No matter how stale the New Super Mario Bros. subseries is, it’s hard for anyone to deny the inherently high quality of a Mario game. In recent years, the “New” games have hardly felt new at all, but they always serve to provide quite a great deal of fun. New Super Mario Bros. U took the New Super Mario Bros. titles a nudge in the right direction with a unified world map, as well as level designs filled with secret passages and little quirks to keep players guessing, but the recent New Super Luigi U keeps the fresh spirit alive with a new spin of its own.
As the second title in Nintendo’s “Year of Luigi,” New Super Luigi U introduces 82 news courses to New Super Mario Bros. U, or stands alone as its own game if you opt to buy the full retail version next month. The first thing players will notice upon booting up New Super Luigi U is that the courses are immediately more difficult than their New Super Mario Bros. U counterparts. As soon as the first level, New Super Luigi U drops players into a course with a mere 100-second time limit. With little time for exploration or lingering on Star Coins, New Super Luigi U adds an interesting tinge of difficulty in an unexpected way. Though the time limit proved to be very manageable due to the level’s extremely short nature, this was an unexpected yet welcome challenge for the game’s first level.
The time limit is much appreciated for encouraging players to rush through paths, collecting coins and pouncing opponents as efficiently as possible. Coupled with the brilliantly tight design of the courses, there is no greater sense of triumph than completing a section of a level without missing a beat.
Unfortunately, this idea grows sour within minutes. As I progressed through the first world, it became clear that a small time limit and meager scope of the levels was not the first in a series of curveballs — it was the foundation upon which the entire game was built. In fact, right through to the very end of the game, the timer sets itself to 100 seconds at every level’s start.
Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The sense of urgency the time limit instills on its players is felt throughout the entire game, and it is often a glorious thing. Nonetheless, the difficulty of the levels themselves doesn’t seem to stray too far away from the stones it sets in World 1. Despite the intermittent conceptual brilliance in a course — one particularly memorable level has players freezing gargantuan Fuzzies and riding the large blocks of ice to the goal — the linear and extremely short paths of the levels never grow any more inspired. Thus, the timer that at first appears to be an extra challenge serves only as a mask to veil the fact that New Super Luigi U is an extremely rushed and largely shallow experience.
Though the main gameplay difference between New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U is the altered timer, the authoritative highlight of the game is its focus on Luigi as the leading lad. Playing every now and then as Luigi in the multiplayer modes of the New Super Mario Bros. series is enjoyable, but playing as Luigi in isolation spotlights the differences between his and Mario’s mechanics. For years now, Luigi has been known to jump higher and have a little bit more difficulty turning, but the effects of his quirks have never been more evident. His high jumps and oh-so-slightly increased hang time are often a lot of fun — there’s nothing quite like powering through a major jumping session — but his two left feet and his powerful thighs will occasionally land you in a world of trouble. Certain moments like these in New Super Luigi U will make one truly value how conducive the traditional Mario physics are to a positive gameplay experience.
One of the most significant changes in New Super Luigi U, due to the absence of Mario, is the ability to play as Nabbit during multiplayer modes, as well as during solo play after performing some funky controller trick. Nabbit is unable to use powerups and unable to grab items like shells, but in return, he does not take any damage — the only way to die as Nabbit is to fall off the bottom of the screen. Because he is unable to transform, there are certain areas Nabbit cannot access, but his inability to receive damage makes breezing through levels an absolute blast. Who doesn’t want to run headfirst into enemies without being knocked off course? The addition of Nabbit is also a great way for the less experienced platforming gamers to make it through the game.
Though it bears no real significance, I found one of the most enjoyable things about New Super Luigi U to be the omnipresent aura of Luigi. Statues in his honor, carvings in mountains, paintings, hedge sculptures, and more all convey the incredibly charming lightheartedness with which the developers have created New Super Luigi U, and always manage to churn a smile out of me.
Because the following statement can be read either with a positive or negative outlook, take it as you may when I say that in a climate where most titles cost a whopping $59.99, New Super Luigi U is worth its twenty-dollar price tag.
The Verdict: Short Yet Exciting
Shallowness aside, I say again that New Super Luigi U is a wonderful platforming experience and a thoroughly enjoyable title. After all, it is still a Mario game at its core. If it’s been a while since you last bore those marvelous mustaches and went for a spin through the Mushroom Kingdom, New Super Luigi U is just the game you need. Likewise, if you want a good game and have an extra twenty lying around, New Super Luigi U is well worth it. But if you’re feeling plumbed out and waiting for a Mario title that shows a little more depth, then New Super Luigi U is nothing to invest in.
After all this, though, I’m still left with one question… Where the hell is Mario, anyway?
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[Nabbit art by Brandokay]