The New Super Mario label is now, in case you haven’t been following, a series. Here’s a timeline.
- New Super Mario Bros. – Nintendo DS – 2006
- New Super Mario Bros. Wii – Nintendo Wii – 2009
- New Super Mario Bros. 2 – Nintendo 3DS – 2012
- New Super Mario Bros. U – Nintendo Wii U – 2012
Something happened. If you pay attention to the platforms, you’ll realize that Nintendo has only released one New Super Mario entry per device since 2006. In 2012, they released two New Super Mario games with only a few months separation. What’s the big deal?
I’ll expand on it as much as I can, but the general problem with the “New” Super Mario Bros. series is that most of it is not really all that new.
Like baking bread with stale ingredients.
Please, do me a favor and pay attention to the music on the right side of this section in order to better understand my argument here. I wouldn’t have a problem with the amount of New Super Mario games that have released over the last few years given the fact that Nintendo has been keeping it one title per platform. The gaming space might feel oversaturated right now, but the fact of the matter is that one entry in a series per gaming device really doesn’t sound like abuse.
I’d even be willing to forgive Nintendo the lapse of releasing two games from the same series with only a few months between them.
Those things feel forgivable.
What’s not forgivable is that Nintendo is pretty much lifting assets from the original title and reusing them again and again. The videos on the right show that the desert tune has been reused in two specific games in the series, but that song repeats for every entry. It goes further… I only found one piece of original music in New Super Mario Bros. U. One. The main overworld theme was the only tune I didn’t recognize.
That reuse of assets spills over into almost all facets of the game. Right off the bat, this feels like nothing more than a prettier version of the same thing we’ve ingested four times in the last six years.
I’ll say what were all thinking: this is the Call of Duty-ification of the Mario brand. This is literally Nintendo’s shot at lifting full items from one successful game, planting them into another likely successful game and then reaping the benefits. They spent less money to make these than they would have were they to build art and music assets entirely from scratch.
Looking back on Mario classics, they all felt different. Compare Super Mario Bros. on the NES to Super Mario Bros. 3. Those were two wildly different games. The same can be said for Super Mario World and Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. Completely different aesthetics for games that fell below the same brand name.
The New Super Mario Bros. series is so guilty of copy and paste that it’s put a sour taste in my mouth. Read this site regularly and you’ll find out quickly that I’m a Nintendo fan, but I’m getting really tired of this seemingly lazy formula for making Mario games.
When you look beyond the reused aesthetics, though, this is a solid Mario experience.
The desert overworld theme from New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
The desert overworld theme from New Super Mario Bros. U.
Stale bread that’s still pretty good.
You’d think that I’d be ready to kick in the doors at Nintendo’s headquarters, Power Glove in hand, screaming something like, “BRING ME THE HEAD OF SATORU IWATA!” You’d think that I hate this game, based on the section above.
I like this game. I’ve played this game a lot since getting it on launch for the Wii U. I’ve beaten it once alone, am halfway done a play-through with my wife, have knocked out most of the challenges and have a game that’s in its very early goings with another set of friends.
New Super Mario Bros. U is an apparent callback to both Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3. The game hints at this with everything from subtle additions like the jagged rocks you see in the image above and the presence of flying ship levels that feel like a nostalgic trip to the NES. For Super Mario fans, these callbacks and nods are downright heartwarming. These are games that a lot of us grew up with, and seeing them gently remembered in new titles is great.
But, aside from the sound and visuals, New Super Mario Bros. U is its own game as well. Every single level from start to finish presents its own set of unique mechanics. The level design itself, because of this fact, never feels old.
Even better still, there are secrets tucked into nearly every world that demand exploration. I found myself revisiting old levels not just to collect Star Coins, but to try and find my way to secret exits or well hidden vine blocks. That exercise felt like the good kind of classic when it comes to Mario games. The hidden secrets in these 2D platformers are one of the key ingredients to keeping them elevated above competitors. I dumped hours and hours into Super Mario World falling into rabbit holes, and the same compliment can be paid to New Super Mario Bros. U.
New power-ups make for new mechanics.
It wouldn’t be a new Mario game if it didn’t come brimming with a few new power-ups. The highlights here are the Squirrel Suit and the new Yoshis.
The green, traditional Yoshi makes an appearance in several levels, but he cannot be taken from place to place, something that I’ve always found disconcerting about the New Super Mario series. There also several baby Yoshis of different colors. Some bring light to dark levels, some put enemies in bubbles and some suck in air and allow players to glide there way through entire platforming sections.
The Squirrel Suit, though, brings a whole slew of new mechanics into the mix. You can hang on walls, glide over a large distance, get a boost in height or float towards the ground. That might not sound like too big of an addition to gameplay, but the game slowly teaches you that a lot is possible with this new suit. Nintendo posted a video a week ago that put some Squirrel Suit prowess on proper display.
These new power-ups, mechanics and clever level designs keep New Super Mario Bros. U fun in spite of the stale mix of music and art.
What about the GamePad play?
There are two ways to play New Super Mario Bros. U with the Wii U’s GamePad. When you’re playing alone, you can control Mario entirely with the new controller. What’s happening on the TV is exactly what happens on the GamePad’s screen. That means you can turn the TV to another input and keep playing your game in the exact same way.
I like this feature. It’s a good use of the GamePad. The other use? Not so good.
Nintendo calls it “Boost Mode.” Players use the GamePad to place platforms in the level for other players controlling characters with Wii Remotes. The GamePad user can help or hinder progress, they can activate hidden secrets and slightly affect the environment by tapping enemies.
Put simply, it’s boring. I didn’t have fun with the GamePad during E3, I didn’t have fun with it at a New York preview and I didn’t have fun with it at home with friends. The task of placing blocks is dull, and Nintendo could have come up with something a little better when it comes to such a banner franchise like Mario.
The worst part? You can’t play traditionally with the GamePad if you have friends over. It stays in Boost Mode. You must use a Wii Remote to control a character during multiplayer sessions. That’s bogus.
A Must-Have for Wii U Owners Despite Snags.
There’s extra content here that I didn’t touch on too much. The world map, for example, feels new. It’s continuous, something that Nintendo hasn’t done since Super Mario World. Connect your console to the internet and you’ll see messages from other players as they clear levels without taking damage, finding a secret of collecting all the Star Coins. That, in its own weird way, gives this typically solo experience a sense of community.
If you’ve played a lot of New Super Mario over the last several years, this entry for the Wii U will feel old. It’s still charming, it’s still challenging and it’s still fun to play with friends. HD Mario is as gorgeous as we hoped. But it feels aged, and Nintendo deserves a slap for reusing so many assets. With new music and new art, this game would earn a much higher rating.
In spite of those miscues, New Super Mario Bros. U is still very good. If you own a Wii U, this game is just about a requirement. You will have fun with it, and you will definitely feel like you got your money’s worth.
Let’s just hope Nintendo drops the New Super Mario banner until it feels “new” again.