Platform: Wii U
Developer: Nintendo EAD Group 4
New Super Mario Bros U, the tentpole launch title for the Wii U and the first ever Mario game in high definition, is a decent platform game and a quickfire return to form for Nintendo after their lackluster effort with New Super Mario Bros 2 on the 3DS six months ago.
I don’t know enough about Japanese culture but they seemingly have a wry sense of humour when it comes to ironically titled video game franchises. From the country that brought us the never-ending Final Fantasy series, the New Super Mario titles which started with New Super Mario Bros on the Nintendo DS in 2006, is a range of games that seem anything but ‘new’. They are games that are heavily indebted to the original Super Mario Bros trilogy on the NES and are notorious for recycling the same art style and soundtrack with each installment. It’s just as well that the majority of the games also feature top notch level design and impeccable controls.
The previous installments in the ‘New’ series often took inspiration from a particular Mario game in the past and with New Super Mario Bros U, it seems that Nintendo have opted to revisit Super Mario World, the launch title for the Super Nintendo. This is a welcome choice for long time Mario fans. Any sort of ‘Best Of’ list with Mario games usually boils down to an argument for either Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World and I fall into the camp that prefers the latter.
The influence of Super Mario World means that this game has a cohesive world map, a hidden Star World that features advanced challenges, the return of the Koopalings, a new racoon suit that has similar properties to the cape from SMW and of course Yoshi is back. All of these are welcome returns to the series. I’ll get my one major gripe off my chest right now and its that Yoshi still, still!, isn’t transferable from level to level. He remains locked to appear only for specially chosen levels. Considering that the first iteration of Yoshi in Super Mario World offered the greatest amount freedom where you could take him anywhere, this bugs me to no end. Oh well.
It’s stating the obvious but the most immediate improvement to New Super Mario Bros U is the move to high definition which suits the Mushroom kingdom very nicely. Although Nintendo are accused of laziness with the art style in the New series, I think they have subtly made positive changes to this high definition installment by tightening the camera so that everything on the screen appears closer up and more detailed. In addition, the characters seemed to have been given a gloss over with some shaders that seem to give them a Pixar look about them. This really is a gorgeous looking game. Particularly when Nintendo loosen the shackles and get creative with the level design, most notably in the world that is influenced by van Gogh’s The Starry Night.
The Starry Night aside, the biggest gripe that one could have against this game is that Nintendo seem to be playing it incredibly safe. The majority of the themed stages are designs that we’ve seen a bunch of times over the last three decades. There isn’t the ‘go for broke, throw the kitchen sink’ level of creativity that we saw in Super Mario Galaxy or Super Mario 3D Land.
For that reason, I think most people reach a similar consensus with this game. It’s not bad. It’s probably about the fourth best 2D platformer in the Mario franchise which is nothing to sniff at. Although the gameplay remains challenging, the dressing is desperately stale. And we know Nintendo can do more.
In the context of a launch title, it doesn’t really do a whole lot to show off the features of the Gamepad which is reduced to a ‘help or hinder’ second player mode where you can add platforms in the game by using the touch screen. However, the game does do a good job of showing off the Mii-verse integration that games can have. Periodically the game will offer you a chance to gloat or moan about a level depending on whether you aced it first time or lost a ton of lives on it. The world map is then automatically peppered with the thoughts and reactions of other players around the world. I found this to be an excellent feature and done in a classically family-friendly Nintendo style that fosters a healthy sense of community.
So that’s that. It’s good, not great. But you want standards to remain high for Nintendo’s flagship mascot and while this game feels polished, you really feel that it isn’t showing the company in their very top form. I’d be happy to see the ‘New’ series get benched at this stage. Despite this game’s lack of creativity, I have high hopes for any prospective installments of Super Mario Galaxy U. If they do it right, Nintendo has the potential to do something amazing with that game.