Is it possible to iterate too often? It certainly is, but this is the question I asked myself several times when playing New Super Mario Bros. U, the fourth entry in Nintendo’s successful New Super Mario Bros. franchise. To call it a different franchise entirely might be a stretch, but the entire series has had such a specific feel that combines the 2D Mario games of old with some very interesting ideas that are new to those games. This is another one of those, although it is most reminiscent of what I consider the best game in the series, making it a step up from what you might normally expect.
This is a Mario game; you know what you’re getting here. You run, you jump (sometimes on enemies), you collect power-ups and you try to reach the top of the flagpole at the end of each level. The base mechanics are as fun as they have ever been and show that, if anything, they may never get old. While you can use a Wii Remote to control the game, the Wii U GamePad is perfectly capable of handling your platforming needs. The GamePad screen isn’t used for anything of note, but if you’re in the situation where you can’t play on a TV, the experience on the controller is just fine.
That said, this game attempts to bring back some of the craziness involved in Super Mario World, including the return of secret exits. Those have been in previous NSMB releases, but here they become even more of a focus. You may skip entire worlds if you don’t find the right exits, which allows for plenty of replayability if you plan on going back and playing every level. The star coins return as well, and while a lot of them are relatively easy to get, the placement of some can get downright sinister during later levels. You will definitely not get all of them in one go, so plan on replaying levels if you’re a completionist.
The level design itself is as good as Mario gets, if not better in some cases. While none of the worlds themselves are entirely surprising, there are specific levels that are handled better here than in any previous NSMB game. To avoid any specific spoilers, I’ll just say that you’ll find plenty of surprises, even if you’re an experienced Mario player already.
There is a lot to be said when a 2D Mario game in this style can still offer some new challenges without changing the core of what makes these games so enjoyable to begin with. Some simply serve as a great callback to previous games, while others are just devilishly hard, but keep you coming back. Part of this is the introduction of a new power-up, the flying squirrel suit, which adds a surprising amount to a relatively unchanged formula. It acts as a cross between the cape and the Tanooki suit, and it’s undeniably fun to use.
Despite that, the gameplay is still more of the same, which is still a bit of a disappointment. You’ll find a lot to like here, especially if you’ve never played a NSMB game in a while (or ever), but the charm of the first game is beginning to wear off with each subsequent sequel. It’s clear that Nintendo is running out of clever new ways to keep giving us the same stuff. If you’re playing this solo and are a veteran of the series, you may still be wishing this was a new, full-fledged 3D Mario instead.
Thankfully, the co-op is back. This feature made its debut in New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and is as chaotic as ever. If you’re bored by this formula by now as a single-player game, you’re bound to have some fun messing around with friends. While I’ll always treasure these games as solo experiences, the co-op is a fun way to pass the time and get your friends to help out with levels you may have trouble with. It can be a little too crazy at times, which could lead to frustration, but it is certainly possible to play through every level with a friend or three.
This is also where the main GamePad functionality lies, as it allows a fifth player (or any of the other players) to touch the screen and create platforms. This mechanic can be used to help people out or, if you’re feeling especially devious, screw them over. It’s a neat idea, but this is not something someone will enjoy doing for long periods of time. As an extra feature for the other players to use when necessary, it’s cool to have and can be beneficial when trying to get some of the more difficult star coins.
You might think that this is a game that is worth passing on unless you’ve never played a NSMB game before, but New Super Mario Bros. U is easily the best in this line of Mario games so far. There are plenty of fantastic levels and secrets, plus the co-op is still a lot of fun with the right people. It may be more of the same overall, but Mario’s first HD adventure is something worth experiencing no matter how you choose to experience it.
Pros: Great levels and secrets to discover, fun co-op, Mario still as mechanically sound and enjoyable as ever
Cons: GamePad functionality doesn’t add much, generally more of the same