New Super Mario Bros. U Review

Platform: Wii U
Originally Reviewed: 2012

There are perhaps only two surprising things about New Super Mario Bros. U. Firstly, that Nintendo decided to release such a tried and tested franchise as a launch title for their newest console and, secondly, that it still has the word “new” in the title. What isn’t surprising about the game is that it is a thoroughly solid platformer that is extremely enjoyable. Despite wanting something new and mind blowing to kick off the Wii U, it’s impossible to hate Mario U. Instead, we are left with the stance of many a clichéd parent – not angry, just disappointed.

Personally, despite being one of the biggest Mario fans you’re likely to meet, I felt absolutely no excitement about the game. Having seen it on display at games conferences before launch, I barely even stopped to look at the booth décor. But it’s not like you can even cast a cursory glance over Mario U and judge it negatively. You look at those underwhelming graphics, the annoyingly tired music and the repeated formula of world maps and warp pipes from the past 3 games in the series and you still know it’s going to be great. There’s just something underwhelming in the game’s inevitable brilliance. It’s like watching a sports event knowing that your team is going to win – sure, you’ll enjoy the ride, but what is there to be excited about?

Mario’s biggest asset has always been gameplay and Mario U certainly doesn’t buck the trend there. The game plays superbly, of course, and has plenty of nods to past Mario titles – most notably everyone’s favourites Mario 3 and Mario World. Again, it could be argued that there are too many nods to past games and that there really isn’t anything new here, and those arguments are almost fully justified. But there is absolutely no arguing that Mario U is a hell of a lot of fun. Flying as Squirrel Suit Mario or hopping on the back of Yoshi are sensations that Nintendo have spent over 25 years perfecting and all their experience is on show here.

The real shame is that if you look at the game as a sum of its parts, Mario U is lacking in several areas. How does Nintendo’s flagship mascot look now he’s finally made the transition to HD? Well, he looks HD, but he doesn’t look good. There seems to be a real lack of imagination in the way the game looks. It’s such a shame that Nintendo went with the same style of the “New” Mario Bros. games and didn’t use just a little bit of imagination with the art direction. Rayman Jungle Run on the iPhone looks better than Mario U. A beautiful hand-drawn Mario title packed full of bright colours in stunning high definition would have been incredible – this is just lazy.

The music is also a complete let down. Why does nobody at Nintendo realise that the theme song in the original NSMB was crap? They’ve made very similar variations of it for four games now and it’s just so bland and pedestrian I can’t stand it any more. Mario games have produced some of the most charming and catchy tunes in the history of gaming – and Nintendo knows they have – so what is with this drab, lifeless garbage?

I won’t even mention the story in this review apart from to mention that it’s obviously not worth mentioning. It’s now getting kind of insulting how little effort the developers put into the stories of Mario games. If there is no story, Nintendo, then please show me no cut-scenes. I don’t want to see Peach get captured by Bowser any more. There are no more ways to tweak that angle – it’s been tweaked enough. Just flash up the words “Get on with it” and I will happily do that. Just stop interrupting my fun for this formulaic nonsense.

Length-wise the game won’t take many Mario veterans, and there surely must be quite a lot of those by now, that long to finish, but the game is considerably trickier than all the prior NSMB games. This is increased further when you factor in trying to collect all the star coins and complete the challenges mode. Towards the end of the story mode it can get pretty tough – despite your lives count showing you otherwise. During these tougher levels where you may lose, say, 5 out of your 80-odd lives, the game will throw you an olive branch – once again in the guise of Luigi and the ‘Super Guide’.

This is a nice touch for those who may struggle as Luigi takes over very…very…slowly through the level until he passes your particular area of turmoil and you can take over again. The annoying thing about the super guide is that when it becomes available it alerts you with an irritating doorbell sound. There is only one thing more annoying than a doorbell going off when you’re gaming and that’s a doorbell going off to tell you you’re too shit to finish a level on your own.

It’s almost with a sigh that you have to admit Mario U’s greatness. The game is pretty ugly, sounds boring and does absolutely nothing to evolve the Mario brand or even show off the capabilities of the Wii U. There’s almost no need to even review the game – the same as there’s not really any need to get excited about it. Granted, almost everyone who plays Mario U will love it. If you don’t love Mario then you don’t have a soul, and Mario U is easily the best title in the NSMB series with magnificent level design and bags full of Nintendo charm.

Everything in the game that is familiar is both disappointing and reassuringly brilliant. The gameplay is still of an extremely high calibre and the world map, power ups and level design are tried and tested but still oozing quality. Mario U is both challenging and great fun and is therefore impossible to dislike. It’s just that it’s not that real statement of intent from Nintendo that it could have been.

The Wii U’s 3D Mario will likely blow our minds all over the walls with that wonderful sense of imagination we’ve seen from the likes of Mario Galaxy and Mario 64, but innovation and experimentation shouldn’t be left out of 2D Mario as a result. Rayman Origins showed what can be done with 2D platforming when a little bit of flair and bravery is applied and it’s a real let down that the undisputed kings of 2D platforming are too often opting for solid, rather than breathtaking, 2D Mario titles. There has to be more to come from Wii U, but for now this will definitely do.

Alex Aldridge

GRAPHICS

Thoroughly disappointing for Mario’s HD debut. It basically looks like a Wii game upscaled to HD. There is also a real lack of imagination with the overall art design of the game – it does nothing major to evolve itself from the DS game that started the series.

5/10

GAMEPLAY

The gameplay is the entirety of Mario U’s appeal. Any lack of innovation is met head on by 2D platforming that has been absolutely perfected by the best in the business. Compared to the recent Rayman outings it could be judged as slightly more pedestrian, but the level design, tight controls and number of secrets are all still superb.

9/10

STORY

If there’s no story then how come I have to keep watching annoying little animations on the world map? Just leave any and all narrative out of this. It’d be served just as well with Mario legging it through the Mushroom Kingdom because he left the fridge door open. Hey, it’d be different at least, and require about as much thought.

Nothing Ever/10

REPLAYABILITY

There are all the star coins to hunt down, the star world, the challenge mode and I suppose you could play it with some friends (don’t bother). Not the longest game, but 2D Mario games are always accessible enough for a quick bash at any time.

8/10

VALUE FOR MONEY AT

If you’re going to spend all your Wii U time playing ZombiU, you’re going to need some good old Mario for when you’re all zombied out. As underwhelming as the game is as a spectacle, it’s probably the Wii U’s best launch title for gameplay.

£30

OVERALL

Oh, Mario. I really want to dislike your lack of imagination, flair and originality but you’re just too damn good. This game is a prime example of playing it safe for a console launch. The Wii U could have exploded into life with something fresh and awe inspiring, but instead Mario fans will begrudgingly have to accept that this is a very solid and enjoyable game, but one that really didn’t need to be made. Got a Wii U? Get it. Need a reason to buy Wii U? This probably isn’t it.


8/10

GREAT

 

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