I don’t get overly excited about a lot of games, but there’s just that special something about Super Mario. The series has always produced solid games but nothing has quite rekindled my love affair with the platformer since the days of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World. I realize Super Mario Galaxy is one of the highest rated games ever, but I tend to be a fan of the 2D games I grew up with. Nothing since has recaptured the feeling of when you first acquire a Super Leaf or first don the infamous cape, but New Super Mario Bros U promises to change that and return fans to the glory days of our favourite plumber.
Immediately you’ll be greeted with the Flying Squirrel suit. Along with most of the power-ups from previous “New” Mario games – Super Mushrooms, Super Stars, Fire Flowers etc. – the Flying Squirrel suit allows you to glide in the air, cling to walls and boost in flight using the spin move. The next thing you’ll notice is the overworld map. With the same flow of its predecessor NSMBU adds extra features like enemies crossing your path which launch you into mini levels between normal stages. Secrets are back in full swing as well, in the form of levels, short-cuts, coins and exits adding a significant focus on replayability and longevity. Like other games in the “New” series, each level contains a set of star coins. You’ll explore every crevice, peer behind every obstacle, and risk certain death in your quest to collect each coin. Although collecting stars gives you a sense of accomplishment, you’re primarily going for the extra levels that are unlocked as a result.
The levels themselves are stunning. Vibrant colours, smooth lines and spectacular level design are a staple in the Super Mario universe and NSMBU doesn’t disappoint. Level designs vary greatly and focus on different themes and mechanics throughout the campaign. Some are obviously geared towards particular power-ups and will play differently depending on what you have equipped. Baby Yoshi’s, one of the new gameplay features, become particularly handy in some levels. They can be found on the world map and carried by Mario throughout levels. Each baby Yoshi has a special ability; blue ones blow bubbles that trap enemies, yellow ones glow to light your way and pink ones inflate and are able to carry Mario in the air. In addition to their abilities all baby Yoshi’s act like a shield for Mario, eating anything that comes close. The game is not without challenges, especially in the secret levels, one of which is perhaps the most difficult I’ve encountered in a Mario game.
Multiplayer is NSMBU is a blast. Bumping into one another while working for star coins or picking up a friend and tossing them off a cliff, either way I’m entertained. But stealing all the power-ups from your chums isn’t the only way to play. The new Boost Mode implements the Wii U’s gamepad and allows another player to join in and assist Mario in the form of adding up to 4 platforms on the screen. However, that friend you stole a Super Mushroom from earlier also has the opportunity to hinder your progress with those platforms, preventing you from moving forward, jumping, etc. It’s really just some good old fashioned Mario fun, but one thing I didn’t like was the lack of playable characters. If you were to ask I’m not exactly sure who else I wanted, but if you’re going to make a 4-player game then at least include 4-unique playable characters. Something about playing as Toad 1 or Toad 2 (Yellow or Blue, if you will) just isn’t as satisfying not to mention I can’t honestly play as a Mii.
After you’ve exhausted the story-mode NSMBU offers a few other modes for both single and multi-play. In Coin Battle 2-4 players compete to see who can collect the most coins on a given stage. You can compete on any stage from the story mode as well as a few made specifically for the game type. Players use the Wii remote to play but someone is also able to pick up the GamePad and assist or hinder the progress of participants. Boost Rush mode has each stage auto-scroll (a la Super Mario 3) and Mario needs to get through as quickly as possible. In order to move the screen forward quickly you need to collect coins. Collecting coins too quickly and be swept away, collect them too slowly and find yourself waiting mid-stage for coins to appear. Boost Rush requires players to balance between the two objectives to complete each stage.
Lastly the Challenge mode presents five game types: Time Attack, Coin Collection, 1-Up Rally, Special and Boost. Time Attack is a race against the clock with your objective being to complete stages from the game as quickly as possible. Coin Collection is pretty self-explanatory, collect coins as many or as little as possible. 1-Up rally reminds me of the old days and has you attempt to jump on as many enemies heads consecutively without touching the ground. Boost mode brings the return of the GamePad where you and a trustworthy companion work together towards reaching specific goals.
New Super Mario Bros. U isn’t Super Mario Bros. 3 and it isn’t Super Mario World. It is however, playing on the same field. It’s everything you want from a Mario game and everything you don’t. Challenging, charming, frustrating yet incredibly simplistic in execution. You can jump right in and play like you did 20 years ago on your Super Nintendo or yesterday on your 3DS and that’s what makes Mario, Mario. If this is a sign of things to come for not only Mario but Nintendo and the Wii U, I’m all in. It’d be a crime to not play this game.
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