|System: Wii U|
|Release: November 18, 2012|
|Screen Resolution: 480p-1080p||Comic Mischief|
by Josh Wirtanen
Reviewing a 2D Mario game is kind of a daunting task. I mean, Nintendo pretty much perfected the formula with Super Mario Bros. 3 way back in 1988. When they brought Mario back to the SMB3-style gameplay with New Super Mario Bros., there wasn’t a whole lot they needed to modify, even though the basic premise of the game was two decades old.
And that makes reviewing New Super Mario Bros. U incredibly difficult. You see, I can point out the fact that, at a basic level, it doesn’t do a whole lot that we haven’t seen before—sure, there are some new power-ups and some innovative uses for the Wii U’s tablet, but let’s be honest here, this is SMB3/Super Mario World over again.
The thing is, though, that’s not a complaint. I can think of few games that have had the lasting, iconic appeal that SMB3 has had. And the whole point of the New Super Mario series is to bring Mario back to those roots.
Additionally, this is exactly what we all wanted it to be. Fans didn’t want a title that pushes gaming into an exciting new future, and besides, Mario’s already done that more times than I can count. We wanted to return to that classic Mario style we’ve been in love with since gaming’s early days. In fact, many of the people in my age group were first turned onto gaming by blowing in an NES cartridge and using an oddly rectangular controller to guide a pair of Italian plumbers through the original Super Mario Bros.
So you can imagine the amount of soul-searching and sleepless nights wrestling with existential despondence that I had to endure in order to stamp a numbered score onto a game that, by all means, probably transcends any numbered score any reviewer could give it. This is a game series trapped in a particularly old pattern, though that’s perfectly forgivable due to the fact that it’s a pattern that’s had all the flaws ironed out of it years ago.
Basically, New Super Mario Bros. U is exactly what it needs to be. Mario’s quirky mustache and cheesy Italian accent are going to sell Wii Us, as Nintendo console sales tend to dramatically increase whenever gaming’s most iconic of plumbers hops on a Goomba or a Koopa Troopa anew.
Now, the beauty of any Mario title, especially the side-scrolling ones, is the intelligent level design. And that’s fully on display here. Mario levels just have this certain rhythm to their obstacles and enemy patterns, making them simultaneously challenging and approachable. And this has always been the key to the sheer addictiveness of Mario.
And if I’m being honest, I would have to say that New Super Mario Bros. U has perhaps the best designed overworld map to date. There are all sorts of divergent pathways, secret passages, overworld enemies, and more just waiting to be discovered. In fact, you can even bypass entire worlds by properly navigating the overworld map. Sure, it’s not a warp whistle, but it has just about the same effect.
Oh, and Lakitu is still as much of a nuisance as he’s always been. I hate that guy.
If you were paying attention, you probably remember that I mentioned some new Wii U features earlier, so let me explain them. First of all, the game can be played on the Wii U’s GamePad without requiring you to ever look at the TV screen. That means that your family members can watch TV while you play the game, as long as you stay within range of the Wii U (and that range actually isn’t all that shabby). For me, what this means is that I got to play a vast majority of the game while in bed. And working from my bed makes me very happy.
Another new feature is that the Wii U GamePad can be used to draw in additional blocks on the screen, which Mario and friends can hop on to access new areas. There are other uses for these blocks as well for the clever to discover. For example, any pipe that spawns enemies can be blocked, stopping the flow of enemies and allowing safe passage. The thing, though, is that these blocks start to disappear once a character jumps on them. So players will have to be quick, and whoever is in charge of the GamePad needs to be exceptionally clever and forward-thinking for this to be useful. You see, these blocks will impede your progress—causing players to, say, hit an unexpected block and drop into a spike pit—as often as they help you out. So there’s a double-edged-sword-type balance to this feature. And that’s pretty cool, especially considering that, on paper, it sounds like the whole thing could potentially just be an “Easy Mode.”