Zero Lives Left – New Super Mario Bros. U

Game: New Super Marios Bros. U
Released: 2012
Available On: Wii U
Genre: Platforming

Last week I talked a bit about my Wii U, you should check that out if you haven’t already. I’ll even be nice and make it easy for you, just click HERE!

As I said at the end of that post, today I am reviewing New Super Mario Bros. U. I picked it up with my Wii U itself because I figured that I would enjoy it, I like Mario and I love platformers– easy choice. I know the whole ‘New’ Super Mario Bros isn’t exactly a ‘New’ thing any more and, in fact, the whole game in itself feels ‘old’. This is because they seem to be treading that safe and familiar ground that got them to where they are. Do you know what I’d love to see? A stylized Mario platformer, maybe one with a unique look that instantly makes the game feel as ‘new’ as the title proclaims. Or hell, what about a Mario game that has optional difficulty levels? Nothing to the extremes of the Kaizo Mario hack, but I’d love for there to be a Mario that actually challenges me.

Yes, I’m just getting out the initial ramblings that a Mario game like this should have. I really enjoyed the first one released for the Wii, playing it with friends was tons of fun. The aspects of level completion along with general griefing is a good combination. I even had lots of fun with this one, which I’ll go into more detail of, but I have to acknowledge the ‘cookie cutter’ vibe that a game like this has. It’s why at first I loved the resurgent of old school platformers coming back to their 2D roots, but now I’m sick of the ‘safe’ 2D option and would love for some games to go back to 3D. Or at least the weird 2.25D that LittleBigPlanet had.

I’m going to stop myself there and get onto the review, this is a topic I’ll talk about more in a Video Game Rage in the future. But for now….. MARIO!

That dastardly Bowser kidnapped Princess Peach… again.

Yeah, that’s pretty much it. There really isn’t much to say about a Mario story at this point, at least for the 2D platformers. You go from level to level, get to a dungeon, Kamek powers the boss up, and you eventually beat the snot out of Bowser. The game ends and then that’s it, you don’t play a game like this for the story. Now, that doesn’t mean I’m going to give it a free pass for that reason, it’s still going to be judged, harshly. There are some games like FTL where the small story makes a pass because the gameplay itself is so solid, but I’ve played games like this before, platforming is in my blood, and I’m just sick and tired of platforming games having no story because it’s ‘not what the genre does’. Bullshit, you’re an artistic medium, do something more to keep the player engaged. Hell, if Nintendo tried to make it more interesting for the player they might find some sort of inspiration to make Mario unique again.

Even a game like Cave Story, a platformer at its core, has an engaging story and universe. Why does the New Super Mario Bros series have to not have a story? Is it because the older games that this game so shamelessly eludes to didn’t have a story? Is this series so much a bastardization of its older self that there is really nothing exciting about it? I know Nintendo still has it in them, Super Paper Mario had an awesome story that I played because I enjoyed the characters in them, this game was played because, luckily, the levels were quite well designed.

Also spoilers: Bowser loses at the end.

Atmosphere/Art Direction
There isn’t really much to say here either, this game does follow the usual Mario formula. You start in the grassy section and you find yourself soon thereafter find yourself in desert land, water world, snow mountain and other platforming level stereotypes. The music in all of the sections is great, there’s no denying that, but nothing pisses me off more than with every big music hit all of the characters, enemies and landscapes dance to it. Maybe it’s just me, but something like that is just disgustingly infuriating, every time it would happen I would want to grab my television and shake it in anger, screaming ‘Stop it! Stop ruining my immersion!’

I just hate cutesy fun!

Although it is fair to say that something like that fits in with the whole ‘Nintendo Nice’ and friendliness set up with the games, but it really hinders the game. It’s exactly what sets up the whole stereotype of Nintendo being for kids. It’s my jobs to kill these Koopas, I’m established as their enemy and you have them just dancing around and having a good time? It makes them less threatening and makes Mario just seem like a straight up asshole wrecking up the annual Koopa barn dance.

For the art direction there is a really cool level where the entire design is based off of a famous painting. The world itself looks painted and, much to my surprise, it was actually fricking unique. That coupled with the music and general design of a few other levels is enough to give New Super Mario Bros a small pass. It does tread familiar ground and most situations are old sets repainted in HD, but I can’t deny my excitement from that painted level. I guess being so use to uncreative Nintendo and seeing a uniquely designed level was enough to throw me for a loop.

Here is the strongest part of the game and rightfully so. Platforming games are all about timing, control and precision with your jumps. If I want to make it through a level, without stopping, and get optimal time then a well designed platformer should let me do that. Rayman Origins has some of the tightest platforming controls and it’s part of the reason why I had such fun with that game, Sonic Generations controlled like ass in comparison and that’s why I had no fun with that game– the feel of a platformer will make or break the game. I can say, without any doubt, that this game controls like an absolute dream. The jumping mechanics are solid, the physics feel great and with a bit of skill, bravery and timing you can make absolutely any jump in the game. Put this together with some awesome wall jumping abilities (wall jumping is ALWAYS fun) and you’ll be surprised at some of the ways you tackle the levels in this game.

The game can be played with the Wiimote or the touchpad controller and both control the same. Further with what I was saying above if you shake the Wiimote or touchpad Mario does a spin jump that can be used to further extend jumps or get you to those hard to reach places. There are the usual power ups, the ice ball makes a return appearance and is used in some levels to make temporary platforming options if you’re quick enough, something that is beyond cool. There is the new ‘acorn’ power up which allows you to glide and float up, also beyond cool and works really well for just blitzing through levels if you’re skilled enough to do it. These power ups are really similar stuff that we’ve seen before, but that doesn’t hinder the playability of the game, it’s still precise and perfect.

Another feature that returns is the 3 hidden coins in each level, collecting all of them unlocks additional levels and content. The incentive to collect the coins and the success you’ll feel after collecting all of them is awesome and I love when games have a simple collecting system to get the gamer searching. Note that I said simple collecting system, I don’t mean you need to collect dozens and dozens of things in each level, no, that is excessive. Rayman Origins and New Super Mario Bros U have it right, simple things that come in groups of three that if you look for, you’ll find. They aren’t too hidden that you’ll be pulling hair out to find them, and the easy ones to see are usually a nice platforming challenge to get. It’s honestly a perfect collecting system that provides both player success and gamer success.

I don’t really have much here to say in terms of bonus, the gameplay is truly the strong suit of the game which should be one of the stronger aspects of the game, if not the strongest. Also to be fair I really should’ve played the multiplayer portion of the game, but I’m going to go out on a limp and assume it is very similar to the previous titles of this series. It’s fun to try and complete the levels with friends, working together to grab the golden coins or picking up your friends and throwing them in lava pits instead. It’s surprisingly amusing to see a group of friends turn to griefing so quickly and guiltlessly. With the gamepad you can add blocks to help or hinder your fellow players as well.

How about this, I’m going to award it a point for its awesome multiplayer without playing it. If I’m wrong after playing it with my friends, I’ll come back here and post a picture of myself getting punched in the throat. I’m that confident that I’m not wrong. Deal with it.

Story: 0/2
Gameplay: 4/4
Bonus: 1/2

TLDR: A platformer that plays excellently with strong controls– it’s an excellent way to spend two to four hours of your life but it’s like getting back together with an ex-girlfriend, you’ve seen everything they have to offer already.

New Super Mario Bros. U: 6/10



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