So, what is New Super Luigi U? It's not straight-up DLC, nor is it sizable enough to justify a full price retail game, so Nintendo has opted for a best of both worlds approach; it's available as either pricey DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U or as an inexpensive standalone retail game to be released at a later date. What does it actually deliver as a game? A lot of polished and slightly maniacal 2D platforming fun, and something rather different from the meatier New Super Mario Bros. U.
First up, let's address what's the same in this game. A lot of assets, for one thing — in particular the overworld, various level backgrounds and, of course, the iconic Mario foes. A first glance may make veterans of the Wii U's 2D platforming launch title nervous, but those fears of lazy duplication should be quashed within the first ten seconds of the opening stage. After an initial screen that looks the same, you notice that the stage clock is limited to 100 seconds, and there are more flying squirrels attempting to deplete your lives right off the bat. In fact, if you go in expecting the usual opening level kid gloves, a life will be lost. When playing New Super Luigi U you need to stop slouching, buck up and actually concentrate on what you're doing.
The stages are all-new variations, using the eight original game's world assets in fresh combinations, and that shorter clock — combined with tougher jumps and more enemies — immediately sharpens the mind. Suddenly you have to look for three Star Coins, preserve your powered up state and dash to a tighter time limit, and it feels natural. Luigi's new skill-set helps — which doesn't transfer to New Super Mario Bros U. in the DLC version, we should add — as he can jump higher, has slippier footing to handle, and a fantastic flutter jump. Initially the flutter jump feels peculiar, but using it becomes second nature and absolutely vital in later stages. It's truly satisfying to dash at full pelt through a tricky section, ending with a stylish flutter jump and mid-air twist to hit the top of the flag.
And so this new set of levels is at once terrifically fun and challenging. The majority of stages show flashes of creativity that perhaps were held back for later stages in the Mario original, but in this case are spread more evenly throughout. There are some memorable tower levels, including one with the most enjoyable 20 second belly slide in living memory, a stage with clever switch-activated platforms — and those are just immediate examples that spring to mind. Even those that don't push creativity too far play like a speed runner's dream, all sprinting and precision jumps, while successfully beating the clock having accumulated all three Star Coins gives a triumphant feeling.
So for experienced, capable platformer enthusiasts, this provides a blast of fun. The shorter levels do drastically shorten an initial run through, with four to six hours likely to be enough to see the end sequence. The likelihood is that you'll have left behind plenty of Star Coins, while more levels are there for the taking by collecting all of those goodies and finding secret exits; they're mighty secretive, too, with truly devious locations. These extra tasks will increase play time a good amount, so the right audience will get reasonable bang for their buck, particularly at the DLC rate.
Nintendo knows this game is for stronger players, however, with messaging making a point of mentioning a greater challenge on offer. That's fine, but makes the already-chaotic multiplayer a tough task, especially when the screen is packed with enemies and you're unwittingly bouncing off each other's heads. Less experienced players are given the accommodation of Nabbit as a character, who's indestructible in the face of enemies, meaning they only have to watch out for the dangers of pitfalls, lava or falling off the screen. But then that'll happen a lot, as there are pits everywhere, and when time is short experienced players will dash on and leave Nabbit behind — the mischievous rabbit seemingly can't be carried. In that sense the attempt to support weaker players in what is a tough game is admirable but, ultimately, misguided. If you're playing with friends or family that aren't confident gamers, play New Super Mario Bros. U instead.
It should also be highlighted that New Super Luigi U is just a Story Mode, so it's the main campaign and nothing more. As we've said, there's plenty to do, with various collectibles and secrets to find after the credits roll, but the Mii-playable challenges and the assorted extras of New Super Mario Bros. U aren't given their own fresh variations. That's fair enough at the price, especially in the context of the Luigi U logo simply being a side-menu to access when the DLC is tagged onto the Mario retail title, but worth remembering for those that pick up the standalone disc.
It's ultimately as a single player experience that this title excels, however, so the lack of non-Story extras and clumsy multiplayer are relatively minor asides. Dashing through the cornea-burning bright and crisp environments, popping along at 60 frames-per-second with tricky jumps aplenty is an absolute blast. Luigi shines, too, and even when riding atop Yoshi — or using the ever-adorable baby Yoshis — some may be tempted to ditch the sidekicks, as the green one is simply that much fun to control. It's all about momentum and jumping high, and for those up to the challenge it can give greater thrills than the more steady, reliable moveset of the original's cast.
New Super Luigi U is a terrific title for capable platform gamers, with intense and exciting bursts of momentum to put those thumbs to the test. What that does do, however, is make multiplayer even more awkward than before, and possibly puts the title beyond the reach of less experienced gamers, even with the indestructible Nabbit. The sense of the old is thankfully tempered by a fresh feel and clever level design, however, and even if the adventure won't last long for those without completionist instincts, it's fun while it lasts.