This review was written after completing 100% of the story mode, about half of the challenges, and without having played multiplayer at all.
I had very high expectations going in to New Super Mario Bros U. You see, what little media I saw of the game made it seem like it was a sort of revival of Super Mario World, which happens to be my favorite 2D Super Mario game (yes, even above Super Mario Bros 3). I expected the game to be a big leap ahead of previous New Super Mario Bros games, and to somehow differentiate itself from them.
I don’t know why I expected any of these things, and of course I now find myself a little disappointed by the fact that New Super Mario Bros U is, in fact, very much a “New” Super Mario Bros game, from the safe, mostly uninspired visuals to the annoying music.
Clearly my feelings for old 2D Mario games are strong, but let me tell you right now that this has not prevented me from enjoying New Super Mario Bros U very much, so much in fact that I personally place it right behind Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros 3 in my list of 2D Super Mario games.
Safe and inoffensive are the right words. You probably remember the image above of a particularly beautiful level, with a background obviously inspired by Van Gogh’s “Starry Night”. Well, there is a grand total of one level that looks like that, and it’s that one. For everything else in the game, expect the same clean, safe, boring look that was in previous New Super Mario Bros games. It is in fact very lightly more stylized now in certain levels, but otherwise don’t even think you’ll ever stop and stare and the visuals.
Musically, this game is a notch above previous New Super Mario Bros games. It still has that extremely obnoxious (if I’m allowed the opinion) theme that has been present ever since the first New Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo DS, though this time the variations in each world are perhaps more pleasing. The music is at its best when a player is riding Yoshi; please note that there are at most five levels where you even get this opportunity, and of course you can not take Yoshi to different levels than the one you find him in.
In addition, Peach is kidnapped once again by Bowser, etc, which is absolutely normal for Super Mario games, of course. All in all, you’re not going to get any good surprises out of the visuals, the music, or the story. Of course, that is not why you came here. You came here for:
Let me tell you why I consider this game the best of the “New” Super Mario Bros games: New Super Mario Bros U has the best level design out of all the New Super Mario Bros games, no question; The Flying Squirrel suit is absolutely the best power-up Mario has gotten since the cape in Super Mario World; It is more than reasonably lengthy, with some secrets very hard to find; Even after finishing the game, you will still have Challenge Mode to tide you over for a few more hours of some of the hardest challenges in any Super Mario game.
One of the things that have surprised me the most about this game is the variety of gameplay styles allowed. For any given level, you can not only beat it like a normal human being would, but you can also try to not get any coin, try to get all the coins, try to not hit enemies, try to not touch the ground by using the flying squirrel suit, try to run through the entire level by using starmen, and so on and so forth. I know what you’re thinking: “clearly you are just making your own gameplay styles up, anyone can do that in any game”, in which case, let me tell you you are wrong. The reason I’m bringing this up as a valid point, is because the levels are clearly designed with many of these play styles in mind, and Challenge Mode plays a big part in giving the player this understanding of the level design. It is only through playing a flying squirrel suit challenge, for example, that you realize how perfectly the enemies and coins in a regular story level are placed to encourage this playing style.
What I’m trying to get at, is that Nintendo’s level design is incredibly multifaceted and downright brilliant, but it might take some extended play before you see this with your own eyes.
All of this, and I haven’t even touched the multiplayer (and believe me, I don’t feel right publishing this review without having done so, but I entice you to think of whether you expect to play multiplayer or not when reading this review, and form your own opinion based on that).
As for the mechanics, they are as tight as ever, being friendly enough for newcomers to get cracking immediately, and just deep enough for those crazy people at the Super Mario Club to make their impressive “Super Play” videos.
Why the Developers Are Awesome
Nintendo has proven once again that they are the masters of level design in platforming, bar none. They have given us a reminder of why the Super Mario Bros franchise is regarded so highly, and that is not merely their charm, but their unrivaled craftsmanship. Ultimately, Nintendo has created a Super Mario Bros game that, though it may not be everyone’s favorite, can stand proudly against the franchise’s best, such as Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.
Praise and Criticism
+ Incredibly flexible but tight level design.
+ A diamond among multiplayer experiences.
+ The additions of Challenge mode and Boost mode are a godsend for seasoned players.
– Still no online multiplayer support. Not all of us live in large households or urban centers, Nintendo.
– Still uses the cookie-cutter aesthetics (including that annoying musical theme) of previous New Super Mario Bros games. By contrast, before the “New” Super Mario Bros series, all Super Mario Bros games had a completely new style.
If You Liked These Other Games, Then NSMBU is for You
Any Super Mario game — More and more of the same, yet some minor variations make it a very delicious recipe still.
Any 2D platforming game — Super Mario Bros is still the king of 2D platforming.
Seriously, it’s not like I have to convince you to play it — If you have any fondness for platformers, multiplayer, or lighthearted fun games, you’ll end up playing this at some point in the near future.