There was no doubt that I was going to instabuy a new Mario game. It might not be a sequel to Super Mario Odyssey, but New Super Mario Bros U was one of the best Mario games, if not, actually, the best and this is the first 2D outing for Nintendo’s pipeman since that came out, so I was hyped.
All the new “wonder” effects shown in the trailer and Nintendo Direct, with crawling pipes and turning into a Goomba and bouncing on massive bubbles opened a trillion new possibilities to Nintendo’s already seemingly inexhaustible supply of one-off creative moments. Everything was so bright and slick and, well, Nintendo. The only slightly worrying thing were the talking flowers, who comment on your actions, which didn’t seem to fit, but early players confirmed you could turn them off, so it’d be fine. Right? Right?
Well, duh, obviously.
But, it isn’t quite as great as I was hoping for. Before I go on about why, I should say that a surprise delight was these talking flowers. I was sure they’d grate and annoy but no – they’re bloody genius. Turning them off removes a big ol’ chunk of personality from the game. Another thing that had been pre-levelled as a negative from folk is that veteran Mario and Chums voice artist Charles Martinet wouldn’t be voicing this game, I think the first Mario title since Mario 64 to not feature him. Thankfully, the replacement 1) isn’t Chris Pratt, and 2) isn’t very different at all so it’s fine.
So why isn’t it the Best Mario Ever? Well, mainly because it just isn’t quite there in a number of ways. It’s short, for a start, and it’s very, very easy. I know the Thing with Mario games is that the hidden levels and getting all the special coins/seeds/bonuses/exits/etc. is where the real challenge lies, but no – it’s really easy even to do that. I collected all the seeds (most levels have one for using the “Wonder” correctly, and one for completing the level) and finished all the levels without incident. Except for one of the secret levels (those levels being the Wonder equivalent to Star Road) where you have to do loads of wall jumps really quickly in time to music which constantly speeds up and one slight mistake and you die. Even that was simplified by having more lives than you can realistically lose and no penalty for losing any. Seriously, I spent the majority of the game with 90+ lives and never intentionally tried – or needed – to get more. One tricky level in the whole game? It’s for kids, mate.
There’s also a couple of new power-ups this time around. Most obvious is Elephant Mario, who can hold water in his trunk and water things, but can also smash certain blocks when needed. The other one is Bubble Mario, who, er, blows bubbles. Apart from being able to defeat baddies on the other side of walls (the bubbles pass through), and you can jump off a bubble you’ve blown, Bubble Mario offers nothing to the game and is completely unneeded for any of the levels. Elephant Mario, for all his cuteness and fatness, is a little wasted too. For the most part, both of these powers were used simply to survive an extra hit.
However! It is still a fantastic game. I bloody loved it from start to finish (even if that time was only about 8 hours) and it’s just so bouncy and damn happy and the physics of jumping is perfect in that way no other company besides Nintendo manage to get right. Even a “bad” Mario game is still better than 99.9% of other games. I still have a handful of big purple coins to get before it’ll be considered 100%d, but everything else is done, and I’ll be sad for it to end.