Wii U review: New Super Mario Bros. U

New Super Mario Bros. U shows Nintendo at their blandest. The series has always felt a little stagnant when compared to earlier Mario titles, but with this entry Nintendo contentedly adds very little.

The first New Super Mario Bros felt fresh after years without 2D Mario titles, and the Wii version added a riotous multiplayer mode that felt inspired if not completely polished. Now, the New Super Mario Bros. series has stagnated just short of 1991’s Super Mario World. Twenty-one years later and the gameplay has sidestepped more than it’s advanced.

That’s not so bad, of course. Super Mario Bros. 3 and World are pinnacle platformers, and it’d be unfair to hold Mario Bros. U up to that ideal. But the New Super Mario Bros. titles feel like they’re not even attempting to advance the gameplay between entries, instead aiming only to provide new stages for Mario and pals to jump and stomp through.

Little things hold the game back, mostly. There’s still the slidiness and floatiness that have replaced Mario 3 and World’s precision control, and shaking the wiimote to spin jump doesn’t work quite as well as you’d hope. The graphics somewhat lack Mario’s traditional style, especially the hideous palm trees that populate the second and third worlds. And the item list takes too long to pop up, making it more of a nuisance than a feature.

But there’s also the awkward comparisons with Mario’s 3D entries. I was always a 2D Mario man through and through, but there’s no denying that the Galaxy and 3D Land games are much more successful at providing players with fresh, unique game experiences.

Maybe that’s not New Super Mario Bros.’s goal, but it would be nice to see more attempts to craft original levels. As it stands, the coolest addition to the game is Soda Jungle’s Painted Swampland, which has a stunning Van Gogh-style backdrop. It makes for an awesome visual treat, but it’s purely cosmetic, and fleeting.

The design also feels dated in light of recent platformers. Mario still uses a lives system, even though they make little difference to the gameplay. Until you beat the game, you can only save after beating fortresses and castles. Some of the secret star coins are hidden behind fake walls, which is annoying when you’re trying to unlock extra stages.

The game also does little with the gamepad. Boost mode allows a gamepad player to place platforms, which isn’t terribly fun after five minutes, and the weak multiplayer modes feel like a missed opportunity to push Nintendo’s gamepad to the forefront.

But being able to play single player on the gamepad alone is fantastic, and the WiiU’s well-integrated online functions allow players to open up the home menu and search the internet for the location of hidden levels and star coins. The Miiverse connectivity lets you see level-specific comments and drawings, and I loved one user’s fantastic rendering of a sucker-faced Cheep Cheep, captioned “**** you!”, as well as parents posting that they’d beaten levels their kids couldn’t.

I’ve mostly ragged on the game, but Mario Bros. U provides a fun single-player experience and potentially fantastic local multiplayer, depending on your friends. The world map is a step up from previous entries, even if it doesn’t feel entirely cohesive.

The selection of powerups is somewhat annoying, but you can ignore acorns and ice flowers in favor of mushrooms, fireflowers, and mini-shrooms. The baby Yoshis are a mostly great addition to the game: I love the bubble-spewing blue Yoshis and the light-up yellow Yoshis, even if I think the blimpy pink Yoshis are a bit slow and boring. But they’re still adorable, so there’s that in their favor.

And maybe I’m just a grouch who grew up with Mario 3 and World, and Mario Bros. U is better than I give it credit for. The levels do have more variety than the NES and SNES titles, even if they don’t seem as varied as those in Mario Galaxy 2 or even New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Plus, Steph thinks it has the nicest graphics of any Mario game, so maybe I’m a sprite-based purist loser.

The bottom line is that this is a Mario game. If you like 2D Mario titles, you’ll probably like this. If Mario games have never appealed to you, you probably won’t like it. That’s the upside to developers playing it safe: you know exactly what you’re getting when you pick up the box. With Mario, though, I’ve come to expect just a little bit more.

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2 Responses to “Wii U review: New Super Mario Bros. U”

  1. Stephanie Carmichael Says:

    I like the powerups and Yoshis, but I wish there were more of them. And I would have liked if Nintendo had done more with the GamePad. That was disappointing. You’re also right about the Van Gogh levels not having much purpose beyond style.

    I disagree about the stars concealed behind walls, though. It’s not like older Mario games didn’t have those kinds of secrets. And although the lives system is outdated, I think that’s just Nintendo being classic.

    NSMBU is a fun game, but it’s more of the same, for sure.

  2. catstronaut Says:

    Yeah, I wish there were more Yoshis too, or at least that they were more prevalent. I guess you could keep them with you throughout the game if you’re good enough, but that’s pretty tough. I also think it’s lame that green Yoshi ditches you after a level, but he’s a butt anyways.

    And older Mario games do have that sort of secret, but I feel like they’re sort of a nuisance, and people will just look online to find them anyhow. I liked how Retro handled it in Donkey Kong Country Returns: the unlockable levels were tied to KONG letters, which required skill-based acrobatics rather than searching, while lesser unlocks like dioramas and sound-test songs required puzzle pieces hidden behind secret walls and things.

    The lives seem to me more like Nintendo thought multiplayer would be too easy if everybody could just come back in their bubbles, but if that’s the case, I think the better solution would be to just make the levels a bit harder. Most of our problems came from everyone going into a bubble at once, rather than a slow dwindling of lives.

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