That’s not to say that some levels don’t function as glorified puzzles; the return of the Boo House’s inscrutable puzzles should attest to that. Yet, unlike the first game, such stages act as breaks to the overall flow of the fast-paced main levels (as well as acting on your nostalgia nerves). Vertical stages also prevent you from moving fast, as does the inevitable forced scrolling use, but each of them offer you something interesting to do as the screen scrolls. Flight of the Para-Beetles, for example, turns vertical platforming into a tense game of jumping on Para-Beetles; small ones ascend when you land on them, while big Para-Beetles fall. Manipulating them in the correct way earns you coin and 1UP rewards, while jumping on smaller ones consecutively also earns you 1UPs. At the same time, death could come at any imprecise jump as well as giant Bullet Bills. It’s quite a rewarding stage, mostly because the game never settles with stopping points like New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Every moment is interesting, which is exactly what you want in a Mario game; if I’m standing still waiting for things, then Mario becomes boring.
Of course, I am being disingenuous on some level towards the original New Super Mario Bros. Wii. I know that New Super Mario Bros. Wii U cribs liberally from Super Mario World (as the Wii version cribs from SMB 3), my formative Mario experience. Even though I played the previous games in the series, it still holds a special place in my heart, and seeing them recreate the same complicated and brilliant approach to map design seems a big improvement in my book. Getting to every stage requires finding all of the secret exists, which often take some thought to find, and a heck of a lot of experimentation. All of this gives you an incentive to return to previous levels, as well as finding Star Coins to open up the Star World (which looks, again, eerily similar to Super Mario World’s version). The collect-a-thon aspect remains, though, so that will remain up to personal taste.
Still, my minor control quibbles from the first game haven’t quite disappeared; 2.5D still loses some accuracy in the translation, and wall-jumps/buttstomps still remain as useless as they ever were (and sometimes leading to your death too if you happen to push forward and press A by accident next to a wall – super, super annoying!). However, both of those abilities mentioned see little use at all, so that’s an improvement. It makes you wonder why they’re still in the game, frankly, if you’re not going to use them at all.
Furthermore, the main game (not including the bonus content) removes the dumb Propeller Mushroom/Beanie Hat, which means no more controller waggling while platforming or rescues from death with no skill. Instead, they replace it with Flying Squirrel, which merely glides during a jump. This does make jumping easier, sure, but the augmentation doesn’t triviliaze the core mechanics – always a good addition, in my book. Baby Yoshis also make a return, and all the different colors now perform different functions in their nascent forms, unlike in previous games. The Yellow Yoshi lights up dark areas if you shake the Wiimote, for example, while the Red Yoshi lets you float (as seen in the game’s box art). These tiny changes do wonders to retain the challenge while also being helpful at the same time, and they’re used sparingly enough that the novelty doesn’t wear off.
Does the game play it safe on a number of levels? Yes, absolutely. If you’ve played one game in this series, you played them all on some level. New Super Mario Bros. Wii U places its nostalgia on its sleeve, but that doesn’t make it necessary to enjoy the game (it definitely did not smash it into your face like the previous game, either). On the other hand, I don’t think this entry relies on that nostalgia before all else; it actually works as a really good entry into the genre in and of itself!
In the end, that’s a pleasant surprise, and that makes me the happiest of all. I gave it my trust, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii U (I’m going to go crazy if I need to type that title up again) gave back. But, of course, I actually had to have some faith to actually play it and not judge it in advance, to see things for myself. The opposite response to mistrust, anger, also could ruin the experience, but I refused that response. Cynicism goes both ways, whether via ignorance (Israel) or knowledge (Moses), and either ones leads you down dark paths.
8 “Take the rod; and you and your brother Aaron assemble the congregation and speak to the rock before their eyes, that it may yield its water. You shall thus bring forth water for them out of the rock and let the congregation and their beasts drink.”
9 So Moses took the rod from before the Lord, just as He had commanded him; 10 and Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. And he said to them, “Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?” 11 Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. 12 But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you have not believed Me, to treat Me as holy in the sight of the sons of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land which I have given them.”
You can easily get caught in one or the other, as I have, and really shut the joy out. Maybe I was just playing too much Diablo, but Mario beams down like some bright sunshine by comparison, and I needed a contrast! It’s fun to have fun with video games, and maybe that’s just the lesson Nintendo wants to provide. I have no qualms with that! A back to basics approach can work wonders with the right dash of polish, and that’s what New Super Mario Bros. Wii U teaches you.