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It's finally happened after so many years. We're seeing the launch of a Nintendo console alongside a Mario title. It seemed like Nintendo had all but abandoned that idea, but the Wii U has brought us back to those fond memories. What could be better than the pairing of a brand-new Mario game and a new console to boot?
Well, the problem comes up when that Mario game just so happens to be an entry in the New Super Mario series. There are plenty of people out there that appreciate, love and enjoy the series. What's unusual for mainline Mario games is having a vocal segment of the gaming audience that just doesn't appreciate these outings. The NSMB series doesn't bring the same innovation and charm that titles like Galaxy do, but that's not to say they are bad games. They're all quite wonderful, actually. They just aren't held in as high regard as other Mario adventures.
By this point in time, you already know if you like the New Super Mario Bros. series. You've already made up your mind about a purchase of New Super Mario Bros. U. This is what makes putting together a review for the title quite hard. Without spoilers, what is there to talk about? What do I need to tell you about this game that you don't already know? I'm not sure of that answer myself, but I'll do my best to give you my feelings on Mario's newest journey.
As I said before, you already know how entries in the New Super Mario Bros. series work. They are side-scrolling affairs that all share a similar visual style and play mechanic. With each entry in the franchise, we see that the 'NSMB' labeling has more to do with the overall presentation of Mario, rather than the game itself. When you see a Mario title, you automatically know if it's the next 3D adventure or another installment of NSMB.
So what does New Super Mario Bros. U offer that previous NSMB titles haven't? Why should you check out this game when you've already played the others? Moreso than other entries in this franchise, NSMBU brings us much closer to previous Mario outings. If you're a fan of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, you will most likely find a lot to love here.
It's so hard to describe where a vibe comes from. It's just something that speaks out in the back of your mind. A little chill that you get when you see something visually stimulating. Those are the experiences that echoed within me during my time with NSMBU. Time and time again, it would remind me of my wonderful time spent with Super Mario World or Super Mario Bros. 3. All Mario titles always have nods to the past, but NSMBU directly references design sensibilities.
There is just something about the way that levels are laid out that really screams Super Mario World to me. I'm not talking about level designs that are ripped straight out of SMW, but the way levels are handled. There's a certain flow...a certain rhythmic nature of the platforming that really calls back to the Super Nintendo days. One level in the second world really drove home that point to me. A desert level with bats, dimly lit paths and quicksand. Something about finding my way though that level, hunting down hidden coins and riding Yoshi, it really gave me goosebumps. That's the kind of feeling that NSMBU gave me time and time again.
While Super Mario Bros. 3 may be less of an influence, it's certainly present. There are plenty of mid-map baddie battles that will reward you with items. Once again, you'll carry along those items and power-ups to use before you enter a level. There are even design themes from SMB3 worlds that are transplanted directly into NSMBU. Again, these are not levels or enemy placements that are 100% the same, but the design itself that hearkens back to those days.
More than any other NSMB title, NSMBU is quite the nostalgia trip. If you've played those previous Mario games, you'll no doubt pick up on those design choices. I promise you, you'll have a handful of moments that will tickle you unlike any other NSMB before it. That's all well and good, but what about those that haven't played older Mario titles? Are they still going to enjoy what NSMBU offers?
I think you already know the answer to that one. Many people consider either SMB3 or SMW to be the best 2D Mario games there are. If those games are an influence on NSMBU, there's no way you can't be happy with the level design. You'll have plenty to challenge you and enjoy as you run along, and that has nothing to do with your previous Mario knowledge. The levels really are a joy to experience, making you want to go back through and perfect them time and time again.
Of course, there are all-new elements as well. Baby Yoshis now act as power-ups instead of rides. You can still feed them for bonus items, but they serve another purpose now. Yellow baby Yoshi helps to light your way, Blue baby Yoshi bubbles up your enemies and Purple baby Yoshi lets you float about in the air. You have to make sure you hang on tight, because once you drop them, you no longer have access to their powers. Sometimes those powers can make a tough level easy, which is always a good thing.
The real 'new' content comes in the way of objectives outside of the game itself. When you move out from single-player, the stand-out is definitely the Challenge mode. This is where hardcore Mario fans are going to spend a lot of their time. I know I definitely became addicted to this section of the game. It's going to drive you absolutely insane, but in a fantastic way.
Get ready to have your Mario skills put to the test like never before. You'll have a big set of very specific challenges to take on in this mode. Some will have speeding to a level to beat a time, while others will ask you to bounce your way through an entire level without touching the ground. Things start off easy, but you'll quickly get to the point where you feel like ripping your hair out.
I'm not kidding, there are some challenges that ask you to shave less than a second off your time to get a gold medal. You'll start off on these challenges thinking that they're impossible, but as you learn every single enemy placement and platforming element, you'll see where you can make up time. When you finally do hit that goal and get the gold medal, you'll feel like you're king of the world. Best part is, the game saves your replays! You can show your gold-medal run to all your friends and family as they try to figure out how in the world you pulled it off.
Some of these challenge mode objectives ask you to work with a partner. You'll have to get a friend or family member that really knows their Mario gaming to get these gold medals. One of you will be on the Wiimote and another will be on the GamePad. The GamePad player will have to tap enemies or place platforms in order for the other player to reach the goal. If you think getting gold medals on your own is hard, try finding a suitable GamePad helper!
Speaking of GamePad mode, I mostly felt it was a throwaway feature in previous experiences. It worked well enough, but I didn't want to play GamePad jockey. I wanted to get into the action and do some platforming! That feeling changed once I got the Wii U into my house. While I still want to platform just as much, sitting back with the GamePad and helping out/hurting other players proved to be a lot of fun.
I had a blast playing GamePad alongside my cousin and his kids. They were all playing on the TV while I made blocks for them to get through the level. I helped them reach coins, popped enemies out of the way and even blocked off a few pipes just to tease them. The more I played Boost Block mode on the GamePad, the more I liked it. It's honestly something I would sit down to play and look forward to now.
I actually spent quite a lot of time with the GamePad, but not because of Boost Block mode. I found I spent a large portion of my time playing NSMBU in off-TV mode. This is the mode where you can play the entire game on the GamePad. My lord, I don't know how long it's going to take to get over this feeling, but being able to do that with a game is just weird/awesome. It seems like it's something you shouldn't be able to do!
All I would do is pick up the GamePad and hit the power button. I wouldn't pay attention to the TV at all. Hell, it wasn't even on most of the time! The menu would come up, I'd pick the NSMBU icon and that was it! I was off and playing single player on my GamePad. Being able to take that around to the couch to lay down and play, or wall up in the corner with my chair and a blanket...it was amazing. The game functions just the same as it does via Wiimote, although you can opt for button presses instead of shaking for some mechanics. Outside of that, the game is exactly the same! Having that freedom to play is going to be a huge selling point for the Wii U.
My only real disappointment from the game comes via the soundtrack. As many of you know, we're largely getting the same audio experience that we've gotten in other NSMB games. I have nothing against the sound effects, but the same tunes from the previous games is really starting to irk me. I don't see it as anything but lazy. I can understand the visual design staying the same, but recycling the audio doesn't sit well with me. I'm not saying the tunes are bad, but they're exactly the same from before. Could we at least get some remixes?!
As I said in the very beginning of my review, you already know if you're going to buy NSMBU. There's nothing I could tell you about the game, outside of it being horrible, that would keep you from either buying or not buying. You know what to expect. It's a fun Mario game that plays things safe, but will still make for a memorable experience. The multiplayer is always fun for those that like to challenge friendships, but I know that's not for everyone.
NSMBU has one major job. It has to be a Mario title out at the launch of a new console. That's exactly the job it's going to fill. It's a great game, but a safe one. It has a few interesting wrinkles along the way, but it's not going to blow you away like Galaxy did. It's a stop-gap Mario that does the trick and manages to show off a few console features at the same time. You'll most likely pick it up and enjoy it, which is what I did. I can definitely recommend the game, so long as you enjoy previous entries in the series. If people say the NSMB games are 'bad', then I guess I love bad games. For those that can appreciate the series for what it is, you'll find plenty to enjoy.