New Super Mario Bros U review: a must-have

It's easy to dismiss New Super Mario Bros U as "just another" Mario game, especially as it comes hot off the heels of another mainline game--NSMB2, which launched on 3DS this past summer. However, unlike its handheld predecessor, the Wii U version of the game doesn't just regurgitate the same Mario ideas. It constantly surprises with excellent level designs, fantastic boss battles, and exhilarating multiplayer modes. Simply put, this is the best game in the New Super Mario franchise to date. focalbox What makes Mario U so successful is how it carefully balances nostalgia with new ideas. For longtime Mario fans, Mario U will be an exciting trip down memory lane. Why? Because Mario U acts as a sequel to Mario 3 and Super Mario World--two of the most iconic entries in the long-running franchise. As in Mario 3, the world map is not merely a means to select levels. It is constantly changing, with moving enemy encounters, hidden power-ups, and tons of secret paths. There's even some mild puzzle-solving you'll have to do to make your way to certain levels. The return of a continuous world map is quite welcome, and makes us question why Nintendo got rid of it in recent Mario games. Still, it returns--along with a world filled with giant enemies, airships, P-wings, and those dudes that pop out of the ground and throw hammers. Mario U is the ultimate class reunion, bringing together the Koopa Kids, Bowser Jr, Yoshi, and seemingly every enemy from the Mario franchise ever. Mario fans will love the constant throwbacks to classic games. However, Nintendo doesn't simply recycle gameplay from previous games. Instead, there's always a "twist" that keeps things interesting. When you encounter your first airship, for example, don't expect it to play exactly as it did in Mario 3. When Kamek appears to sprinkle dust on a boss opponent, don't expect your enemy to simply grow large. In fact, the boss battles are among the best in the Mario franchise. Yes, many of the battles involve jumping on an enemy's head three times; the key is figuring out exactly how. However, there are quite a number of battles where you must do something entirely different. One of your encounters with Bowser Jr, for example, will have you directing homing missiles at his protective shell. The game culminates in a final battle that not only pays homage to Mario World, but has the players doing something awesome. Finding all the Star Coins, and discovering all the secret exits will, as usual, take quite some time. However, thanks to the addition of new challenge modes, Mario U is the meatiest game in the series, as well. The Challenges will test even the most dedicated Mario player with specially-designed objectives. Time Attack and Coin Collection should be rather straightforward affairs, but there are some surprising twists here, as well. In some Coin challenges, you'll actually have to avoid collecting coins. Finishing a level without touching a coin in a Mario game is actually quite a challenge. Other "Special" challenges will have you avoiding an onslaught of fireballs from Fire Bros, for example. There's no shortage of interesting missions to play in these modes. By combining top-notch level design and a plethora of excellent boss battles, Mario U really stands out on its own. However, it does little as a flagship title for Nintendo's new home console. Nothing about Mario U says "this can only be done on Wii U." When playing solo, both the TV and GamePad display exactly the same information, rendering one of these displays useless. Admittedly, it was nice playing a console-quality Mario platformer while lying down in bed, but this feature certainly doesn't scream "system seller."

The GamePad doesn't offer much besides Boost Mode

In multiplayer, the player with the GamePad will be able to tap the screen to make platforms appear. While not entirely imaginative, it does make Mario U more accessible to casual players that may otherwise find Mario platformers too intimidating and difficult. While its impact on gameplay is quite minimal, this mode does a better job of engaging a second player more than, say, collecting star bits with the Wii Remote in Super Mario Galaxy. Mario U's other multiplayer offerings are a blast. Four players can play with Wii Remotes through the entire campaign, and as in New Super Mario Bros Wii, you'll find yourselves hurting each other just as often (if not more so) than helping each other. Accidentally killing a co-op partner by stomping on them before a jump makes for laughs, but the real fun comes when you're playing Coin Battle. As a competitive mode, you'll be using all those dirty Koopa shell-throwing tricks intentionally, as you try to collect more coins than your fellow players. It's a blast. New Super Mario Bros U may not sell the Wii U by showing off the GamePad in any meaningful, innovative ways. Instead, it sells Nintendo's new hardware by simply being the best 2D Mario game since Yoshi's Island. Combining the best elements of Mario 3 with the best elements of Mario World, all while adding its own unique flavor, New Super Mario Bros U is easily a must-have for the Wii U early adopter.
This New Super Mario Bros U review was based on a retail Wii U version of the game provided by the publisher. The game will be available on November 18th. Local multiplayer requires additional Wii Remotes (up to 4). Online functionality could not be tested, as Nintendo Network was unavailable before publishing.