Up Up Down Down: New Super Mario Bros. U

If you've been keeping up with our Up Up Down Down feature this month, you're probably aware that we've dedicated the past few weeks entirely to Mario. Specifically, we've revisited the modern 2D platformers in the series, from the first New Super Mario Bros. to New Super Mario Bros. Wii, and most recently, New Super Mario Bros. 2. It only makes sense, then, that we take a close look at the Wii U debut of the series.

On this week's Up Up Down Down, we enter the HD world of New Super Mario Bros. U, which is actually quite surprisingly great. Oh, it's horribly familiar to a fault, but even then, it's kind of hard not to love this game.

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Up Up: 2D Mario in HD!

New Super Mario Bros. U has the distinction of being the first Mario title to feature HD graphics. As such, the game looks pretty darn great. Admittedly, it's not some powerful masterpiece of technical excellence, but there's just no getting around the fact that New Super Mario Bros. U is a gorgeous game that takes advantage of the Wii U hardware. Additionally, the art and level design perfectly create what is easily the best-looking 2D Mario platformer to date.

Down Down: Not a cure for Mario fatigue

Contrary to what some folks may (ever so erroneously) believe, it's not all about the graphics. Sure, New Super Mario Bros. U looks amazing, but if you're burnt out on this style of Mario game, then you won't be thinking about how great it looks. No, you'll be thinking about how you'd rather be playing something else instead. This is the kind of game that you play after you've taken a break from the series (and possibly even the genre) for at least a few months.

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Up Up: The level design is actually novel once again

Something that terrified me before jumping into New Super Mario Bros. U was the level design. I was afraid that I'd see the same exact types of levels scattered across the same exact types of worlds. While the latter certainly holds true, nuanced stage design takes over to create what's an otherwise novel experience. Even though we've seen these worlds before, the art design and level layouts are joyously unfamiliar and refreshingly new, making the game as a whole just a lot more rewarding to play.

Down Down: Playing with others is still infuriating

If you thought co-op in New Super Mario Bros. U was going to be better this time around, you're in for a big disappointment. Playing with one other person is decent enough, but once four players are introduced to the game at the same time, all bets are off: prepare for frustration. Oh, and you can actually have a fifth player messing around with the environments using the GamePad. Yes, that's as horrible as it sounds.

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Up Up: Baby Yoshi sings along to the music

New to the series is Baby Yoshi, who acts as a power-up of sorts rather than an actual companion. The little guy can gobble up enemies that you run into head-on, and he can even balloon up a couple times to help you obtain coins, items, and other hidden secrets that are hard to reach. Of course, the coolest thing about Baby Yoshi is the fact that he actually sings along to the music in a stupidly endearing way. This isn't the typical “wah wah!” sound that we're used to hearing in the series, either.

Down Down: The Flying Squirrel Suit is pretty lame

The big new power-up this time around is the Flying Squirrel Suit. Considering how great the Tanooki Suit — and later in the series, the Cat Suit — was, it's hard to really get behind this particular furry power-up. Gliding slowly and clinging to ledges just isn't as great as flying and turning to stone. Besides, the Tanooki Suit also allows Mario to glide, and you have more control over your movements. Flying Squirrel Mario is just underwhelming, and it deserves an uninspired “meh.”

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Left Right Left Right: New Super Mario Bros. U is great despite its familiarity

Originally, I didn't want anything to do with New Super Mario Bros. U. When I finally played it a considerable amount of time following its launch, I realized it was a masterfully crafted platformer. It's drastically superior to New Super Mario Bros. 2, though it's hard to argue that this is the best game in the “new” series. Even then, it's a worthwhile platformer granted you're not burnt out. It's not quite the second coming of Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, but New Super Mario Bros. U sure makes a solid argument for that case.

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