The Wii U is the first Nintendo home console to be graced by a Mario launch title since the N64, but is New Super Mario Bros. U more than just a High Definition re-run of past glories?
Let’s get it out of the way right at the start: New Super Mario Bros. U looks gorgeous. While the thought of a Wii U entry in the 3D Super Mario Galaxy franchise may be what truly gets Nintendo fans salivating, even at a time when 2D Mario games are starting to feel ten-a-penny (this latest release is the third in three years, and the second in a matter of months following New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS) New Super Mario Bros. U still earns its place, alongside the like of Rayman Origins and forthcoming Wii U sequel Legends, as a demonstration of the sheer beauty of art and animation that higher resolutions can bring to the 2D platformer. Filled with painterly touches, glistening primary colours and a menagerie of smoothly animated enemies, NSMB U is pure eye candy from start to finish.
The underlying game though, bar a few tweaks here and there, will be familiar territory for those who played its Wii predecessor or the DS title that started the modern era of 2D Mario titles. Leaning more on the influence of Super Mario World than Super Mario Bros. 3 this time out, NSMB U displays again Nintendo’s mastery of precision platforming, as you guide the world’s most popular plumber through a myriad levels crammed full of exotic locales and a plot that you really don’t need spelling out at this point (hint: Princess Peach seriously needs to invest in a better security set-up).
Worlds of wonder
The individual levels of World’s whose very names will incur nostalgia in all but the hardest of hearts – Acorn Plains, Frosted Glacier, Sparkling Waters, Soda Jungle and more – are as varied and imaginative a bunch as you’ll find in a modern 2D platforming game, drawing on Nintendo’s rich heritage of experience to test every facet of the expert player’s skill set, with each new level flinging down yet another challenge to your dexterity and split-second timing.
What’s more, each is packed to the rafters with secrets: invisible blocks, see-through walls, hard to reach nooks and crannies and hidden stashes of coins just above the screen level. With three Gold Star Coins to be hunted out on each level as well, New Super Mario Bros. U offers immense replayability for the platforming perfectionist, helped by the ability to return to any previously completed level on each of the Worlds, with pipes on the World Map allowing you to fast travel to any point. The dastardly thief Nabbit, meanwhile, turns previous levels into pure speed runs as you attempt to catch the miscreant after he makes off with Toad’s stash of goodies.
As with any Mario game, there are a few levels that don’t quite match up to the dizzy heights of their neighbours and can devolve into exercises in frustration, not helped by a difficulty level that goes up and down like a yoyo at times even within the same World. Frosted Glacier in particular serves up a trio of Spinning-Star Sky, Cooligan Fields and Swaying Ghost House that will have you tearing your hair out and wishing you never have to see another damn penguin in your life.
Not that dying is ever a pressing issue in a modern Mario title. Coins and 1-Ups abound on every level, and because of the World Map you can always backtrack to easier levels and farm them for cheap bonuses. Continues are available when you do run out of lives, while Toad Houses offering plenty of plunder are scattered around the map and reappear after you use a Continue. You also now have an Item List you can fill with power ups to use in emergencies.