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New Super Mario Bros U review: New ideas layered on a familiar blueprint

Something borrowed, something U...

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Baby Yoshis come in three different 'flavours' - each boasting its own unique special power. Pink Yoshis inflate like a hot air balloon on demand, blue Yoshis burp out killer bubbles, and golden Yoshis will light up pitch-black caverns when issued a spin-jump cue.

But these powers are secondary to their use as a mobile shield. Yoshis, as is known, will consume pretty much anything that moves, so dangling one in front of you means that you're free to sprint through the levels, safe in the knowledge that your fledgling will wolf down any baddies you might happen to bump into. The only disappointment is that, unlike in their previous appearance in Super Mario World, they never grow up.


However, for all the talk of inflating Yoshis and squirrel gliding, there's little in the main game that will tax or surprise anyone who's played any of the previous New Super Mario Bros games. But there's a good reason for the game's apparent ease. In previous entries of the series, Nintendo's level designers have painstakingly designed each level so that they work on two levels - one, as a fun playground for new players to explore, and two, as a carefully crafted speed run challenge, where entire levels can be completed without ever touching the floor - Bullet Bills, Goombas and Koopas are perfectly placed to the very last pixel to ensure expert players can sprint from start to finish without ever once loosing momentum.

New Super Mario Bros Wii's Super Guide videos showed players glimpses of high-level play, but didn't go as far as to provide them with a compelling framework to encourage them to try it for themselves. Mario Bros U fixes that with a separate Challenge mode, packed full of snack-sized trials that only last a minute or two each, but will keep you glued to the screen(s) until the crickets begin chirping.

The further into Challenge mode you get, the more creative the designers get

These challenges range from death-defying speedrun challenges where you have to slide underneath falling icicles and skip over tumbling statues, to a game of 1-Upmanship where you attempt to earn as many extra lives as possible by bouncing on top of an endless supply of Bullet Bills, Penguins and/or Koopas. As you progress through the challenges, the more creative the designers dare to be, with later stages including 'coinless runs' (complete the level while collecting no more than five coins - tougher than it sounds) and daredevil runs where you can't touch the floor from start to finish. There's even a stage where you have to coax a Monty Mole to the finish line.

Freed from the burden of having to design the challenges around a base level that's easy for grandad, Nintendo EAD has been able to dream up a succession of tough, supremely demanding challenges that will keep top-level players plugging away deep into next year's inevitable game drought. Hopefully you'll be able to compare scores with your friends via Wiiverse, but Nintendo were unable to confirm this at time of writing and thus, unfortunately, we're unable to take that possibility into account when considering the score.


Rounding off the package are a couple of additional multiplayer modes. The best of the pair is easily Boost Mode, which asks players to take the skills they've learned from playing through the main game co-operatively and put them to the test in a succession of vicious push-scrolling levels which speed up in accordance with how many coins your team collects. Frantic is too weak a word to describe the scenes which unfold in the latter half of the 'Expert' packs. Then there's the rather self-explanatory Coin Battle, which while still amusing, is somewhat less compelling. Its main hook is that you have the option of altering the coin layouts on each level via the GamePad's touchscreen, but after you've written a rude word into the sky once, the novelty value runs dry.

Nevertheless, it all combines to form a deceptively complete 2D package which will delight newcomers and old-hands alike - if not always at the same time. Of course, for all its charms, it's no reason to shell out £300 on a brand new console in and of itself - it plays it all a little too safe to be a system seller. But when New Super Mario Bros U is in full flight - be it a death-defying squirrel dive, the chaotic hilarity of a four-way snake block road trip, or a manic timed sprint through a crowd of Boos - it serves as a timely reminder of the Nintendo magic that, sooner or later, your wallet will find hard to resist.

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The verdict

You'll complete it in a weekend, but the challenges will keep you plugging away for months. Ol' Faithful delivers another strong 2D platformer without even breaking sweat.

Nintendo Wii U