NSMB U takes everything in the existing Mario franchise and adds another layer of gloss to an already finely polished experience. Yet look around, and it's rather constantly put down as "yet another Mario game". Why?
Imagine you've got a game idea — and it's a pretty darned good one. You spend serious time honing and tweaking that game design. Not just days, weeks or months, but years — decades, indeed. You release the game in iterative fashion, each one with a little more than the last, but keeping to the same basic formula. For the latest version, you up the ante significantly in graphical terms, while still keeping the core of what made the game great solidly in there.
Logic suggests that this should be the best version of the best game ever, right? Well, apparently not if you're New Super Mario Bros U, a game released late last year for the Wii U that was met with terms such as "Mario Fatigue" and "Just Another Mario Game". I may be committing some act of treason here, but it even cropped up here at Kotaku, both internationally and locally. If I vanish after writing this, you know why.
Having spent a lot of time recently playing New Super Mario Bros U, I can't quite see the logic. I do get that people want innovation in their Mario games, and that in some respects NSMB U isn't the most innovative title. But does that make it one that you should ignore, when it's the end product of what is undeniably the most refined and polished game series in existence? I'm not just making that as a glib statement; name me one other series that's had 25+ years of refinement behind its 2D gaming mechanic. You can't, because no such always-in-development series exists; even the yearly iterations of EA's sports games only date back to the early 1990s.
Naturally, this is just my opinion, and you're entirely entitled to disagree, but I find NSMB U a sheer joy to play even as it plies me with extra lives; the ship sailed long ago on Mario games giving you plenty of lives, even dating back to Super Mario World, which I'd long held to be the pinnacle of 2D Mario games. I regularly revisit Super Mario World, and it's a great game, as are most of the Mario 2D games, but I can't deny that I always view it with a certain amount of nostalgia for my younger days. Whereas right now, Mario's putting a broad grin on my face, whether it's because of the stiffer challenges later in the game, the stupid way that Koopas always stop to dance to the music (yes, I know, that's not a NSMB U innovation, but still), or even the fact that there's still a score counter. Just because it's there!
New Super Mario Bros U isn't quite a reason to rush out and buy a Wii U — I'd hold to my long-held belief that any games system needs at least half a dozen worthy titles to justify itself, and the Wii U isn't there yet — but it's an immensely polished and playable game.
Which I guess brings it down to the subject of "Mario fatigue". I can't deny that Nintendo does shovel out Mario games, and has been getting a lot of use out of the 2D Mario engine of late. There's nothing particularly wrong with Mario fatigue per se, but then I don't see the same kind of criteria applied to other game reviews. Where's the COD fatigue? The Madden fatigue? The Snake Rattle 'N' Roll fatigue?
Well, OK, not the last one, but I think you get my point. On the subject of Mario fatigue, I'm going to paraphrase the late, great Douglas Adams (who was, himself riffing on Samuel Johnson).
"When you are tired of 2D Mario Games, you are tired of life. Luckily, there are other games."