It's yet another familiar entry into the New Super Mario Bros series. But it's definitely the best so far.
--- Presentation ---
Believe it or not, but in New Super Mario Bros U, the story actually gets a little twist. Instead of having Bowser and family kidnapping the Princess and taking her to Bowser's own castle, Bowser this time decides to simply take over Peach's castle, throwing Mario and CO. far, far away from the castle, and now it's up to the heroes to make their way back to the castle and save Peach and the Mushroom Kingdom from Bowser's mighty plans. In every other game such little twist would have absolutely no impact, but for a Mario game, it's actually quite a nice one.
Actually, it is the twists, the little or not so little twists to the New Super Mario Bros formula, that separate this game from it's predecessors. In a nutshell, New Super Mario Bros U is what you expect, and what you've come to know. You have to make your way through eight different worlds in order to defeat Bowser and save Peach and the Kingdom, each world contains it's own typical theme, you'll always encounter a level count that retains the ca. 8-10 levels per world, and so on.
Making your way back to the castle instead of moving away from it gave the developers an opportunity to give the game another load of novelty they have missed. Since your way to the final stand of Bowser is more the exact opposite direction than it is usual, it would have been more than fitting to have some dramatic shift in world themes and the order of them. Instead, New Super Mario Bros U has pretty much the exact same world themes as well as order like in the previous New Super Mario Bros games. Yet, New Super Mario Bros U gives each world theme a new, little twist to make them feel at least a little different.
And another, much better twist of New Super Mario Bros U: It's the first of the New Super Mario Bros games to contain a big, full featured world map with all the smaller worlds fit into it, making the vibrant and rich world of Mario viewable in a whole. It's smaller worlds are connected great with each other, the path Mario must take through the main worlds takes you everywhere, and the different world themes make for a colorful and detailed world map. Not only does it look beautiful, but it also adds a better sense of an actual adventure happening. During any time you may scroll around the map and take a peak at where the adventure will take you, and adding to the charm, the game tosses a few cut scenes that show what happens to the castle while Mario's on his way to that destination. And one last note: the game's world map also contains extra content such as enemies and powerups wondering around the world map, as well as a few other clever features, including some little by-the-by minigames, and hidden paths that must be found, making the world map part of the fun.
As far as the new features of the Wii U go, New Super Mario Bros U doesn't take that much usage of them. It's the best launch title to show off the off-screen play, but the touchscreen is only used for multiplayer, with some good yet limited use of it, and the visuals do not push the graphical abilities of Nintendo's system at all. Don't get me wrong, though, this isn't counted as a negative.
What does seem like a negative is that it seems like Nintendo took it quite easy with this game and made it themselves quite comfortable. They did put a lot of thought and polish into this game, but you'll also notice that they only did that, what was really necessary. Take the visuals, for example. Seeing the typical New Super Mario Bros visual style shine in HD, with backgrounds finally being 3D and getting lots of depth really is great. Actually, there are multiple beautiful and impressive looking backgrounds here to be admired. However, seeing the game recycling backgrounds for multiple levels is a bit odd. Or take the animations. Seriously, Nintendo took the amount of newly created animations to the possible minimum, making some cutscenes look a bit dated.
However, what's absolutely not acceptable is the soundtrack. It's still heavily the soundtrack from the Wii game, with some more, new tracks than New Super Mario Bros 2 had, but it's still lame having to hear so many tracks from the Wii game a third time. It's reaching a limit where the music just comes soaring out of people's ears right after entering them, and it's pretty frustrating and odd to see that Nintendo was so lazy with the game's soundtrack when considering that Nintendo puts a lot of effort into making good music for most of their games.
--- Gameplay ---
Just as the presentation, New Super Mario Bros U's gameplay is very familiar. Like usual for a 2D platformer game, you guide Mario from left to right, avoiding the usual obstacles while snagging powerups to enlarge your chance of success and coins to collect 1-Ups, which are as easy to become as stomping yet another Goomba. Controls are, weirdly, even better than ever. Mario has all of his typical moves at disposal, and he controls as if you're controlling him with your own thoughts. Level Design in New Super Mario Bros U is even more creative than ever, offering the best levels of the series so far, with some meaty challenge after the first 4 worlds of the game, and the 3 Star Coins in each to find, some of them hidden cleverly, while some other are hard to reach. Not to forget the occasional secret exits that unlock hidden paths among the world map. It's all quite familiar yet all still so fun. And like stated before, it's not as if the game hasn't improved over it's predecessors, since it's got clearly the best level design of all four games. And there is some innovation in the level design; a few new ideas and objects as well as a combination of 2 familiar ideas that haven't been combined within a level before make for some innovation, though not much. The majority of the levels seem rather familiar, just better and more cleverly designed than ever.
It's outside of the level design where the game picks more up in novelty. Baby Yoshi's can be found on the world map which than follow you from level to level, until you die or lose them, granting Mario some unique, new powers. Meanwhile, Nabbit, a totally new character to the Mario Universe, steals Mushrooms from Mushroom houses and hides in specific levels, who you then have to chase down in the level he hides in. A much different, but nice addition is the integration of Miiverse. It lets you state your opinion about levels you've just played, while at the same time let's comments from many different people appear on the world map. It really is these touches that make the game stand out from the other ones and let it feel fresh.
And of course, this game can be experienced, just like the Wii one, with multiple friends among your side. While the main four players still play the same role and characters, a fifth player can join the Mustache-Mushroom fun and create platforms out of thin air, as well as interact with some enemies and platforms. The multiplayer is as fun and chaotic as ever, and definitely a particularly great offering for parties. The addition of a fifth player engaging himself with a kind of god-mode is a nice one, though it's probably not as fun as playing as one of the 4 main characters. It can however be a great help for inexperienced gamers, or a great option for those who aren't very good at platformer games and just want to join the fun fast and easy. Oh, and if you're up for some competitive play, Coin Battle mode is the perfect choice. It's the same as in the Wii game, yet a bit more competitive this time around.
Snagging a copy of New Super Mario Bros U will also mean you'll have quite an impressive amount on content to discover. The lengthy main game is only part of what forms New Super Mario Bros U, as there are also two additional modes, Boost Rush Mode and Challenge Mode. Boost Rush Mode is about mastering side scrolling levels as fast as possible, speeding up the scrolling by collecting coins, which is accessible from one to five players. The real surprise is challenge mode. This mode tosses challenges towards you that rate from one star (fairly challenging) to 5 stars(super-enormous-tough), in which you can get a bronze medal, silver medal or gold medal. Or of course a fail. These challenges take place either in totally new terrains or in levels from the main game, and it's incredibly fun to try to beat each challenge, and succeeding in them is tremendously satisfying. They are also quite varied, and only the fewest are less than good or frustrating.
--- Verdict ---
It's simple: New Super Mario Bros U prefers to deliver an experience not very different from it's predecessors, while at the same time, never falling into the category "predictable". Sure, there are some overly predictable parts in the game. But others, like the sudden appearance of an classic Mario enemy in glorious HD on your TV screen that hasn't been seen since the mighty Super Mario World, or a level with a theme unlike any other level seen before in the New Super Mario Bros series, form some truly great moments of the game. You won't be able to shake off the familiar feel the game has, but these new, little twists make sure you will be getting enough "new" to keep you playing.
In fact, New Super Mario Bros U is without a doubt the best entry into it's series yet, as well as one of the launch titles worth to get for the Wii U. It's level design is always creative and fun, it is an overall challenging and satisfying game with lots of secrets, it's got some cool bosses and a very epic final battle, and, unlike the 3DS version, it's able to separate itself from it's predecessors, with new features and innovations, new, additional modes, in particular challenge mode, that add variety, novelty and more fun content as well as HD graphics with much nicer visuals. It's definitely not a good showcase of the Wii U, and does not present next-generation gaming in any ways, but that isn't a negative at all. What does disturb at some occasions is when you do notice that it could have been more, it could have been grander, as Nintendo did stay relatively save with this title, not taking too many risks (and yes, even in terms of level design that is). But it's still an incredibly enjoyable game that is definitely worth getting.
+ creative, varied and challenging levels
+ fun and cool boss battles
+ Incredible controls
+ Nice HD visuals
+ a full world map with all the little worlds connected with each other adds to the experience and looks really good
+ new features and other innovations give the game a fresh enough feeling, while still featuring many throwbacks
+ Multiplayer is a blast
+ great use of Miiverse
- Recycled music, again
- occasionally predictable
- game lies on the safe side
Review Score: 8.0/10