As one of the biggest Mario fans around, it was surprising (especially to me) when I realised that the New Super Mario Bros. U game was one I had somehow missed. So I was pretty much smack-in-the-middle of this Switch game’s target demographic and was rather looking forward to the review. The new game has a few extras and all the DLC from the original game and runs in native 1080p in TV mode and 720p in handheld mode, but in general, this was not much more than a slightly updated port of the 2012 WiiU game. Back then, the bright, fun 2D (or 2.5D as some call it) side-scrolling platformer was really well-received and so it made sense that Nintendo was keen to bring it to the wider Switch player base. So is it still a five-star hit, or could it be that the intervening years have begun to expose the series’ by-the-book blueprint and highlighted a few issues?
If it ain’t a-broke…
Right from the start, there is a lot that the game still does right. Even though the premise hasn’t changed much over the last 30 years or so, if you are a fan of Mario’s adventures in the 2D Mushroom Kingdom there are lots of great moments to enjoy in this game. Princess Peach has once again been taken hostage by Bowser and it is up to Mario and the gang to save the day. Mario (or Luigi, Yellow Toad or Toadette/Peachette) must travel across the overworld map – getting to the finish line before the time runs out. Each level opens up a new path (or sometimes branching paths), and each area has its own unique and engaging theme; from ice, water and desert areas – all the staples are back and look better than ever. Each area has a mini-boss castle level, along with a boss battle featuring one of the Koopalings.
Each area has its own fun and engaging theme; from ice, water and desert areas – all the staples are back and look better than ever.
As with previous titles in the series, power-ups can be earned in-level or from Mushroom houses along the path. The usual suspects are there from the invincibility Super Star to the trademark Super Mushroom and Fire Flower, along with a few more recent additions like the Ice Flower, Penguin Suit, Propeller Mushroom and, as first seen in the New Super Mario Bros. U game, the Super Acorn. This power-up allows its user to glide and flap around like a majestic anthropomorphised flying squirrel. These power-ups can be stored and activated before entering a new level.
Don’t-a fix it…
The original WiiU game was executive-produced by Shigeru Miyamoto and Satoru Iwata and so it makes sense that Nintendo’s trademark creativity is all over the place (Tatsumi Kimishima assumed the role for the port). Each of the worlds feels unique and beautifully and brightly illustrated. Levels like Ice Slide Expressway and Painted Pipeworks (the latter pictured below) really stood out from an artistic and gameplay point of view (and I only wished we’d have gotten more of this kind of thing).
The level design ranges from very good to outstanding – especially in the more vertical levels where turning gears and rotating flame-throwers reward clever movement and technical platforming. These, plus the addition of a few gimmicks along the way (like tilting your controller to move platforms) provide the kind of wonderful creative variety that leaves you desperate for more. It also feels well-paced in terms of difficulty. Early levels are a breeze to complete, while later levels are really quite tough and require a significant amount of skill, especially if you want to collect all three Star Coins and find all other hidden collectables before reaching the flagpole.
The addition of the now infamous Toadette/Peachette (as well as the virtually invincible Nabbit) alleviates the difficulty of later levels substantially, allowing anyone to finish the game.
The addition of the now infamous Toadette/Peachette (as well as the virtually invincible Nabbit) in the Deluxe version alleviates the difficulty of later levels substantially though, and being able to easily switch to these characters makes even the toughest levels easy enough for most players to get through without too much of a fuss. Being able to tackle each level as a single-player is a great experience, but also being able to add in up to three friends virtually on-the-fly is, as you can probably imagine, a lot of mad, chaotic fun. Beating the entire game with friends would take some dedication, however, in short bursts, this is a great way of playing, arguing and throwing your friends across the screen in the funniest way possible.
Mushrooms and missteps
One of the main gripes I have had with previous Super Mario Bros. games was that once you died within the level, your character respawns back to the overworld map. This means there is a constant break in momentum and a short and seemingly unnecessary change-of-scene ‘cinematic’. Unfortunately, this is still the case in the Deluxe port and while not a deal-breaker it does feel a little like the vestige of a bygone era that can really affect the pace of the game. Boss fights are fun, but after a few areas (8 in total), they begin to feel a little repetitive. Despite being a fan of the traditional 3-hits-and-you-beat-the-boss mechanic, I really hoped that some of the clever composition present in the levels had been extended to the design and feel of each of the ‘final’ Kooplaing stand-offs and unfortunately it usually wasn’t.
The new modes included in the Deluxe port are ideal in handheld mode and seem aimed at short bursts of play.
The Deluxe version includes the New Super Luigi Bros. U DLC from the original game as well as Boost Rush, Challenges, and Coin Battle modes. In the Luigi-version of the game (basically a kind of ‘hard’ mode) you take on virtually the same levels, but instead of Mario, Luigi is the main protagonist. And while Luigi can jump a little higher, he also takes a little longer to change direction or come to a complete stop while running. Also, unless you tackle the level with Nabbit or Toadette, you’ll only have 100 seconds to reach the goals versus the 300 you usually get for a Mario level. The extra challenge is really good and does allow you to try a few of the different paths you may have missed from your original run-through, however, due to the striking similarities you may want to leave yourself a little time between ending one game and starting the next.
The extra modes included in the Deluxe package do provide a little something extra. Basically, they are a series of mini-games based around collecting (or avoiding) coins, completing time-trials and a few other short challenge-based tests that range in difficulty from easy to almost impossible. They reminded me a little of Mario Maker challenges and are a lot of fun if you only have a few minutes and want to jump in and out of something really quickly. Plus, you get to use your Mii and that’s always creepy/fun. They are therefore ideal in handheld mode but don’t expect to spend hours and hours enjoying this extra content as, once again, it seems aimed at short bursts of play.
Comfort is the enemy of progress
All-in-all Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is exactly what you’d expect from the 2D Mario platforming series. It’s bright, creative and if you’re looking for a fun relaxing experience with a forgiving difficulty curve, the addition of Nabbit and Toadette make this a really good experience. That being said, if you have played the WiiU version, I can’t see enough reasons to make you repurchase the game. The game looks slightly prettier, and the extra modes are fun in short stints, but mostly, it’s just the same game again. And to be honest, while I found it really difficult to find anything particularly ‘wrong’ with the game, I also found that it didn’t hook me like platformers in general (and platformers starring Mario in specific) usually do – and couldn’t help feeling that ‘something special’ was missing.
Although there was nothing particularly ‘wrong’ with the game, I couldn’t help feeling that ‘something special’ was missing.
It could be that last year’s Super Mario Odyssey has spoiled me and that I’m looking for Mario’s 2D side-scroller to receive a similar revamped treatment; maybe it’s time for something a little meatier in terms of story or content or a new direction in art design. It could also be that last year’s great 2D platformers have just set a new standard in gameplay feel. Whatever the case, despite being colourful and bright, it seems to have lost something in the intervening years, dropping it from the dizzy heights of a ‘great’ game to a respectable, if formulaic, ‘good’ game. While there is still much to like, including the nice ode to the original Mario Bros. game (of knocking the floor beneath enemies in some levels), there wasn’t enough of that kind of thing and the repetitive formula of the New Super Mario Bros. series may be finally showing its age. I couldn’t help but feel sad that this was not the eight- or nine-out-of-ten game I was hoping for. But, before getting too depressed, if you haven’t tried it yet, there is definitely still a good, fun platformer here worth spending your money on – and it’s a great addition to your Switch library while you wait for some bigger titles later in the year. It’s a game that’s easy to like, you just may not be falling for it anytime soon.