Nintendo really likes the whole 2D Mario thing at the moment, doesn’t it? After receiving a DS version, a Wii version, and quite recently a 3DS version of the New Super Mario Bros. series, it is starting to feel like the “New” in the title might not apply any more. Thankfully, while New Super Mario Bros. for 3DS may have felt a bit stale to some, Mario’s Wii U launch title is far more innovative.
The main source of this innovation is the new Challenge and Boost Rush modes. Building on what was started in NSMB2, Boost Rush gives you a set of levels to complete as fast as possible. Collecting coins speeds the scrolling up, allowing faster times – but on the flip side, this also makes it easier to make a fatal mistake that will cause you to lose a significant amount of time. These levels are fun, but I found them a bit tedious; I will try these modes occasionally, but they don’t grip me like the Challenge mode does. The same goes for the Coin Battle mode – it returns again in NSMBU – , which is good fun, but doesn’t draw you in like Challenge mode.
The Challenge mode is a brave new step for Mario. This mode contains many, well, challenges for you to attempt. Whether it is speed running a level without collecting a coin, completing a level without touching the ground, or avoiding fireballs for as long as possible, these challenges – with their medal rewards – bring back that elusive one-more-try addictiveness that sometimes eludes recent 2D Mario games. Gold medals often require perfection, and the subsequent satisfaction for obtaining one is priceless. The Challenge mode is a great new step for the New Super Mario Bros. series, and it should be taken and ran with by Nintendo in the inevitable future titles.
Of course, the main draw for solo players of NSMBU will be the story mode (story… well…). This could have easily been an example of Nintendo plying safe to contrast the new modes, but fortunately this isn’t completely thr case. While the story, as ever, will hardly grip you, the levels themselves are brilliant. The level design is top-notch, and some examples of Nintendo experimenting with level design are clear. One of these cases is a level where it is possible to cause Stars to come out of Question Mark Blocks if you are fast enough, which will result in multiple 1-Ups at the end of the level (where many enemies await). There is a great variety – confusing Haunted Houses, Ice levels with spinning stars to navigate through, a level with eruptions raining onto you – of levels that will keep your interest until the final battle – and what a final battle. If you thought New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s final battle was good, then you need to play this. Nintendo uses the extra power at its disposal with the Wii U to create a visually stunning final battle. It makes the journey well worth it!
The map itself has been significantly improved, too. Going back to the kind of map design that was loved in Super Mario World, you interact with the map often. Choosing worlds to enter, uncovering secret exits, going through mini strategy games in between levels… this is definitely better than the map in, say, NSMBWii, where the map was more of another menu to go through. Other additions, like the character of Nabbit (who you have to chase through levels) are welcome too, as they bring further diversity to the game. Once you reach the end of the game, there is also some nice new areas to explore… but I wouldn’t spoil that!
Also, as this is Mario’s first foray into HD, you would expect the visuals to be impressive. To this, I respond by saying that while they are impressive, they only occasionally blow you away. Most levels look luscious and attractive, and they are great to travel through. When you play through some levels, though, you wish you could have more. One example is a level with an impressionistic, Van Gogh-style background. In this level, you just ant to stop and stare for a minute. This kind of reaction is only occasionally caused – the aforementioned final battle is one such moment – , and I would have loved to have seen some more of these jaw-dropping visuals.
Furthermore, audio design goes hand-in-hand with visual design in the presentation department. Once again, while some of the sound design is outstanding, this quality of sound design is only present every so often. Audio like the main theme, which is as catchy as ever, needs to be replicated (quality wise) more often in the game. I am by no means saying the visuals and audio are bad – I think that they are fantastic – , I am just saying that they are often just good, not exceptional. When the gameplay itself is at such a high standard, you want the presentation to match it.
To enjoy a game such as this, a comfortable and intuitive control scheme is required. The Wii Remote held sideways makes a return as a possible control method, but it has always felt slightly odd to use it; the Wii Remote’s D-Pad isn’t always the optimal way to control a platformer. The GamePad’s larger size makes it more suited to long gaming sessions (at least, this is what I found) and having analogue sticks at your disposal helps movement. Being unable to use the GamePad normally in multiplayer (say, you can’t have someone using the GamePad to control Mario and another person using a Wii Remote to control Luigi – they both have to use Wii Remotes, and the GamePad can only be used for Boost Mode, which I will explain in a moment, in this situation) is a weird choice, though.
Unfortunately, the unique features of the Wii U are not as well used as you would expect from Nintendo themselves. The GamePad can be used for off-TV play, which is always a great feature, but apart from that the only real thing it brings to the table is Boost Mode, which allows one person to use the GamePad to stun enemies, place blocks to help (or hinder… maybe block someone’s jump over a gap? ;)) other players, and generally assist the Wii-Remote wielding other players. While this mode is useful for players who lack the skill required but what to partake in the action somehow, I found it quite boring to be the person using the GamePad. Despite this, the multiplayer itself is just as hilarious as it was in NSMBWii, with chaos everywhere. One big disappointment is the lack of online in both multiplayer and the Challenge/Boost Rush/Coin Battle modes, as online platforming and leaderboards respectively could really assist these modes.
Contrastingly, Miiverse is used very well in this game. After finishing a level, you will often be requested to post something to Miiverse about the level you just played, with the question itself usually tailored to the way you played the level. This is a nice feature, and is very seamless, with fun themes such as rhyme or a word limit. This kind of interaction between the player, the game, and the community is what Miiverse is all about, and I cannot wait to see more of this kind of thing.
Before I get to my final thoughts, I will discuss the longevity of the game. The main story mode is quite meaty, and will take a fair bit of time to play through, but the game really shines when you try to get everything there is. Those illusive five stars on your game save will only be obtained when you have explored everything the game has to offer, and mastered every level. Collecting all the star coins, finding all the secret exits, and more keep you going for a long time. After this, you still have a lot of content to go through, with the Challenge, Boost Rush, and Coin Battle modes. In other words, this game should last you a lengthy period of time if you want to truly finish it!
This instalment in the New Super Mario Bros. series definitely earns the “New” in its title, arguably unlike some of the other series entries. New additions such as Miiverse integration, Challenge mode, and a return to the more interactive maps of Super Mario World make this a 2D Mario game that is both wonderfully familiar and excitingly new.
What are your thoughts? Have you played this game? Are you planning to get it? Leave your responses below!