Available on Nintendo Wii U
With the weight of the Wii U launch upon its shoulders, there’s a danger that New Super Mario Bros U will go underappreciated. While it puts the Wii U Pad to good use it’s not the kind of game that will necessarily sell systems, nor is it a groundbreaking Mario in the style of Super Mario World, Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Galaxy. What it is is something less newsworthy, but perhaps more rewarding in the long-run: New Super Mario Bros U is the best 2D Mario since the golden days of the SNES.
Read the full Wii U review here.
Making the Most of the Hardware?
If you’re looking for features that showcase the hardware, then you might be mildly disappointed. The HD graphics are beautiful, crisp and cartoony, but pretty much what you’d expect if you took the style of New Super Mario Bros Wii and New Super Mario Bros 2 into HD and improved the textures and the lighting. While it’s great to see Mario and his worlds in more detail, there’s nothing that’s going to make you gasp with awe.
The Wii U Pad, meanwhile, is employed in two ways. Firstly, you can play through the game’s various single-player modes on the Wii U Pad, with the display mirrored between the built-in screen and your TV. Switch off the TV or change channel and you can carry on playing, with the less-than HD screen of the Wii U Pad holding up surprisingly well under such concentrated scrutiny. For those of us living in homes with one hotly-contested big screen, this might be reason enough to love the Wii U.
It comes into its own, however, in the game’s various Boost modes. Whether you’re playing through the story with one to four players on Wii remotes, or tackling the game’s Challenge and Boost Rush options, the player with the Wii U Pad gets a crucial support role, tapping the screen to summon handy floating platforms into being. Needless to say, these platforms can be used to help or hinder, giving the players playing Mario, Luigi and supporting Toads a last-minute save or a means to reach high stars, or trapping players you’ve decided to victimise so that they fall prey to hostile critters or rising lava. The choice is yours.
Boost mode is fun, both as a new way to join in the Mario mayhem, and as a means to unobtrusively help out if you’re playing with those with fewer Mario skills and less experience. It’s not enough, though, to justify yet another in the New Super Mario Bros. saga. What is, is the sheer quality of the gameplay.
Bringing the Magic Back to Mario
The last New Super Mario Bros, New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS, was probably the laziest and least inventive 2D Mario ever; something which didn’t leave us feeling too excited about New Super Mario Bros U. These aren’t words you can bandy about with this one, however. The storyline might not be anything more than another variation on Bowser kidnapping the princess, and the world structure might be classic ‘a few levels, miniboss, a few more levels, boss’ but what actually happens in those worlds is anything but uninspired.
Partly, the magic comes back to the return of the large, branching map. Where previous New Super Mario Bros. games had nothing more than a series of worlds, New Super Mario Bros. U has a single, quite extensive map where you’re given a little scope to choose which world or which level you tackle best, and to try or ignore levels or even worlds until you feel the need to come back and tackle them. There are optional toad houses with bonuses to collect, hidden areas, sneaky routes and occasional ambushes, and even events that encourage you to return to an already conquered level and do it faster. New Super Mario Bros. 2 built replay into the game as a necessity, but New Super Mario Bros. U makes it feel like real exploration.
It also helps that these are levels stacked with secrets, with each playthrough showing up some pipe that takes you to a hidden coin chamber, or a shortcut, or an alternative, bonus-rich route. There are places which you’ll only reach while wearing a specific costume, and areas that you’ll only spot through keen perception or sheer, jammy luck.