New Super Mario Bros. U marks the first time since the N64 that a Mario game has headlined a Nintendo home console launch.
In comparison to Super Mario 64 however, New Super Mario Bros. U is not a revolutionary game-changer; it’s not going to change the world. Despite its name the New Super Mario Bros. series has never been one to take risks, and this applies to the latest entry.
This said, Nintendo have crafted a refined 2D Mario experience, surprising in its quality, easily the best in the series, and a more than suitable launch title for their new system. The story is predictable and practically non-existent, but Mario games are not played for their spectacular storytelling; instead they are played for the unparalleled quality of platforming.
Every aspect of playing as Mario feels perfect, the controls are as responsive and accurate as ever, and Mario’s weight and speed are spot on. For the first time since Super Mario World on the Super Nintendo, the levels are navigated via one cohesive map, allowing varying pathways to be chosen, secrets to be hidden, and for Nintendo to experiment and astonish with their level design. Mario does tread some overly familiar ground including forest, fire and water themes, but Nintendo also included some more unexpected elements. The most striking of these is a portion inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s Starry Night, creating a unique and surreal aesthetic that has never before been seen in a Mario game.
More recent Mario games have been criticised as being too easy, trying to appeal to more casual audiences rather than ardent fans. Nintendo have clearly taken note of this and have satisfied fan demand in a variety of ways. For a start, the learning curve is extremely well judged, gradually increasing as the player traverses the worlds, with the last handful of levels providing a real challenge for even the most dedicated fans, especially if their aim is to collect all three of the star coins found in each level. To aid less experienced players, the Super Guide function is yet again present, giving the player the option of help if one sequence proves to be too difficult.
Outside of the main story, Nintendo has also included both Challenge and Boost Rush modes, aiming to further appease veteran fans. Challenge mode requires the player to finish a sequence using a certain method, such as beating a certain amount of enemies before touching the ground, whilst Boost Rush features a level that scrolls continuously faster dependent on how many coins the player has collected, in an attempt to complete the stage as quickly as possible. Both act as a true test of any long-term Mario player, and will hopefully return as mainstays of the series.
Overall, New Super Mario Bros. U is without a doubt the highlight of the Wii U launch line-up, providing a fantastic balance of gameplay for both veterans and newcomers, whilst also boasting a surprising amount of content. This is 2D platforming at its best, providing the finest traditional Mario experience since Super Mario World on the SNES.