before – but I honestly didn’t expect any less from Nintendo on this one, and chances are you already had presumptions about it too. If you did they’re probably correct.

So dependable has the brand become that you can hedge your bets after seeing some screens or a trailer. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t buy the game – far from it in fact – because as I mentioned earlier, it’s pitched at Super Mario World fans.

It’s not quite a sequel to Nintendo’s SNES masterpiece, but it does enough to tickle your nostalgia bone for the duration while trying its hardest to shake up what you already know. However, that seismic shift is likely a task for Mario’s next 3D outing, whatever that may be.

For now you can rest assured that New Super Mario Bros. U is a solid launch title, and a worthy companion to your shiny new Wii U console. What’s a Nintendo console without Mario games after all?

Disclosure:

  • To assist in writing this review ahead of the Wii U launch, Nintendo sent Dave a Premium Wii U console with New Super Mario Bros. U and Nintendo Land games bundled, as well as a Pro Controller. No review event or additional merchandise was offered or accepted.

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