New Super Mario Bros U: Why Isn’t This Lauded As The Best Mario Game Ever?

New Super Mario Bros U: Why Isn’t This Lauded As The Best Mario Game Ever?
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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.”


  • I would say that New Super Mario Bros Wii U probably is the best 2D Mario game ever made, but in my mind I will always have fonder memories of Super Mario World and Mario Bros 3. It’s purely nostalgia talking there, but they will likely always be my favourites.

  • Mario fatigue applied in reviews because New Super Mario Bros 2 came out fairly recently on the 3DS. The reviewers that are likely to review Mario games would have been playing that fairly shortly before the release of New Super Mario Bros U.

    Combine that with the lacklustre response to the Wii U and it’s fairly easy to understand why this game isn’t getting as much hype as it could.

    Mario games are the sort of thing you come back to every couple of years to relive the magic. They’re brilliant and I look forward to the time where I’m in the mood for some more magnificent 2D Mario magic (the 3D games, while good, haven’t never appealed to me in the same way). That time just isn’t right now.

  • ‘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.’

    You’re kidding, right? After Mario 64, 2D Mario Games disappeared for like a decade. All the GBA games were remakes and it wasn’t until the DS popped up that they started making them again.

    And seriously, it’s just like CoD. It might be more refined each year, but it’s not different. If you’ve played ANY other Mario Game, you’ve played NSMBU. It didn’t even try for a new setting. In my opinion, the last truly original 2D Mario Game was ‘Mario and Luigi SuperStar Saga’ on GBA and it’s sequels. They had a unique art style and unique gameplay. NSMBU can’t claim any of that.

    • I’m aware of the gap (although at least one of the GBA games had add-ons via the daft eReader thing, which would have required development). But Nintendo dev cycles being what they are, I’ve got the strong feeling that they weren’t exactly just sitting on the IP all that time.

      Nothing wrong with “different”, either, but it still doesn’t answer my core contention; if it’s that refined (and, in my opinion, it is) then why is it compared unfavourably to older entries in the series? Just rosy nostalgia?

      • It’s not nostalgia. It’s the fact they did it first. Back then, having the ability to ride Yoshi or have powerups was shiny and new. Part of what made those games great was how they improved upon the formula. What do these add?

        Franchise fatigue exists, just look at Assasins Creed or Call of Duty. Just because they’re refined doesn’t make them better. If you jumped in to the series at that point, that’d be fine. But if you were to play more than one game, e.g. if you played NSMBU and then played NSMBWii, you’d get bored halfway. There’s nothing unique to distinguish them, and that’s why I think nobody cares about this new one. It was all done before in the other games they’d played.

        • Yeah… I think it’s the fact that it’s been done before, they’re just doing it better now. Think of an analogy with music. You look at the reverence with which rock musicians from the 60s / 70s are held… people like the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Cream, Dylan, Hendrix, Pink Floyd, etc. The reason they have that aura about them is that when they did it, they were the first ones, blazing a trail into unknown territory. It’s not that there aren’t people around these days who are just as capable (if not even better) musicians as those guys, it’s just that it’s much harder for them to find something that hasn’t already been done before because others have been walking over that ground for decades.

        • I’m playing it on Wii at work with mates, and on WiiU at home simultaneously at the moment, and no, I’m not bored.

      • Surely innovation and scale of improvement between entries counts for something? And I’m not talking about in a nostalgia sense, I mean the pleasure that derives from a genuinely novel experience, which this game sorely lacks.

      • Part of the problem is that while it is in a state of ‘constant refinement’ they keep taking things away, and then putting it back in a few games later as ‘WOW! LOOK AT THIS!’ Riding Yoshi for example. They keep adding him for a couple of games, is gone for half a dozen then it’s back as ‘HEY LOOK YOU CAN RIDE A YOSHI! WOW!’

        The other part is that if you keep polishing something, anything, you wear it down. It may be slightly better, in some way, but it’s still not changed much at all, and is a bit much to expect full price each time. Imagine if Rowling instead of releasing Harry Potter 2, released a slight re-write of the first one. Elaborated a little in one of the lessons, but took out the broom-riding for Quiditch. Then instead of book 3, she’s rewritten book 1 again. This time, a bit more indepth on his time at the Dursleys. Oh, and took out Fred, but not George. For book 4, another re-write. This time Hogwarts is in America, and Harry has a new adventure in the Forbidden Forest where he wrangles Centaur wearing a Cow-wizaard hat. For book 5, book 1 is again rewritten but now broomsticks are back! Also George has replaced Fred and Chocolate Frogs are now made of Carob.

        It might have improved things as it’s gone, but it’s still the same damn thing.

  • People arent ravin bout it cos the novelty has worn off. NSMB was super cool back in the day cos there were no 2D platformers anymore at that time. The Wii one was cool for the improvement to everything and the co-op. Fast forward to now, when 2D platformers have made a comeback to a saturated degree, and NSMB2 has just been released a few months ago, looking much like the Wii game from 4 years ago. It looks a little ancient/uninnovative coming from the Big N, and the Wii U one coming after it is under stably fatiguing some people. Doesnt mean its not a good, solid game though.

  • I get that it’s the only Mario game on the Wii U but we’re getting a ton of them on the 3DS ATM, if this came out next year sometime it would be loved.

    It may be the best version, but I think Mario 3 will always be my favourite, Technically it’s Mario 2 but that was a different game really. Much like Sonic 2 is my favourite, Sonic 3 was way better technically and a more refined experience but Sonic 2 spent more time in my Mega Drive than any other game.

  • My biggest issue with NSMB U is that is feels as though they took the code from NSMB2 and gave it a HD coat of paint and slapped on a non linear hub world. Yes all the levels are different but for all intents and purposes the gameplay feels like the same damn game I finished on my 3DS XL literally weeks before I got the Wii U. The Acorn powerup is basically the same as the Tanooki suit they revived for NSMB 2 without the ability to use the tail as an offensive weapon.

    NSMB U feels to me like an act of desperation. Nintendo are no doubt working on a 3D Mario title for the Wii U, they most likely had hopes that the title would be available for the console at the very least during the launch window. But maybe something went wrong and that goal became unobtainable, so they gave a team of 5 people the code of either NSMB 2 or NSMB Wii and a level editor, told them to upscale the code to HD, design something like 100 different levels and implement one kinda new suit feature. Finish off by designing a hub world and badda bing badda boom your golden, launch day NSMB game.

    • I really shouldn’t read things before doing menial tasks. . .

      There are other reasons while I feel NSMB U is both a rush job and a reactionary move, but the one that stuck in my mind the most was the game’s use of the Wii U gamepad. The gamepad is Nintendo’s major selling point for the Wii U, yes the console has HD but with the PS3 and 360, HD is kind of a moot point for anyone other than the diehard Nintendo faithful. The Gamepad is going to be what makes or breaks the Wii U once Microsoft and Sony release their next gen consoles and most likely leave the Wii U in the dust graphics wise. That being said, how did Nintendo utilise this do or die feature in NSMB U? Poorly would be an understatement.

      The only place where use of the Gamepad’s touchscreen is ever actually utilised is in the multiplayer, where the person using the gamepad can either help or hinder the players by strategically placing blocks, its a nice feature and I’ve had some enjoyment with it. That being said, I would be very surprised if this feature utilised more than half a page of code to implement. Outside of Multiplayer what use does the gamepad have, working as a second screen. Once again useful feature and has been utilised in many other Wii U titles as well, however none of these games to my knowledge have this feature running as default, or for that matter having it be the only thing the gamepad does.

      I doubt this feature would have utilised more than a line worth of code, and the sad thing is there are so many other things the gamepad could have been used for. You could of had all the health, timer, score, all the HUD show up on the touch screen, leaving the main screen completely clean. The game also has the ability to store items in an inventory, while not put the inventory on the touch screen so you could utilise it while in a level? Hell I know it might not be fair to compare a handheld title but LittleBigPlanet for the Vita utilised the touchpad for interacting with some of their levels, why couldn’t Mario do the same to a degree with NSMB U. There are so many thing they could have utilised the Wii U Gamepad for in this game, and they used damn near none of them. That’s probably one of the reasons why I at the very least am not to impressed by this game.

  • Nintendo tried practising, for the first time, what’s considered a successful business model (especially with western FPS/Sports/Puzzle games) in giving gamers regular installments of a popular franchise in these modern Super Mario Brothers games.

    Up until 3 or 4 years ago true Mario games (not mini game compilations) were a once every couple of years affair, if not longer in some generations. Nearly everyone apparently wanted Mario games more regularly so thats what Nintendo gave them. Now, a few years later, we have numerous sequels to very similar Mario games and some people are now getting tired of same-old-same-old Mario games. Surely people realise that you can’t have the new-earth-shattering-genre-busting-gameplay experience in short development cycle games? I’m not sure what people expect from these Mario titles, but I class them much more towards the Mario Party end of the spectrum than towards the 3D platforming games, but maybe people are having unrealistic expectations.

    Also, as long as these Mario Bros titles are selling a certain amount that’s all that matters to the modern Nintendo, as much as it may dilute the integrity of the brand at the end of the day it’s all about $$$’s and keeping Mario games ‘special’ like they did in the 90s and early 00s is not going to make them more money in the current game’s market. Maybe this is truly the goose that lays the golden egg for Nintendo? This franchise would have to have excellent ratios for development hours versus sales numbers.

    That said, I really enjoy the new Mario Brothers on Wii U, but the main reason for this is I’ve played none of the portable iterations, and less than an hour of the Wii release. I can definitely appreciate that people are getting tired of playing the same game, but Nintendo are no more guilty of this trend than anyone else making regular releases of long term franchise games.

  • I kinda agree with this. I’ve absolutely loved NSMBU – there was some amazing level design in there, and it also managed to keep up both the fun and the challenge. And despite what others say, I really like the squirrel suit. It’s NOT just an old flying powerup in a new skin, it handles completely differently to any of the others.

    I admit that I wasn’t too fussed on picking it up. I was mainly getting it because I knew it would at least be alright, and there wasn’t much else around. It was kind of unwarranted fatigue, since all the negative feedback on NSMB2 (along with the price) putting me off picking that up yet, so the last NSMB game I played was back in 2009/10 when I got it on Wii. Which actually wasn’t that bad a game, really. Not great, not bad. I think the thing that got to me most was when I went and dug out NSMB on DS a little while afterwards to check on something, and discovered that it was exactly the same, I’d just forgotten what NSMB was like. Kinda put a bad taste in my mouth I guess.

    But yeah. Definitely love NSMBU, the only thing that keeps me from properly pitting it against SMW and SMB3 for top title is that it feels a little less distinctive than they do, particularly in the music department. Although really, my top Mario game is SMA4 – SMB3 plus all the awesome of the e-reader cards. Turns it into a whole new game.

  • I just felt like I was playing the same SMB3 game over and over again with these “New” iterations. Nothing has really changed with a 2D Mario game since 3. The leap between 1 and 3 was great, it has been tweaks of a winning formula ever since.

  • I’ve avoided the whole ‘Mario Fatigue’ thing by complete accident. When NSMB came out, I bought it, played the hell out of it, and loved it. When NSMBWii was released, the $100 price tag p. But I put me off (being a PC gamer at that stage and having an income of nothing), and I just didn’t bother with NSMB2. But I picked up NSMBU a few days ago and love it. It’s fun to watch my family’s jaws drop as they watch me fly through a new level with no prior knowledge of the layout.

  • I don’t look for innovation in my 2D Mario games any more – and I’m on the fence as to whether that’s a bad thing, or a “no”thing. They’re familiar, straightforward, and instantly accessible. They’re comfortable. I’ve been playing them all my life. The core gameplay can stay the same – just give me inventive level design and a decent challenge and I’m happy.
    Where I DO look for innovation, however, is in the 3D titles, and I’m far less forgiving when they don’t add enough to the mix. That’s where Nintendo seem to focus their Mario-related creativity, and that’s fine. The progression from 64 to Sunshine to Galaxy brought logical (if somewhat unexpected) design evolutions – yes, including the FLUDD, dammit – which mixed up the gameplay just enough to allow for a set of challenges which are contextualized and unique within each game. Super Mario 3DLand I enjoyed, but probably won’t return to simply because it didn’t have a unique hook. It was a 2D Mario in a 3D world; and, playable as it was, it wasn’t unique.
    BasicallyI’m loving playing NSMBU, and inasmuch as it feels like I’ve played it before, that doesn’t matter. I HAVE played it before, and I enjoy it every time. If a 3D Mario-U comes out and it’s essentially a rehash of previously trodden ground without an ingenious gameplay hook – which is kind of what 3DLand was – I’ll be far more upset.

      • Nope, I finished it. You’ll have to take my word for it. I liked it, in the same way that I like the 2D ones. What I meant was that as a 3D title, it didn’t have one particular gameplay hook which distinguished it, in the way that Sunshine had the FLUDD and Galaxy had the gravity and orbital levels. I really enjoyed playing it, as I do with all Mario platformers; it just didn’t do anything differently apart from the perspective.

  • I think the idea of fatigue is relative to how many game consoles/handhelds you own. I don’t own a DS/3DS so NSMB2 or 3Dland etc didn’t even register on my games radar, sure I knew they were out there but they were inaccessible to me and as the last mario game I played was NSMB on the Wii, it has been what? 2-3 years since I played a 2D mario? That seems like about the right time to release a new version of an already existing game (I am looking at you Activision/EA). If you did own a 3DS and did buy NSMB2 and then went on to buy a Wii U as well as buying NSMBU I could then see how fatigue might factor in but if this isn’t the case, then it seems to me like a non-issue.

  • NSMBU is hands-down the best 2D Mario since World, which was some 20 years ago now. Compared to the 3D Mario titles, I’d have to say it gets slightly edged out by the Galaxy games and 3D Land. But with that said, it’s still a magnificent game, well worth a purchase.

    I think alot of people don’t see NSMBU as a real killer app for the Wii U, but see it as just another Mario game. There isn’t alot of interest in the console itself either because they don’t see the console as “next-gen” and the launch lineup has mostly ports.

    Everyone expects new consoles to be better than their predecessors by leaps and bounds, but the thing people don’t realise is it’s not 2006 anymore. People don’t spend their money anymore, which means the console manufacturers have to sacrifice a bigger technological leap for a lower price. And as for the launch lineup, many people seem to have already forgotten the Xbox 360 and PS3 launch lineups when they came out.

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