New Super Mario Bros. U Review

New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
MSRP: $59.99

Think back to when you started your first sudoku. Solving the simplest puzzle was a reward, with each subsequent effort helping to build your repertoire of skills. This sort of pattern recognition is also integral to the Mario experience and one that has been ingrained in gamers for decades. Recklessly jumping through Iggy’s Castle with more than a few scratches may prove rewarding if it’s your first time playing, but finishing each level inevitably becomes the bare minimum. The real challenge of the stages becomes hunting for their secrets. Learning how to find these hidden goodies takes practice, much like figuring out where that 2 belongs in an expert level sudoku, but the dedication pays more than a few 1-ups worth of coins.

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There is rarely a dull moment in Mushroom Kingdom. In one level you’ll struggle to stay on polka-dotted mushrooms that stretch and retract, and in the next stage you’ll ride a skeletal rollercoaster across a grim underground cavern. Individual worlds are themed but each stage within will have something you haven’t yet encountered. Guiding the dexterous plumber around these bright vistas, all while “Wahoo!”-ing at the plight of countless Goombas, remains thrilling. If you have played previous New entries, a few too many concepts repeat, hammering home how poorly titled the series is.

Three super-sized coins are hidden within each level and if you collect enough you unlock additional stages. Fortunately there’s a particular logic that each coin follows that makes finding them easier. Some are behind invisible walls, denoted by slight indents, or accessible by hard-to-reach pipes. Others require the flying squirrel power-up, the use of a Yoshi, or even just a kicked koopa shell. Approaching the coins requires precise jumping techniques, such as the wall-jump. Tracking each one down is immensely rewarding. Given enough time, knowing where to look becomes instinctual, yet the wonkier stages occasionally send mixed messages.

NSMBU

When New Super Mario Bros. U relies on its more obtuse logic for hiding coins, consulting online walkthroughs seems like the only way to progress. Haunted houses, filled with those adorably spooky Boos, are filled with doors leading to alternate routes and easily skipped coins. It’s impossible to collect all three in one playthrough – a distinctly awful feature of these stages. In other stages, if you’ve searched every inch of where a coin could be, it usually means there’s an invisible block holding a beanstalk-ladder to coin heaven. There’s little way of knowing where the block could be and it usually boils down to bizarre hypotheses and trial and error. Alternate routes to secret levels are practically impossible to find since you’re not told which level they’re in. Just because you can hide content this well doesn’t mean you should.

Mario stages are scrumptious yet fleeting in a way that could work as daily challenges. Imagine waking up to a new level each and every morning. I’d forgive many of the issues I have with the series if it was presented in this manner. But this format would undermine what makes playing Mario the treat it is: exploration. These levels take place within a larger world that transforms the linear progression into a full-blown adventure. That contextualization is what motivates you to learn the intricacies of each level; without it your interest would subside as it did with that sudoku you attempted in yesterday’s paper.

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