New Super Mario Bros. U
Mario is like a rock, steady and unchanging. Princess Peach will always find herself in the grasp of Bowser, a villain who has yet to write a single ransom note. Once again it is up to Mario, Luigi, and two generic Toads to hop and stomp their way across eight worlds. Only by doing battle with Bowser’s family, than then ultimately himself, can you hope to save the Princess. Or you can let your friends play around with the running and the jumping and place blocks. To aid or hinder, that is your choice.
While the path that Mario travels in traditionally the same, mixing up pieces of nostalgia to create something “new”, that doesn’t equate a to bad experience. Where the 3DS sequel was coin crazy to an extreme, neglecting any appearance of challenge for the sake of Mario’s greed, this iteration is closer to the Wii version. It is delightful and inventive, challenging enough to prevent itself from being a pushover and is accepting to new players.
Flying solo? Then you won’t find much use for the GamePad. There are points where motion controls show up, in the form of tilting, but shaking is not required, nor is touching or rubbing. Mario only seeks to navigate platforms via various degrees of jumping and gliding. The game can be played entirely on the GamePad, ignoring the TV, although I found that the big screen made the colorful, HD Mushroom Kingdom a prettier sight to behold.
Do you have friends? New Super Mario Bros. U continues with the basic four player system that was introduced before, adding a fifth player via the GamePad. The person using the GamePad doesn’t play as an additional variant of Toad, but rather places blocks on the screen, up to a maximum of four. So while Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Toad scamper about the level on the TV, the fifth player can easily strategically place blocks to aid their pursuit of star coins. Or they can put obstructions to add to the chaos on screen.
While the setup is traditional, seasoned veterans will notice subtle changes to the formula. The first comes in the form of the suits Mario wears. This time the Italian plumber acquires a minimalist assortment consisting of the traditional flowers, mushrooms and stars, along with the new flying squirrel outfit. The flying squirrel outfit is a first for the series in more ways than just being new, as it grants the ability to float, but does not provide a secondary attack like the raccoon suit, tanooki suit and cape before it.
Yoshi makes an appearance, both as a fully grown green, and in several different baby variations. Unlike Super Mario World feeding the baby Yoshi does not cause it to grow up. Instead, you carry baby Yoshi around with you and shake the little guy to use his unique ability. Questions about teaching children that shaking babies is useful aside, it provides a spin on the usual Yoshi riding mechanic. Also, the Yoshi babies are not found within a level, but rather on the map itself. Only after you unlock a path to them can you guide them into the next level.
This also is a game of subtle secrets. In previous New Super Mario Bros. games, paths through worlds were purchased with the star coins you found in the levels. Some paths would be locked away from you if you chose not to go after the special coins. In this iteration the star coins don’t actual reveal their usefulness until after you’ve beaten the game. As you play the game the map reveals itself, providing alternating routes at your convenience. Like Super Mario Bros. 3 the secrets are meant to be discovered. The game does not provide hints telling you where they exist. Only by exploring the levels will you be able to find, and utilize, the game’s infrequent supply of shortcuts.
The New Super Mario Bros series was never one to defy expectations, but rather build upon years of refined nostalgia. New Super Mario Bros. U is formulaic Mario and is a delightfully fun time for it.