Mario’s new look
Who knew being a plumber was such a lucrative and dangerous career. Over 26 years ago we met Mario, a man with hops better than Michael Jordan. After over 100 appearances in video games, we have seen our mustachioed hero make his way through a lot of adventures, but this is the first time he will be doing it in HD on Nintendo’s Wii U in New Super Mario Bros. U. This also marks the first time a Mario game has launched with a console since Mario 64. So how does the plumber stack up in the genre he helped define?
Stop me if you have heard this one before. Mario and his friends are relaxing in the Mushroom Kingdom when (you guessed it) Bowser kidnaps Princess Peach. After using his huge flying ship to throw Mario, Luigi, and the Toad twins across the world, he then takes up residence at Peach’s castle and puts his huge number of illegitimate children in the path of Mario and the castle. Mario must make his way on foot across the world to save his complicated love life. You would think Mario would have invested in a car by now (where’s his go-kart when he needs it?).
If you have played a Mario game in the past, or any platformer, the gameplay is not going to be something new. You run, you jump, you beat dinosaurs so they do your bidding, nothing out of the norm. Even though Mario has traveled through the galaxy in a 3D environment and raced for the gold in Mario Kart, NSMBU takes the route that started the series, a side-scrolling platformer. The controls are as tight as ever, which is good because many of the levels take precision to traverse. Playing with the Gamepad works exceptionally well, and if someone needs the TV, the game can be played on the Gamepad’s screen. It also can be played using the Wiimote which isn’t as fun, but works.
The game’s overworld is the same as most Mario games, a top-down view with all the levels laid out like a board game. As I progressed, optional paths could be taken, but because I wanted to see each level, I would take one path then backtrack to take another. Each area has about ten levels with a boss stage at the end. While playing I couldn’t help but feel reminiscent of Super Mario World on the SNES, which is a good thing. There are hidden paths, colorful backgrounds, and Toad houses where I could earn different power-ups along my journey. When playing certain levels, I found a number of different hidden areas that warped me worlds ahead. Nintendo hit all the right nostalgia notes.
Yoshi is also back and as awesome as ever. The walking garbage disposal can now fill up on fruit to poop out items for Mario. Besides the Yoshi you can ride on, baby Yoshis are also part of the game, each with a different ability. Pink Yoshis can be blown up like a balloon, which allowed me to get to otherwise unreachable places up high. Blue Yoshis spit out bubbles which I could either hop on to bounce, or engulf my enemies in, to turn them into a coin. While the different Yoshis add a lot of fun to the gameplay, they don’t appear too often. I feel Nintendo should have exploited our favorite long-tongued reptile more to keep the gameplay fresh, plus he’s just so cute.
NSMBU can also be played co-op, but players be warned, it’s a relationship killer. Even though you’re working together to complete levels, it feels like Nintendo deliberately added elements to make you want to fight your partner in crime. I can’t count the number of times my co-op partner accidentally jumped off my head, launching me to my death, or how many times I was hit by a turtle shell thrown by my so-called friend. Unless you have the patience of a snail, don’t be surprised if you find yourself yelling at your friend for making your time with the game frustratingly miserable. This wouldn’t be a problem if Nintendo allowed for the co-op to be customized. Picking up my partner is a simple shake of the controller, which also is the same command to do a number of different things. Why can’t I turn this option off Nintendo? Do you want your fans to all hate each other?
Outside of the main campaign, NSMBU offers a slew of additional modes to help keep the game going long after you get that tease kiss from Princess Peach for saving her life for the hundredth time. Boost Rush allows one to five players race to collect as many coins as they can. The more coins collected, the faster the level will advance. Once at max speed, this mode gets intense as the screen pushed me forward and forced me to dodge every enemy and collect every coin with little visibility of what was in front of me.
Coin Battle is up to four players either solo, or on teams. This mode is a blast as I tried to get more coins than my friends. Not only that, but I could sabotage other players by jumping off their heads or by throwing them into enemies. Boost Mode uses both the Gamepad and the Wiimote. Touching the screen on the Gamepad creates boxes which then allowed me to jump across them with the Wiimote. Because the blocks disappear quickly, it takes quick reflexes to switch back and forth from Gamepad to Wiimote to complete each level. Having a friend control the Gamepad makes this process much easier, but it was also fun frantically playing using both controllers.
Then there are Challenges, a mode that inexperienced gamers should simply turn around and run from. This mode offers a number of different, difficult challenges for one or two players in the attempt to earn a bronze, silver, or gold medal. These challenges range from using the triple-jump technique to grab every coin in a small amount of time, to getting through a whole level without touching the ground by leaping off enemies’ heads. After every mode you can also choose to save a replay to rub in other people’s faces.These are just a few examples of the different challenges that offer a lot of fun and replay value.
Mario games have been played a number of ways on a number of consoles, but NSMBU marks a momentous occasion. It’s the first time a Mario game has ever been in HD and it looks amazing. The backgrounds and characters look like cartoons with amazing detail. Seeing wrinkles on Mario’s shirt is definitely a first, and the game still manages to keep its simple design. The music is also top quality, remixing a lot of old favorites from the series. Something I enjoyed in particular is that whenever a vocal part in a song would be sung, the characters in the game would stop to throw their hands up, even sometimes opening their mouth as if they are singing along. These little details add to the charm of the game and brought a smile to my face.
If you’re like I was, then you might be burned out on Mario titles. I couldn’t get into the last couple side-scrolling Mario games to come out recently, but something about NSMBU hooked me and kept me interested until the end. Tight gameplay, great style, and a number of modes kept me entertained far longer than any Mario game since Mario 64. Even with the unoriginal story, gameplay, and just about everything else the game offers, it still manages to keep that key factor of fun. Co-op can be overly frustrating, but I never felt like I wanted to give up. Owners of Nintendo’s new console need to put NSMBU at the top of their play list.
Tested on Wii U