NEW SUPER MARIO BROS. U REVIEW
8 years on, is it really still ‘New’?
Posted by PlayDevil.com Staff on Feb 19, 2013 13:57 (Feb 19, 2013 13:57)
Written by: Alex
"New Super Mario Bros. U", takes the now familiar formula of the 'New' series and delivers it to the Wii U. In terms of gameplay it sets out to deliver the same experience as other titles in the series, making an accessible game for anyone who has ever picked up a controller. Luckily for long time fans the Wii U does offer some new twists on the formula, not least true HD Mario action.
It may not be groundbreaking, in fact it isn't, but the first twist New Super Mario Bros U offers is in its story. Bad old Bowser used to settle for just abducting Princess Peach for... undisclosed purposes... now he seems to have upped his game by attempting a full on coup. Capturing Peach in her own castle and disposing of all her supporters. This leaves Mario, Luigi and two Toads stranded on the other side of the Mushroom Kingdom and having to fight their way back across hostile lands. As they journey through the land they can see the tall castle becoming increasingly twisted by Bowser’s presence. Okay, it may not be a huge twist, but at least we know for sure that the Princess is definitely NOT in another castle.
As is 'New's way, it borrows heavily from the previous games. In New Super Mario Bros U it even manages this with the story, blending together 2D Mario stories so indiscriminately that the fictions are now totally confused. It was probably bound to happen eventually, but now with the Kooper Kids and Bowser JR all playing a role (and Bowser JR believing Peach is his mum), the family pool of the Mushroom Kingdom has become disturbingly muddied. Still at least they have seen fit to dust off Bowser’s old flying clown face helicopter, a nice nod for long fans.
However you feel about the 'New' Mario games and their art style, the impact of the Wii U's added horsepower is clear. While the overall look remains unchanged, the Wii U has allowed numerous subtle additions and flourishes to be made. For example, when dancing through illuminated areas or carrying a glowing baby Yoshi, the lighting shifts beautifully. Though this may not be the most impressive tech ever, it is beautiful and offers some interesting gameplay possibilities for future Nintendo titles.
Graphical tricks aside, the most impressive visual elements of New Super Mario Bros U come in the form of new environments. While each of the standard areas is present (snow, water, forest, etc), added detail and character motions make each feel less worn out than some previous games. Most notable among these is the haunted forest where direct inspiration is taken from impressionist art, creating something beautifully refreshing for a Mario title.
Change and evolution is of course expected in the next instalment of a flagship title, so while these changes should be applauded it is where things have stayed the same that attention is quickly drawn. The familiar sprites and music seem basically unchanged, which leave it feeling uninspired after four games in the series. This while touches like the Koopa Troopers (initially entertaining) little shimmies to the music’s ‘wah-wah’s never change as the game progresses, eventually becoming tired and out of place.
I would say, with some certainty, that everybody reading this review will know what to expect from the gameplay of a New Super Mario Bros title (whatever the suffix). The reimagining of classic NES and SNES titles has proved incredibly popular since their first appearance on DS, and this Wii U version has stuck rigidly to the formula.
Every Mario title does have its own wrinkle however, and this time it is the Flying Squirrel Suit. Much like the Super Mario Land cape, this new power allows the wearer to float for great distances, enabling them to trade speed for height as they dip and glide through levels. This new suit also offers a spin to gain extra height (with the tap of a shoulder button) and the ability to cling to walls indefinitely… which is occasionally useful and occasionally frustrating, as you find yourself gripping to a wall above certain death.
Joining the Flying Squirrel Suit is the return of Yoshi and Baby Yoshi. Standard ‘full grown’ Yoshi remains unchanged from his/her previous incarnations, available to find and ride within some of levels. Baby Yoshis are now be found on the map screen, and follow Mario and Co into levels. Once inside they can be carried, giving access to their unique abilities. These abilities range from glowing (a god send in dark levels), to inflating into balloons to float over obstacles. Useful, but it does present a distinct trade-off as while carrying a Baby Yoshi other abilities are limited.
The slight downside to all these new elements is something I have been noticing increasingly more in Mario titles, which is that while they are introduced at the start of the game they tend to not populate later levels. This means to use these fun new abilities, regular trips must be made around the map to collect them. It maybe a small complaint but it proves an increasing annoyance in later levels as you continually find yourself backtracking.
Apart from this it is pretty much business as usual. Eight worlds, with eight sub-bosses and eight bosses all killed by three attacks. A fire flower, a warp pipe, some secret paths and ghost houses, are all present and correct. Excluding a few small tweaks to the physics, everything handles the same too, so it is left to the level design to make New Super Mario Bros U feel New. Which it does surprisingly well, with some devious and punishing levels with enough new twists on old formulas to keep you guessing. It may not be a reinvention of the wheel, or even a better version of it, but it is certainly different enough to change the feel of the ride.