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New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U) artwork

New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U) review

"The original Super Mario Bros. games were quick to move from one idea to the next, and certainly itís easy to see why developers would do the same thing here, but New Super Mario Bros. U does a better job of reminding the player how awesome the franchise has been over the years than it does delivering a new batch of that same old magic."

Mario, Luigi, Princess Toadstool and her retainers were seated around a table in the castle, enjoying a pleasant meal, when suddenly Bowserís huge airship broke through the domed ceiling overhead. A giant mechanical hand emerged and then hesitated before finally swooping toward the group. At that point, you might suppose that the hand grabbed the princess and lifted her up into the ship before the airborne vessel beat a hasty retreat. Thatís how the story would normally go. In this case, though, the hand smashed the plumbers and retainers, then grabbed them and flung them to the outer reaches of the Mushroom Kingdom. The members of the heroic quartet were forced to watch as a swirling cloud of doom appeared around the castle where everyone had just been feasting. If they ever want to eat with the princess again, the plumbers and the two loyal retainers will need to make their way across the kingdom. Theyíll have to battle the seven Koopalings children as they do so, and then theyíll have to make Bowser himself understand that he is not welcome in his new home.

The opening to Super Mario Bros. U is a little different from the franchise norm, but not different enough to matter. Depending on your preferences, you might feel the same way about the game as a whole. If youíre seeking out a substantially new experience, youíre definitely looking in the wrong place. This latest trek through the Mushroom Kingdom is a lot like previous ones, with a few mildly interesting twists on the familiar elements but no additions that make it a whole lot different from previous installments.

One addition youíll soon spot is a masked thief named Nabbit. He pops up after you complete some stages, then runs away with treasure stolen from Toad. You can follow him to a stage heíll enter on the map, and then you can chase him through that zone. Speed is crucial in such instances, but you also have to watch out for the usual enemy presence that works to slow you down or kill you. Familiar stages can prove quite tricky when you suddenly have to rush instead of proceeding with appropriate caution, but your reward if you catch Nabbit is a rare P-Acorn.

Mario can now carry as many as ten items at once, though they can be used only prior to entering a given stage. As you obtain additional items, youíll want to use them to make your life easier, because itís not especially difficult to find more of the same throughout the adventure. Youíll have to start discarding goodies if you wait too long to use them. Nabbit isnít your only means of acquiring spare loot, either; you can sometimes win treasure if you tag that flagpole while a certain amount of time is remaining on the timer, and some of the Mushroom Houses scattered around the map allow you to play mini-games that potentially will yield another power-up or two. In other cases, youíll be able to try for extra lives. In that regard, the game feels a fair bit like Super Mario Bros. 3.

Youíll also see that gameís influence elsewhere, if youíre looking for it. A lot of the enemies youíll find here made their debut in that earlier title. Youíll have to clear a fortress in each of the first seven worlds, usually fighting Boom-Boom at the end, and of course there are the aforementioned Koopalings. Springy music notes also make an appearance, and there are even a few stages that feature the familiar flying beetles. In one case, youíll spend most of a level riding on those creatures, a scenario that seems to be modeled after an old level that was sadly cut from Super Mario Bros. 3. Itís a nice inclusion here, as would have been true previously.

The nods to Super Mario Bros. 3 are welcome, and theyíre joined by many elements that clearly owe their existence to Super Mario World. Take, for instance, the world map. It is all interconnected and offers numerous branching paths. As you clear stages, youíll open up additional pathways and stages to explore, and you donít have to visit all levels within any but the last world unless you really want to. A handful of stages also feature alternative exits that you can explore to skip over a number of stages, if thatís your thing. There are also ghost houses and even some domed switches that fill a portion of the map with huge blocks that you can use to cross wide gaps.

If you fondly remember the old games, youíll likely be pleased by the homage, but itís difficult not to feel the slightest bit disappointed by some of the things that didnít return. Or in some cases, the developers brought back a beloved enemy or environment but barely used it before discarding it in favor of something more recently familiar (and a bit less interesting). The original Super Mario Bros. games were quick to move from one idea to the next, and certainly itís easy to see why developers would do the same thing here, but New Super Mario Bros. U does a better job of reminding the player how awesome the franchise has been over the years than it does delivering a new batch of that same old magic. Some of the elements feel like they were tossed into the mix just because theyíre cool, not because they contribute to a cohesive end result.

Part of what lends to that notion is the level length, which feels a bit excessive. Stages also prove more difficult than they usually do. New Super Mario Bros. U is at times the most difficult game in the series since the Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 (which was released here as part of Super Mario All-Stars and called The Lost Levels). That notoriously difficult game was punishing to an extreme in some instances, though rewarding in its own way, and there are a few stages in Marioís first Wii U outing that recall those early days in his adventuring career. The toughest levels could leave you cheering when you finally see the flagpole scroll into view, but not always for the right reasons. Thatís even before you worry about finding every exit and bonus stage, and collecting every deviously-placed star coin.

Another disappointment comes in the form of the new acorn power-up. Its non-powered, more common form lets you glide if you jump and then hold the appropriate button, almost like the feather cape did in Super Mario World but without the possibility for thrilling manipulation that allowed you to dive and swoop while airborne. Thereís no special attack afforded by the acorn, however, meaning that its only real purpose is to slightly improve mobility.

The developers also brought back Yoshi, but it feels like heís only there to check a box off a list. Youíll only find him in a handful of levels. More commonly, youíll find Baby Yoshi creatures that you can carry with you through an area. Theyíll gobble down enemies and serve as a bit of a buffer if you need them, plus they sometimes have a helpful ability (like in one zone, where they glow and provide some much-needed illumination). Unfortunately, you can only take them with you through one level and thatís only after you make them appear on the world map. Itís also entirely too easy to toss or to kick them into a pit, so they donít actually wind up making as much impact on the gameplay as they probably should have.

Since New Super Mario Bros. U is the plumberís first Wii U adventure, the game was designed to utilize a few new hardware features. If you are playing with a couple of friends or family members, the third person can use the gamepad to produce blocks out of thin air. Those ledges will appear for a limited time and they can save allies from falling into pits and such, but really the feature is just there for noveltyís sake. Visiting friends will most likely prefer to control one of the four characters using Wii Remotes, and a five-person party isnít something that tends to remain in a living room for long. Itís not a bad feature, but youíre not missing much if you ignore it. The option to leave notes on the world map when you finish levels is more interesting at first, but youíll probably get tired of the prompt appearing so often. Fortunately, you can disable it.

Besides the main adventure, thereís also a Challenges option from the main menu. This mode presents you with a variety of missions that often take place in stages you complete in the main campaign. One challenge will ask you to bounce from one enemy to another, increasing your score until you start gaining 1ups. Another rewards you for rushing quickly through a selection of 2 or 3 stages. There are bronze, silver and gold medals for each challenge, and earning the gold can prove insanely difficult even when youíre working through the simplest stages. If New Super Mario Bros. 2 is any indication, the challenges are one game element that Nintendo might eventually choose to expand with downloadable content. Or perhaps there will be new Boost Rush stages, which ask you to rush through familiar areas while collecting coins to increase the speed at which everything scrolls.

Thereís not really anything especially wrong with New Super Mario Bros. U, and thereís plenty of high-quality content to keep a single player and his or her friends busy for a long while. The graphics are in high-definition for the first time and they look great. Though the controls are occasionally squirrelly, that is unfortunately true of all games in the New Super Mario Bros. series and the modern generation of gamers doesnít seem to mind. As long as youíre not bothered by the lack of any substantially new ideas, Marioís latest adventure is a rewarding and surprisingly challenging trip down memory lane that you shouldnít miss.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (November 23, 2012)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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