Review: New Super Mario Bros. U


Ultra conservative investors can’t get enough of gold and other precious metals.  Whether it is the thrill of having an investment in the palm of your hand – printing out an eTrade account balance just does not feel the same as a smooth bar or heavy coin – an inability to trust the government or a half-blooded dwarven heritage, some people are way into gold.  The sales pitch is often that shiny metals retain their value over time when compared to other things.  The oft cited example is that an ounce of gold today could buy a gentleman a complete suit and it would have done so during any American Presidential administration you’d care to name.  Today, you can buy a new Mario game for about the same amount of money as you could have spent on the Wii, GameCube, Nintendo 64, Super Nintendo Entertainment System and the original cart for the NES.  Like gold, there is a certain intrinsic quality of these games that remains no matter how much time passes.
The setup is the same as it ever was: Bowser kidnaps Peach and it is up to Mario to get her back.  Mario runs and jumps through stages avoiding pits and some enemies, and stomping on others.  The platforming is as tight as it always has been: Mario can jump more or less high depending on how long the button is held and can direct his path in mid-air to land on just the right spot, sometimes even floating backwards.  Augmenting the classic move set and power-ups is the ability to jump off of walls to reach ever-soaring heights.  The new, unique power-up is the Super Acorn which turns its consumer into a mix between a Flying Squirrel and a man (or whatever Toads are).  This suit allows Mario to glide over long distances and gain one twisting updraft to potentially keep the glide going.  Mechanically, but for the updraft and lack of an ability to take off to the sky after a sprint, it is similar to the Raccoon Tail.  It also has Yoshis in a few levels, if you’re into that sort of thing.
The structure of the game is another overworld as was seen back in 1988’s Super Mario Bros. 3.  The gameplay is separated into individual courses accessed through an overworld map that will give some choice as to what order levels need to be completed on the journey to the final boss of a world.  Finish all of the worlds, get to the last boss, save the Princess.  (Perhaps you saw the title wherein it was declared that this is a review of a Mario game.)  Along the way Mario and Co. can go to toadstool houses to gain additional 1-ups and power-ups by completing various mini-games.  A row of items can be stocked from these games so that Mario does not have to start off a particularly difficult level in his default, stunted, non-super self. While it is possible to have a decent challenge just getting to the end of the game, the true challenge lies in getting all of the hidden Star Coins to unlock and defeat the game’s most challenging levels.
Syncing up one or four Wii Motes to the Wii U will allow up to five people to engage in the same game.  All four of the regular players will turn the Mote sideways to play as if it were an old Famicom controller.  For these few, the game will be largely the same as single player; the Mario Bros. and Toads jump, run and stomp Koopa shells throughout the Mushroom Kingdom.  The player with the Wii U controller can only watch the action on the controller’s screen and tap it to create brightly-colored platforms which can help people that do not know what they are doing as evidenced by their imminent plunge into the maw of a bottomless pit.  (All of this is local multiplayer only, by the way.) 
In theory a family or group of friends sitting around a TV could coordinate their efforts to reach the end-level goalposts to all get a 1-up bonus, collect all of the hidden coins, and otherwise become more than the sum of their parts.  In practice, as the Marios and toads all clip with one another, getting in the way of jumps or dying at the end of a turtle shell thrown by another player, and as the Wii U platforms can accidentally bump a player into his death or screw up a jump, these games are going to devolve into a game of “send all the other players unto death but let me still get to the end somehow.”  But maybe that’s just me and my friends.  It gets frustrating to have a good jump botched because another player was doing the same thing at the same time and both people bounced off one another.  At least power-up blocks that would normally only spit out one power send forth one for each player – provided one dick of a player does not run over all of them.  This method of play is a fun distraction for a group of people, but it is too chaotic to ever be a couch multiplayer fixture.
A feature of the Wii U which can be used is the Off TV Play.  While the game in Single Player mode can be controlled with a Wii Mote alone, if a Wii U controller is used, the television display is mirrored on the fat touch screen panel on the controller.  This means that one can turn off the television and still play the game.  The Mushroom Kingdom looks great on the controller and colors are appealing and balanced.  So much so that I had to stop and recalibrate the color on my LCD TV as it was clear the colors were off when compared to the perfect image in my lap.  On the plus side, if you have someone else who wants to watch a movie or you want to keep another modern console game on standby while waiting for a multiplayer match to start and not have to change inputs, this is a neat feature.  I found myself using it far more than I thought I would.  On the negative side, though, the audio between the controller speakers and the HDMI out of the Wii U are plainly out of sync and if one is not a fan of playing a game on the small screen, it will unnecessarily consume the battery life with gusto.  I got about four or five hours out of the battery between charges.  Maybe I got a dud, or maybe the rechargeable battery life on the Wii U controller is less than impressive. 
The online community experience is limited to the Miiverse.  Turning this option on and hooking up to the Internet allows you to see the Mii face of another user along with a text message or image concerning a given level.  Usually the messages are things like “I hate this level” or “Where is the third coin?”  I did not see any hand drawn pictures of male members, but I am sure there are some out there just waiting for Nintendo’s community managers to pull them down unless they have developed some kind of dong-seeking algorithms to remove anything that even remotely looks like a monochromatic Snoopy.  In all honesty I found the “Would you like to comment” prompts almost as annoying as the tone that will alert players to the presence of the “Please Beat The Level For Me” blocks that show up whenever a course is failed five or more times.  I couldn’t turn it off fast enough.
Despite being a classic, well designed, flawlessly controlling platformer, New Super Mario Bros. U does not have as much shine as it could have.  By that I do not mean I wish this adventure took place in Delphino Island. No, I simply mean to convey that it is just not that interesting.  Buying this game is almost a default choice when looking for a new title to buy for the Wii U.  Nintendo fans buy the latest Nintendo system to play the latest Nintendo games.  It is a method of operation that I have personally displayed for years.  The only reason anyone should be reading this, other than a feeling of mild enjoyment that may occur once or twice during its perusal, is to find out whether or not the new Mario software is busted.  It isn’t.  It plays just as good as virtually every other core Mario game out there and even has a few new tricks up its sleeve, but it is not enough. 

There is only so much that can be done with jumping perfection while still retaining the characters and art style that one expects from a game featuring the ol’ portly mushroom popper unless a chance is taken.  Games like Pac-Man Championship Edition DX, Space Invaders Extreme and Nintendo’s own Kirby Mass Attack have shown that something new can be done to jazz up an old classic while still maintaining or slightly altering the classic mechanics without turning it into a rebooted character action game developed by Team Ninja.  The addition of a few Challenge Modes (players fulfill simple objectives within time) and the Boost Rush Mode (players try to get through auto-scrolling stages, which are the same as those featured in the main game) does not change anything and calls to attention there is nothing beyond running and jumping in this game.
New Super Mario Bros. U does nothing new to the formula and feels safe because of it.  Well made safeness, but no more.  It is hard not to get nostalgic with the music, enemies and hat with the big, red M, but it is not a game that should make anyone excited for Nintendo games again.  Still, if you’ve never played a side scrolling Mario game before or it has been a long time, this is a great game to get.  It is a completely solid Mario title so even long time fans should enjoy it.  Dropping cash on a copy is a no-brainer if you bought a Wii U.

+ Great, familiar platforming is back
+ Colorful enemies and stages are a joy to hop in
+ Ability to play the game on the controller is useful (sometimes)

– Miiverse messages are annoying
– Nothing fans, even casual ones, have not seen before

Game Info:
Platform: Nintendo Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Release Date: 11/18/2012
Genre: Platformer
ESRB Rating: Everyone
Players: 1-5
Source: Game purchased by reviewer

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About the Author

Steve has been playing video games since the start of the 1980s. While the first video game system he played was his father's, an Atari 2600, he soon began saving allowances and working for extra money every summer to afford the latest in interactive entertainment. He is keenly aware of how much it stinks to spend good money on a bad game. It does things to a man. It makes stink way too much time into games like Karnov to justify the purchase.