New Super Mario Bros. U Review: The Awesome is in Another Castle

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The Wii U’s launch brought with it one of the largest launch lineups in video game history and even larger expectations. But it also brought with it a brand new Mario game that was available on the system’s first day, something the world hasn’t seen since the Nintendo 64. New Super Mario Bros. U isn’t going to be the game changer that Super Mario 64 was, but it feels good to have a new Mario game released alongside a new Nintendo system.

Platforms: Wii U
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo
Genre: Side-Scrolling Mario Game… IN HD!
Release Date: November 18, 2012
ESRB Rating: Everyone

To be fair, there is very little “new” about New Super Mario Bros. U. If you’ve played New Super Mario Bros. Wii, you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from Mario’s most recent side-scrolling adventure. It’s a good Mario game, but it doesn’t push the series forward like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World did.

However, if you’ve grown up on Mario games (especially those of the side-scrolling variety), NSMBU should be considered the “must have” of the Wii U launch. And even though it wasn’t flashy, the game was really able to push the wow factor more than a few times. It only happened once, but I loved the underwater level where a giant eel chases you. And the level based on Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” showed that the developers at Nintendo could drop Mario into a completely different world if they really wanted to.

But NSMBU really gets it right with the castle levels. For the most part, Nintendo didn’t really do much with the high definition possibilities that the Wii U brings to the table. But the castle levels make great use of the bigger canvas that an HD system gives you. For all the game’s sameiness, the castles (and ghost houses) are amazing. Grinding gears, spewing lava, topsy-turvy platforms… you never know what Bowser and his Koopalings are going to throw at you. Based on NSMBU, I would play a Mario game that included nothing but castle levels and I imagine it would be fantastic. Peach’s Castle (the final world) is especially awesome, even if the fight against Bowser was a bit anticlimactic.

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I’m also a bit letdown that Nintendo didn’t put much of an effort into integrating the Wii U GamePad into NSMBU. The screen mirroring is amazing (I love being able to play while someone else is watching TV), but the concessions to the Wii Remote are frustrating. Like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, NSMBU is a multiplayer affair that allows players 2-4 to use the Wii Remote. But even if you’re stomping solo with the Wii U GamePad, the Wii Remote’s dearth of buttons will affect you as Nintendo wanted to keep the controls the same across both input methods. This includes Nintendo’s baffling decision of requiring two buttons to pick up frozen enemies or Pow Blocks.

The Wii U GamePad is a controller with four face buttons, four shoulder buttons, two navigation buttons, two clickable sticks, and a touchscreen. I should not have to hold Y and press the ZR Trigger (the same button as a spin jump) to pick up an item. There are a literally a dozen other buttons that could have done the trick. It was awkward when New Super Mario Bros. Wii required similar hand contortions and it’s even more so now. Picking up items was actually much easier in Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES… hold Down and press B. It’s amazing that in almost 25 years, Mario has regressed in some ways.

I was also less than impressed with the new Squirrel Acorn. The powerup is actually pretty terrible as all it does is give you a single upward gust and then a controlled float downward. Where’s the flying? I guess being able to grab onto platforms is cool, but it just makes me long for the Raccoon Leaf or Super Mario World’s Cape.

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Even with these missteps, I still had a great time with New Super Mario Bros. U. It’s the most challenging Mario game in years and the three minigame modes (which are playable with your Mii) extend the life of the title greatly. The Challenges (speed runs, stomp runs, etc), Boost Rush (timed, constantly scrolling levels that “Speed Up” as you collect coins), and Coin Battle (a multiplayer-only mode where players compete to collect the most coins) are all great additions to the game.

Even if they’ve never seen a single screenshot or read a single word about New Super Mario Bros. U, Mario fans will know what to expect from the game. Run… grab a Super Mushroom… run… stomp a Goomba… run… stomp a Koopa Troopa… run… jump on the flagpole… etc. But even a Mario game that is just above average is still a great video game.

Review Disclosure: A retail copy of New Super Mario Bros. U was purchased by Warp Zoned for the purposes of this review.

This entry was posted in Reviews, Top Story, Wii U and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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