New Super Mario Bros. U
Wii U | Nintendo | 1-5 Players (co-operative play) | Out Now | Miiverse Support
Controller Compatibility: Wii Remote (sideways); Wii U GamePad
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25th January 2013; By KnucklesSonic8
It's long been the case that of the many gaming mascots, Mario has been the most committed to glee and carefree bliss, a tradition that is hypothesized to be furthered, even elevated in New Super Mario Bros. U. The game functions very much in the same way as the social gathering just described, where fans of all sorts can frolic through fitted design that bears references to the past; more than just for mere fan service, to re-establish caliber and remind of wit and creativity that has been more muted than desired. The end-result is a platformer that, besides just being regularly intuitive, puts the plumber back on track by reveling in the franchise's moments of genius. While the filters that have been pasted are a sign of recent philosophical influences on the part of the core design team, New Super Mario Bros. U stands out, not just from the crowd of secular options, as the series often has the custom of doing, but also proves especially fortifying in light of Mario's recent and long-term history, re-aligning itself with the likes of 2D Mario platformers that are still ingrained as some of the most outstanding and timeless games Nintendo has ever produced.
As you could probably surmise just by way of instinct, the storyline is run-of-the-mill. Peach gets kidnapped and you must progressively take out the Koopalings one-by-one en route to confrontations with Bowser Jr., Kamek (who continues to take on a more pivotal role in Bowser's army), and finally, the King of Koopas himself. Casting a long arm is the overworld for the meritorious affair, carving out a path from the pleasant Acorn Plains -- serves as the ordinary grassland world but with a slight twist that takes on added leverage later on -- through the likes of, among others, Frozen Glacier and Rock-Candy Mines, ultimately culminating in the battle to take back Peach's Castle, which has been overthrown by Bowser's hordes. From this overworld, you can whip out your inventory with the B Button to make use of stored items at the start of an upcoming level, and at times experience brief diversions in the way of minor gang-ups highly reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 3's setup. Opting-in to the available integration, Miiverse is principally used to stamp your own thoughts or view those of other players after seeing a level to completion or accomplishing something out of the ordinary, even offering suggestions on what to write. These are then shared worldwide or can instead be confined to just your group of friends.
All worlds follow the same template as has been introduced in recent 2D Mario iterations, with no overhaul to be observed in the aesthetics. Always aiming to please with moments of excitement, it can be pointed out that a few of the stage backgrounds have an illuminating effect (e.g., golden-yellow hues as seen in a number of stages belonging to the Meringue Clouds set), and Bowser in particular looks pish-posh in HD. But in truth, the advent of HD graphics, while a treat, don't do much to elevate these backgrounds and arrangements to a point of notable contrast between what was seen in previous efforts on the DS (New Super Mario Bros.), 3DS (New Super Mario Bros. 2) and Wii (New Super Mario Bros. Wii). There's still very much a strong presence of reused visual and audio elements, with the exceptional cases of differentiation losing effect under the pressure of the ordinary takes. Thankfully, this isn't a strong indication of the state of the game itself.
New Super Mario Bros. U abounds with design references to Super Mario World, Super Mario Bros. 3, and even Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island. It's interesting, though, because a lot of this is made clear in the first world -- moles popping out of walls, spinning hills and slanted platforms -- where you also see repeat inclusions and layouts from New Super Mario Bros. Wii. In many ways, Nintendo wrote the handbook on platformers, and as such, many platforming staples are also actively in use and spread out in wisdom. In line with this, there are some painful reminders of how frustrating platformers were in an earlier day and age (e.g., helplessly falling to one's death as the final hit is landed on a boss). Recognizing these aforementioned establishments and touches alone wouldn't be enough or, to the other extreme, might come across as unhealthy worship, New Super Mario Bros. U still stands on its own two feet exceedingly well with responsive and attentive design. And to me, this is where some deserving commendation resides.
What is especially pleasing is the increase in challenge by the way levels have been designed. This may come as a surprise, given how long it's been since the scales of difficulty have revolved squarely or at least more predominantly around the ever-loyal fanbase. But it's more apparent here than it has been in recent years. A few examples include stages where you're subtly encouraged to take risks off to the side that may result in death if you aren't quick enough to react, enemies being purposely placed or are pursuing you in an area that could cause headache to unexposed players, portions of levels where a process can be interrupted unless you interfere, or on more general terms, where precision is paramount as you transfer from one layer of a level to another.
Design elements are more than artificial or gimmicky, as might be concluded when you see springs in some stages within the Sparkling Waters world, or a return of seesaws that can be tilted with the controller. Rather, by being more concerned with lasting impressions, New Super Mario Bros. U cement new memories of its own instead of relying on the backbone of previous iterations to get by. Without spoiling some of the creations and the fun ideas that are exhibited, some stages where such will be made evident include Spinning-Star Sky, Switchback Hill, Dry Desert Mushrooms, Magma-River Cruise, Boarding the Airship, Shifting-Rock Cave (with a prevailing motif that reminded me of Sonic CD's Wacky Workbench), and Light Blocks, Dark Tower. I'm positive you'll find other treasures that prove similarly unforgettable as you go along.
Noteworthy direction aside, other key features are still present, including the ever-confusing Ghost Houses with layouts that are still very much a tease as they've always been, the abbreviated breaks in progression offered by the Toad Houses, and the more involving Tower levels that beget hesitation and cautious movement compared with the norm (Peach's Castle being an exception for the reason that it groups itself in with a similar set of values). As per usual, Star Coins continue to provoke curiousity in their concealed, fixed and even moving positions, urging players to seek out these and other secrets with devotion, no matter how fragile the situation. Your reward for amassing Star Coins in all levels of a given world is an unlockable portion of Superstar Road -- yet another tribute to Super Mario World. And just to make absolutely certain the game isn't cut short, Challenges, Boost Rush, and Coin Battle offer additional sources of replay value.
Offering a persuasive strength is the multiplayer capability attached to this game, and one major way in which New Super Mario Bros. U feels unique in its group-focused feats is the integration of Boost Mode, where the player wielding the Wii U GamePad can place coloured blocks on the stage as a security blanket for players. Unlike New Super Mario Bros. 2's features which at times undermined the design, Boost Mode functions in a far more supportive role, bringing about an uninhibited flair of co-operation. Parents and kids will doubtlessly adore being able to play a part in this capacity, regardless of their skill level or attitude towards gaming in general.
You can rightly expect great things when Mario rolls around, but he's been off his game for a while. Still the connoisseur of platformers, New Super Mario Bros. U represents a valued return to spotlight for Mario in all his serendipitous glory. A considerable part of the level designs seen here surpass that of recent efforts in this line, even though there's not a defined authoritative backing behind them. And while not superb or completely dazzling, New Super Mario Bros. U is a highlight of modern-day, 2D platformers in general, never mind just those belonging to the Mario brand.
25/30 - Very Good
Gameplay 8/10 - Entertaining overworld, always intuitive, some positive new elements, relies on the past but some designs cement new memories
Presentation 8/10 - Looks great but not too impressive, pleasant visual treats along the way, lacks contrast due to repeating elements and themes
Enjoyment 4/5 - Boost Mode adds a significant layer, not very striking, increase in challenge demonstrates a tangible appeal for longtime fans
Extra Content 5/5 - Worthwhile Miiverse integration, plenty of secrets tied to Star Coins, fun bonus activities to extend replay value a lot further
Equivalent to a score of 83% (percentage score is approximate and based solely on the previously stated rating) - Our Rating System