New Super Mario Bros. U: The Kotaku Review

New Super Mario Bros. U: The Kotaku Review

New Super Mario Bros. U is an extraordinarily important game. It’s the flagship title for a new piece of gaming hardware. It’s the first-ever high-definition Mario. And it’s the Wii U’s first system-seller, one of the big games that Nintendo hopes will convince people to buy their innovative, unusual new console.

It’s also just another Mario game.

Not that “just another Mario game” is a critical description; Mario games are consistently delightful, charming and fun to play. But New Super Mario Bros. U is the fourth game in the New Super Mario Bros. series, a set of 2-D platformers that have all blended together in my mind, mostly because they all follow the same exact rules. Levels are always short and full of secrets — star coins, power-ups, hidden exits. Every level has a mid-point flag that’s sort of a de-facto save point, and it always turns Mario big if he’s small. There’s always a desert world, an ice world, a final, lava-filled world where magma falls from the sky. Every world has a mini-boss and a regular boss. Those bosses all take three hits before they go down. Bowser always kidnaps the princess.

Just a few months ago, I played and reviewed New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS. I called it a bedtime story, noting that while you always know exactly what you’re gonna get in a New Super Mario Bros. game, what’s exciting is the adventure. What you find along the way.

But you can only listen to the same story so many times. When I loaded up New Super Mario Bros. U on our office’s fancy new Wii U this past weekend, I found it tough to stay interested. I had played New Super Mario Bros. 2 in August. Did I really want to jump and hop on the same enemies, in the same worlds, using the same power-ups I used just three months ago?

New Super Mario Bros. U

New Super Mario Bros. U is charming, delightful and fun to play.

Developer: Nintendo Platforms: Wii U Release Date: November 18 Type of game: Mario What I played: Spent 8-9 hours completing the game, testing out multiplayer, and scouring the world for hidden secrets. Our copy of the game was provided by Nintendo.

My Two Favourite Things

  • I’ve never played a Mario game this gorgeous.
  • The GamePad adds clever new ways to play both alone and with other people.

My Two Least-Favourite Things

  • Not a whole lot we haven’t seen before.
  • Some nauseating platforming moments if you’re using the GamePad as your screen.

Made-to-Order Back-of-Box Quotes

  • “Definitely a Mario game.” — Jason Schreier, Kotaku
  • “Isn’t this from… ? Yes. Yes it is.” — Jason Schreier, Kotaku

Sure, this one’s pretty — maybe the prettiest Mario game you can play without plugging Mario Galaxy 2 into an emulator. Gorgeous backgrounds — like a stunning, watercolor-painted swampland in one of the game’s latter stages — ensure that there’s always something pretty to watch as you play. The plumber does well in high def.

But New Super Mario Bros. U feels old, even as it looks new. In many ways it feels like a remix of Super Mario World and Super Mario Bros. 3 — two of the best Mario games, yes, but they were great because they were original. They were smart, and clever, and like nothing we had ever seen in gaming before. New Super Mario Bros. U is smart, and clever, and completely traditional. Baby Yoshis? Ground-stomping sumo wrestlers? Airships filled with dangerous traps and wrench-throwing moles? Worlds named after food? Sometimes it seems like a Family Guy episode: “Oh hey, look, another reference to something from the 90s! Nostalgia!”

What’s really new here, of course, is the fact that you can play this game on the Wii U’s tablet-esque GamePad, an exceptionally comfortable device that feels fantastic to hold and use. You can play on your TV while controlling Mario on your GamePad, or turn off the big-screen to play on the small screen in your lap (my personal preference).

This choice won’t affect your singleplayer experience much (with one rare exception — for some sections you have to tilt the controller in order to move certain platforms, which can be totally nauseating if you’re looking at the controller’s screen while tilting it). It’s actually rather surprising just how traditional a Mario game this is, considering the trappings.

(I remember playing a Wii U Mario demo at E3 2011, during which I would go through a pipe on the big screen and then appear in an underground area on my controller’s screen, not unlike what some games have done on the DS and 3DS. This idea was ditched for New Super Mario Bros. 2, which keeps both screens mirrored the entire time.)

What’s really unusual is the way that the GamePad can be used for multiplayer. When you’re playing with other people, one person can tap on the GamePad to conjure up helpful little blocks to save — or annoy — their platforming comrades. Good timing and communication here can make your life much easier.

This multiplayer requires an interesting sort of coordination that Kotaku editor Stephen Totilo has compared to a jazz performance, or a slow dance. It’s a fun way to spice up the standard campaign, but it’s even more fun (and challenging) when you open up some of the optional modes that task you with navigating through tricky courses and obstacles. One stage, for example, forced Stephen and I to work together to circumvent a maze of nasty piranha plants — as I jumped, he’d have to draw platforms to get me out of harm’s way. It’s difficult, exasperating, and a great deal of fun.

So, OK. There are two questions you are probably wondering, two questions that I would be remiss not to answer.

The first: is New Super Mario Bros. U worth playing? To which I say absolutely. It’s gorgeous and fun to play, and although you might want to give it a while if, like me, you just played New Super Mario Bros. 2, it’s still a lovely game.

But is New Super Mario Bros. U worth buying a Wii U for? I really don’t think so. This is not a killer app, like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was for the Wii so long ago. It’s not the type of game you must play. It’s a standard Super Mario Bros. game, easily consumable and always fun, even when it doesn’t feel super fresh. It’s just another Mario.

Not that that’s a bad thing.


  • I sort of agree, i only got this game because my family loved playing NSMB on Wii coop multiplayer and played it till we finished everything on that game. This game will be a system seller but not its not the Wii U’s killer app IMO. As we know NSMB out sold SM Galaxy (on the Wii) so this will definately sell Wii U’s and a good way for Nintendo to swell its user base before they release their bigger franchises. Most people agree that killer app is ZombiU, but we’ll wait and see how the reviews turn out. The positive previews so far gives me confidence that ZombiU will live up to expectations.

    I forgot to mention Nintendo Land as another Wii U Killer App – totally slipped my mind

    • same here i want to make sure that its not all just hype but from what i have read so far i can say im very optimistic that i will get this title.

      • Damnit 🙁

        atm this, Nintendo Land and ZombiU are the only launch titles that interest me. I’ll probably get it anyway as I’m not entirely “burnt” out on Mario since I rarely play 2D Mario (haven’t played NSMB Wii or 2, or pretty much any of the older titles). Hopefully it’s lengthy and lasts a while.

  • LOL… the reviewer got burnt out on Mario on 3DS. No one cares. just review the game FOR THE GAME ITSELF. Not because you got burnt out.

    • Things from the past become a point of reference and something to judge new things against. Kind of like a yardstick.
      It’s not possible, or sensible to try and review it like he had never experienced a Mario title before. If that was the case he’d be reviewing all games as if he had never played a single video game in his life, or even knew what one was. That would make for an extremely boring review. “oh my god, what is this thing that displays moving pictures! it’s amazing! OH MY GOD! I can change the screen by pressing buttons!”
      Think about it, a review is always going to be subjective and the reviewers experiences and opinions are going to come into it.

      • Not everyone is burnt out on Mario, and not everyone will have played Mario to death, and for many, including children, this will be their first Mario adventure, just like Mario’s first appearance in platforming from the NES.

        There is a big, wider audience out there for this game, not just for burnt out jaded gamers.

        • That is a good question though, will they actually feel the same way we did when we played the old mario? Does it capture that same kind of feeling? I feel like if it did even someone that is burnt out or jaded, they would still be able to see it.

        • So if the reality that there have been a huge amount of Mario games in the past, (like a HUGE amount), bothers you and you would like to read a review from someone who has never played Mario before, wait until it’s out and a kid who’s never experienced Mario before does a review.

          Also, who’s going to be buying this game for all of these super young, never played Mario before kids that you feel so sorry for? That’s right, adults who have played Mario and may like to see a review that reflects closer to their experiences with the Mario franchise.

          Why so butthurt on this review? Are you afraid the value of your Nintendo stock may fall on publication of the review? 😉

          • LOL….you mean we all have to agree with the reviewer? Why butthurt on people’s comments?

          • When the next CoD game comes round though, you’ll be complaining it got too many review points because it’s copy paste from the previous game.

            This isn’t an original mario game. It’s a ‘sequel’ to the New Super Mario Bros franchise. Ignoring the previous games WOULD be lazy reviewing. Innovation is important, and it SHOULD be taken into account when writing reviews.

  • The thing about NSMB is that they are great, they are fun, they look good, and they play well. Yet they never capture that same spirit that Mario 3 or SMW had. I dont know if it´s just my nostalgia glasses, but those games felt like a world to me. These games just look like a formula, a great formula mind you, one I could easily play and enjoy, but it does not have the same magic.

    • SMB3/SMW were very special games. I get the same feeling towards those games as you do, both had tones of power ups, different worlds and a lot of fun gameplay -I just don’t think the new games go far enough to capture that. Don’t get me wrong, I love them! But they feel like Mario 1 than Mario 3/World.

      Combine Mario 3’s different worlds/power ups with Mario Worlds Map/hidden levels/power ups and I think we would have the perfect game. I hope if another title comes out for the Wii-U they just push the envelope a bit more and add more to it! Want my Goomba Shoe and Frog Suit back.

  • Hey I love NSMB, but how about a NSMB based on Mario 2? I know its probably a lot of peoples least favourite games (and yeah – some levels just sucked) but I have a lot of fond memories playing that.

  • I find this interesting, here we have a game that is basically what you have come to expect – nothing more, nothing less.
    But games like CoD, or the broader FPS market in general, cop loads of flack from people claiming the genre is stagnant. I happen to agree that most of the FPS genre is stagnant and i refuse to buy another CoD until pigs fly. But why are we letting Mario (or a lot of Nintendo staples) get away with it?
    I also understand that comparing CoD and Mario is like comparing apples and oranges, but the question still stands.

    • CoD still gets great review scores, because even though it’s just a reiteration of the same concept, they’re still great, well-crafted, enjoyable games that plenty of people look forward to.

      Same goes for the New Super Mario Bros series. Jason Schreier echoed a lot of the same things you’d hear in an CoD review when talking about NSMB:U. I wouldn’t say that he was letting Mario ‘get away with it’, because as its core it still sounds like NSMB:U is a great, well-crafted, enjoyable game.

      • No i get that, CoD is a very well crafted series of games and if you havent been exposed to its earlier iterations then you probably wont view it negatively.
        The “flack” i mentioned comes from its on-going fans (i started with CoD 2 but only became a fan with CoD 4) that have become disappointed with the series. And it seemed as if the on-going fans (the author and the commenters above) were ok with a mario game that sounds exactly like the X mario games that came before it with the exception of the wiiu (to me) gimmick

        • My guess is that – in contrast to COD, which is a relatively new franchise – Mario channels 80s and 90s nostalgia, which forgives everything.

Show more comments

Log in to comment on this story!