New Super Mario Bros U was often claimed to be the strongest entry in the New Super Mario Bros subseries. There have even been some who claimed it was the best 2D Mario game since Super Mario World. I will say right now that neither of those two statements are true. Not only does New Super Mario Bros U not hold a candle to either Super Mario Word or Super Mario Bros 3, but it is also a step down from its predecessor New Super Mario Bros Wii (although it is superior to the mediocre handheld installments of the New Super Mario Bros series). While New Super Mario Bros U is an entertaining game on its own merits, it is disappointing that Nintendo seems to be unable to improve upon a twenty one year old game.
And YOU’VE Gotta Help Us
Now I am not really expecting a serious plot in a Mario platformer, but at the very least, is it possible to put some amount of effort into the presentation a bit? It isn’t asking much to give the game at least a unique feeling or look to separate it from other Mario platformers. New Super Mario Bros U looks practically identical to New Super Mario Bros Wii in terms of its art direction, and nearly every song and sound effect is re used as well. Virtually nothing has changed from New Super Mario Bros Wii, and when one considers that New Super Mario Bros Wii lifted a lot of its design straight from Super Mario Bros 3 yet was still not as good as it, that is not a good sign.
Now there is no problem with being similar to a previous game in the series, but it is a completely different story when your game does not carry its own identity. One does not even need to really change all that much to give its own unique feel to it. As much crap as people give the yearly Call of Duty sequels, at least one can say that they have a different setting, design, and cast of characters from the previous games; and when Call of Duty is doing better than you in this category, you know there is a problem. The entirety of New Super Mario Bros U just felt like it came off an assembly line in a factory and I have seen Rom Hacks that have had a greater sense of identity.
However, it should be noted that re-using resources does not inherently mean a game is unoriginal. After all, Majora’s Mask had nearly every asset reused from Ocarina of Time, and that was one of the most innovative entries in the Zelda series. In order to show why this game gives off the assembly line feeling, I will need to make a lot of comparisons to Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World.
One of the first noticeable features of New Super Mario Bros U is that it brought back the interconnected world map. Now this seems like a big step towards reaching Super Mario World quality at first, but it falls apart upon a deeper glance. In Super Mario World, a lot of the various segments of the world map were sectioned off from each other. You were not shown where any levels you have not reached were on the map. Instead, the world map became more detailed and formed as you went along, which gives off a feeling that you are only scratching the surface by playing the main levels.
In New Super Mario Bros U, the entire world map is already formed and it looks like a bunch of level setting gimmicks strung together. In short, Super Mario World has a better sense of exploration with its world map, and is much more satisfying to progress through as a result. In addition to this, the level themes are the most predictable that you can imagine. The first world is a field, the second is a desert, the third is water, the fourth is ice, the fifth is a jungle, the sixth is industrial, the seventh is in the sky, and the eighth is in Hell. If that sounds familiar to you, then you will notice that it is exactly like Super Mario Bros 3…. as well as all three previous New Super Mario Bros titles.
All that this serves to demonstrate is that the New Super Mario Bros subseries is just trying to emulate Super Mario Bros 3 rather than actually improving on it, (and forgetting that Super Mario World exists while they are at it) and ending up inferior to it as a result. Things like these can be shown in various aspects of the game’s design. It has the pathetically simple Boom Boom sub bosses and koopalings; just like Mario 3. It has the airship stages; just like Mario 3. It has the bonus mushroom houses; just like Mario 3.
The few things that weren’t lifted from Mario 3 were, instead, lifted from New Super Mario Bros Wii, such as a final Bowser battle that starts out like Mario 1 but has Bowser becoming giant in the second phase. That made for one of the most memorable final bosses in the Mario series, but when you have it copied in both New Super Mario Bros 2 AND New Super Mario Bros U, it just becomes predictable (although to give New Super Mario Bros U credit, at least it wasn’t as lazy as New Super Mario Bros 2 which actually re used the music from New Super Mario Bros Wii’s final boss).
It also continues this pattern by having only one secret exit per world. In Super Mario World, Secret exits could be found in almost half of the stages in the game, and lead to interesting areas or alternate paths. In New Super Mario Bros U, there is one secret exit per world and finding it unlocks a secret level; and beating this level lets you skip over half the game. New Super Mario Bros U is also lacking a majority of features that added a significant amount of depth to Super Mario World, such as the block palaces, the ability to run up walls, throwing items upwards, or even taking Yoshi outside of a pre designated level. Is it really asking too much for Nintendo to improve on a 20 year old game when you have access to much greater resources and technology than what was available back then?
Same Old Super Mario Bros
I am sure most people reading this would expect me to say that the base gameplay of New Super Mario Bros U is pretty much solid and that the only reason I’m being so harsh is just because “it’s stagnant.” However, I am not going to take that route simply because I find that to be a very lazy argument to make. If the gameplay had all of the basic elements done correctly, then I would not feel the need to be this harsh on it. Unfortunately, there are still several issues with the game.
Before explaining these issues, I feel it is important to explain what is done correctly in New Super Mario Bros U. First things first, the levels themselves are well designed and are fun to play. There are plenty of new and interesting level gimmicks, and the individual stages do not feel too similar. Also worth noting is that the stages have a decent difficult curve and never feel too easy or too hard… in single player mode at least.
In multiplayer mode however, virtually all of the challenging aspects are gone due to how the differences in how they play. Similarly to New Super Mario Bros Wii, multiplayer mode allows up to four players to play a level at once. When one player dies, they will be re spawn alongside the other players inside an invincibility bubble that floats randomly on the screen in order to avoid the player respawning into a pit or obstacle, and they can also bubble themselves at any point in time in case they get corned. The only way a player can exit the bubble is when another player touches the bubble and pops it for them. If all players end up bubbled, you all get taken back to the world map the same way you do when dying on single player mode.
In New Super Mario Bros Wii, this was handled very well seeing as how the stages were designed for a single player game. As a result, players needed to focus in order to make sure they didn’t end up killing each other due to the short amount of space on screen. This prevented the game from becoming too easy on multiplayer mode since the chaotic nature of its multiplayer counteracted the invincibility bubbles and ability to respawn. As a result, you have a game that did not feel the need to dumb down its levels to be easier for a multiplayer game. Unfortunately, this idea completely flew over the heads of the game’s playerbase and they construed this as a bad thing.
This lead to Nintendo “fixing” this in New Super Mario Bros U. While the stages still work very well for a single player game, the game loses all of its balance when you have more than one player. Due to the fact that players respawn no matter how many times they die, there is almost no reason to worry about dying since another player will be available to pop you out at any point. You can also bypass the creative puzzles needed to collect several star coins by bouncing off another player’s head. Power up blocks that contained only one powerup in single player mode now spawn one for both players instead of trying to encourage players to conserve powerups and work together. Lastly, boss battles are never a concern in multiplayer mode because you are not punished unless every character dies at once, and each boss only needs to be hit three times between every player.
Another issue with this game, as well as the previous New Super Mario Bros games, is how the star coins are handed. In theory star coins do not sound like a bad idea; they require players to look outside the box in order to find them and they add more content to the level. The problem however, is that they drive the flow of the game to a halt every time you complete a level without all three. Yes, one can technically get through the game normally without collecting them, but seeing as how you cannot unlock the star road levels without them, you pretty much will need to.
Once again, I will need to make a comparison to Super Mario World. In that game, there were five Dragon coins in each level. One could challenge themselves to get them all, but they were not needed to unlock any in game content. You get access to the star road by finding the secret exits and the stages that lead to them. In New Super Mario Bros U, you just unlock Star Road after beating Bowser and need to pay a toll in star coins. Iin order to access the remaining content, you will either need to replay every stage multiple times to find a hidden coin after you beat it the first time, or you will need to replay every stage again after beating the main game. Either way, it is a cheap and repetitive method of padding the game.
I’m pretty sure most of you likely predicted I would say “New Super Mario Bros U isn’t bad, but it is unoriginal and formulaic.” While that part is true, the problem is not simply that it is too similar to previous Mario games; in fact, it is quite the opposite. If this game possessed everything that made either Super Mario Bros 3 or Super Mario World great, then I would have absolutely loved this game. However, this game is missing a large portion of what made those games classics to begin with and only copies those games on a surface level.
The people who described this game as “New Super Mario World” are wrong. Nothing about it is new, and it certainly is no Super Mario World. Is this game fun? Why yes of course. The levels themselves are fun and there is certainly some enjoyment to be had while playing it. However, if all one is looking for is extra Mario levels then they could just play a Rom Hack. Or better yet, they could play Super Mario Maker which was just released recently at the time this review was written. Hell it even uses level creation tools from New Super Mario Bros U, which shows how little weight this game holds in the grand scheme of the series when the other three games used are 2 NES games and an SNES game. Thankfully the release of Super Mario Maker shows that Nintendo will need to create a much stronger mainline 2D title next time to avoid releasing something that could have been made by fans themselves. As for New Super Mario Bros U, I’d suggest waiting until it gets down in price, but seeing as how it has been three years and it is still $50.00 new on Amazon (currently it’s over $80 new, the version that includes New Super Luigi U is cheaper) I guess you should just pass on it.
It is possible that I may have been a bit too harsh on this game when I originally wrote the review. If one is judging it from a standpoint of if it’s fun to play and well designed, then yes it’s a good game. If that is all you are looking for then by all means check this game out. The problem is that there is a lot more to a platformer than just creative levels; presentation means a lot more than most think it does. Without presentation, you are simply pressing buttons in front of a blank TV screen.
The fact that there are many rom hacks that look more appealing than New Super Mario Bros U shows how stagnant this game is. Yes it is “good” but it isn’t anything beyond that; and we should push for games to be the best they can be. There are some very well made rom hacks and fan games made of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World. Imagine what could be created with the type of imagination used for those games with the resources of a large company like Nintendo? Imagine if there was a 2D Mario game that was made with the same type of innovation as Mario Galaxy or Odyssey?
This review was posted on September 22nd of 2015 and has been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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