Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Bowser storms into the Mushroom Kingdom, Koopa Kids & Bowser Jr. in tow, busts up a perfectly nice afternoon party, and kidnaps Princess Peach. You have? Well then. So here we have the second New Super Mario Bros. game to come out last Summer. Since I also reviewed New Super Mario Bros. 2, I was afraid that Mario fatigue would prevent me from being able to enjoy a second run through the Mushroom Kingdom, but thankfully Nintendo put a lot more effort into this one.
The first thing you’ll notice is how gorgeous it looks in HD. The colors are vibrant, everything is crisp, and I was instantly reminded of the time I first laid eyes on the Super Nintendo. Like Super Mario World, this is a launch title done right.
It feels good for me to say this: this is the most fun I’ve had with a Mario game since Super Mario World. Yes, it’s very similar to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but the levels just feel more... Interesting. Star Coins are hidden better, and the later levels can be very challenging. The Ghost Houses in particular are very tricky to navigate, and several levels have secret exits, one of which must be found in order to progress the campaign.
The new power-up this time around is the Squirrel Suit, which allows Mario to glide, briefly cling to walls, and gain a double jump of sorts, which can get you out of all sorts of jams and up to platforms you’d normally have no way of reaching. The remainder of power-ups are series standbys, and Yoshi once again lends a helping hand in certain levels. Baby Yoshis make a return, and have some interesting new abilities: pink Yoshis inflate like a balloon and let you glide with more control than the Squirrel Suit, the blue Yoshi spits bubbles that you can bounce on or trap enemies with, and the gold Yoshi creates bright light in dark rooms, illuminating potential secret paths.
If you’re not playing in co-op (more on that in a bit), the screen on the GamePad mirrors what you see on TV, which means you don’t even need the television to play. At this point, the GamePad becomes a handheld system with full-sized controls, dual analog sticks and four shoulder buttons. It’s very nice, and the TV-less feature is definitely a boon in homes where you’ll be sharing the main TV with children or a loved one.
Rounding out the package is a series of challenge levels, which require you to do things like repeatedly bounce off enemies to keep 1-up chains going, grab a certain number of coins while rushing nonstop through a level, or simply nail a series of challenging jumps to pass an obstacle. A new mode called Boost Rush is the most interesting - it has you play through levels from the campaign as fast as you can, but the camera autoscrolls. Collecting more coins makes the camera scroll faster, but also makes the platforming progressively more unforgiving.
As with the campaign, all of the extra modes can be played in co-op.
We’ve written about the co-op in the New Super Mario Bros. series twice before, and for the most part, it’s identical to what came with New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Up to four players can play at the same time, hopping and bopping their way through the Mushroom Kingdom. As with NSMBWii, this mode can be chaotic. The camera will follow the player in the “lead”, which leads to some untimely deaths for your slower co-op partners. Unlike its predecessors, I didn’t find it to be quite as frustrating, and New Super Mario Bros. U adds a new twist which ends up being pretty neat.
The twist is that a fifth player can take the WiiU GamePad and provide support via “Boost Mode”. The player in Boost Mode is able to assist the other four players in a variety of ways - tapping on the play field creates extra platforms, which can create new paths to Star Coins, or even catch a player who is about to fall to their doom. You can also tap on enemies to momentarily stun them, knock Koopa Troopas into their shells, or even deflect projectiles. If players jump on enough Boost-created platforms in a row, a meter will fill up, allowing the player using the GamePad to tap on enemies to destroy them.
One of these days, Nintendo will release a co-op Mario game that delivers on all of the potential inherent in the idea. For now, New Super Mario Bros. U is about as close as they’ve come. Boasting the best 2D Mario action since the SNES days, shiny new HD graphics, and a fun & challenging set of levels to play through, this is an easy recommendation.