Trouble with Koopalings

There’s been a lot of talk lately in the game industry about sequels and what we expect from them. How much they need to change or raise the bar to keep people coming back for more. How they need to break the mold so it doesn’t seem like each game is just cut from the same cloth over and over again. One franchise, however, never felt it needed to do that. It just kept churning out sequel after sequel and rarely changed a thing. A few new powers here, a couple new worlds there, but since the very beginning, everyone’s favorite plumber, Mario, has really never changed. And somehow, he’s still as fun as ever.

To put it simply, as Mario approaches his third decade of relevance, his games continue to define platforming perfection, and New Super Mario Bros. U is the new pinnacle of his long and storied run.

Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach for the 143,658,903,279th time, and it is up to Mario to once again stomp on the seven Koopalings, Bowser Jr., Kamek, and Bowser himself across eight themed worlds in order to get her back and save the day. Moreso than any previous Mario game, New Super Mario Bros. U is the perfect love letter to the era I consider the franchise’s heyday—Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World.

Wily old Mario veterans will immediately recognize the overworld map, which has shades of Super Mario World written all over it. Then there’s the item system, where you have a stockpile that you can reach into and arm Mario with before each stage, was a Super Mario Bros. 3 invention. It’s a departure from the more recent outings, where you could only have one item in storage but were able to use it mid-stage—presumably because that approach made the past few games a little too easy. Mario wants you to hone those jumping skills again!

And it’s not just the item system that will make you want to brush up on your platforming skills, as every Mario baddie worth his salt returns to get in our mustachioed plumber’s way and make things even more perilous. The level designs are also a bit more abstract this time around, so if you think you’re going to just stockpile dozens upon dozens of lives like in the past few games, you might want to think again.

One returning element that helps counteract all these changes, however, is the our good friend Yoshi. You’re still unable to bring him with you from one stage to the next, but he’s a huge help on the levels you can use him, as they seem specifically designed for Yoshi’s unique attributes, including his new power where if eats enough fruit, he will actually…uhhhh…produce power-ups.

We also see the return of Baby Yoshis in blue, magenta, and yellow varieties, each of which provides a special ability for Mario as he carries them through a level. Yellow lights up dark caverns, Blue shoots bubbles that trap enemies and turn them into coins, and  Magenta can inflate like a balloon and carry Mario for short distances. Although they never grow into full-sized Yoshis, these babies can also eat anything that gets in your way, making it worthwhile to lug them through as many stages as possible.

Aside from a lot of features from the past returning, there are also a few new additions that might make you “oooh” and “aaah.” The most obvious is the much ballyhooed (and somewhat belated) transition to full HD graphics. Simply put, no Mario game has ever looked this good. Some of the world backgrounds are so vibrant that they look as though they’ve been painted onto your TV. They’re so gorgeous, you almost want to take a pictures and put them all in some sort of incredibly dorky museum.

We also get a new power-up in the form of the Flying Squirrel Acorn, which joins old favorites like the Fire and Ice Flowers, Invincibility Stars, and the Super and Mini Mushrooms. It certainly isn’t my favorite power-up of all-time, since you can’t really fly with it like you could the Tanooki Suit or Raccoon Leaf. Instead, you just glide gently across the stage, which isn’t nearly as useful. Still, the Acorn did help inspire a new enemy to add to Bowser’s hordes, and there’s also a much more useful P-Acorn variant (like the P-Wing from Mario 3), where Mario can infinitely glide if you perform a spin jump at the right time. I  also would’ve loved to have seen the Penguin and Frog Suits return, but with a limited item storage system, I can see why the lineup has been cut back some.

There aren’t just changes to the single player game, though, as New Super Mario Bros. U also features three multiplayer modes. Yes, you and four friends (one person can now use the Wii-U remote’s touch screen to place helpful Boost Blocks to help their friends cross especially hard gaps) can still move your way through the single player stages together and cause craziness as you “accidentally” push each other into bottomless pits.

Specific to multiplayer though is a revamped Coin Battle mode, where you and your friends compete to gather the most coins as you work your way through a level. There’s also a coin editor system, so you can design your own stages for the mode. Another multiplayer mode is Challenge Mode that offers unique obstacles for you and your friends to overcome, like seeing who can earn the most lives or get the fastest time in one run. Rounding out the multiplayer is Boost Rush, where you try to traverse scrolling stages that scroll faster and faster as you progress.

All things considered, even though Mario hasn’t really changed that much after all these years, he finds a way to keep himself just fresh enough while still maintaining the high gameplay standard that keeps us all coming back for more again and again. New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t disappoint and is a must have launch title for anyone picking up the Wii U.

SUMMARY: A love-letter to the days of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. U’s multiplayer modes, insane platforming, and beautiful HD graphics offer more than enough to provide hours of fun for gamers of all stripes.

  • THE GOOD: Same classic formula with a fresh coat of paint and puzzles.
  • THE BAD: Tanooki Suit > Raccoon Leaf > Flying Squirrel Acorn.
  • THE UGLY: The unbearable pain Yoshi must feel when he craps Fire Flowers.

SCORE: 9.0

New Super Mario Bros. U is a Wii U exclusive.