Ever since its debut on Nintendo DS way back in 2006, the ‘New’ branch of the Super Mario Bros. series has divided fans. As Nintendo transposed the 3D character-models of video games’ most treasured mascots back into the classic 2D realm, purists lambasted the ‘Disneyfication’ of the Mushroom Kingdom and bemoaned its idiosyncratic soundtrack. The style proved incredibly popular, though, and a further three entries gave a whole new generation ‘their’ 2D Mario. We’re delighted to see the series’ pinnacle spruced up for another outing, although we’re not sure New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe does quite enough to earn its increasingly ungainly title.
Allow us to play contrarian for a moment and indulge readers for whom the ‘New’ series represents the nadir of the franchise; this is that style firing on all twelve cylinders – every bar of the soundtrack is capped with a screwball ‘wa’ sound and Mario is joined by only his most insufferable allies. Furthermore, its miscellany of worlds don’t hang together like the classics do in Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World and – perhaps most damning of all – this laid the groundwork for (shudder) the mobile game, Super Mario Run. If insipid bit-players and audio tics drove you up the wall a decade ago, we’re exceedingly doubtful this’ll win you over now.
Okay, so now we’ve shaken off the negativity (hey, we like Mario Run!), let’s peer with fresh eyes past the antiseptic façade and discover the tight 2D platformer beneath, filled with novel wonders, multiplayer mayhem and nods towards the series’ cherished history. With returning fan-favourite elements like the forking World Map and the Koopa Kids, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe does a fabulous job of gratifying long-time fans without alienating players for whom Ludwig and Iggy are simply randoms from the Mario Kart 8 roster.
We won’t waste your time going over the nuts and bolts again; our reviews for New Super Mario Bros. U and its add-on New Super Luigi U are still up and, Gamepad features notwithstanding, those appraisals generally hold true for this version – perhaps more so than with any previous Wii U hand-me-downs. Anything that gives a wider audience the opportunity to enjoy that console’s library is all right by us, but how does this launch title stand up after seven long years?
It’s worth remembering that New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe was Mario’s belated HD debut and seeing him in 1080p (or thereabouts) for the first time was something special. Seven years is an age in video games, though, and we have to say it’s looking a tad underwhelming by 2019 standards. Don’t get us wrong – it’s colourful and pristine, but also a little plastic-y, especially on a big TV. Handheld mode reduces the artificial sheen but if this were a fresh release, there’d be atmospheric haze, depth-of-field effects, a subtle weave on Mario’s dungarees and they’d stay wet for a while after taking a swim. Despite its retina-searing presentation, it’s missing the bells and whistles you might expect after playing, say, Super Mario Odyssey. Here, the Mushroom Kingdom often feels like a rainbow diorama with the atmosphere sucked out.
That said, its jumble of art styles and willingness to throw any interesting idea at the wall arguably prefigure the preposterous variety of Mario Odyssey, a game in which we’d swear every world had a different art director. That mélange was held together only through sheer mechanical quality, and the same experimentation can be glimpsed here, whether in the Impressionist backgrounds of Painted Swampland or the ingenious enemies that turn up for only a stage or two. Nothing lingers long enough to become boring and even the unfairly-maligned soundtrack is as catchy as anything in the Mario canon. Were it not for those obnoxious ‘wa’s capping every single musical phrase (we can only assume Ross from Friends broke into the recording studio), these would surely rank amongst the best tunes in the plumber’s enviable songbook.
So, where’s the ‘Deluxe’ stuff, then? As we mentioned, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe includes New Super Luigi U, originally available as DLC or on standalone disc (and eventually released on a bundle disc with bonus videos, exactly as presented here). Offering reimagined levels using the same assets, difficulty is further increased through Luigi’s flightier jumps and reduced traction, plus fewer seconds on the countdown timer. In many ways it’s the main game’s Lost Levels, remixing familiar elements for a more hardcore experience. Fortunately, the inclusion of Nabbit as a playable character relieves the stress of the ticking clock by adding extra time and a lot more besides; the purple rabbit is immune to all enemy attacks. Clearing a level with him turns the node purple rather than blue, so you can always go back to finish it ‘properly’, but he gives everyone a chance to enjoy the intricate level design and ideas in the add-on without tearing your hair out.
But we’ve already played that, you cry! What’s new?! Well, Nabbit is now a playable character in the base game, too (and solo players aren’t restricted to Mario anymore). Labelled ‘Very Easy’, he’s a great choice for younger or inexperienced players, especially given the absence of the original’s Boost Mode which allowed one person to help or hinder the other(s) by affecting the world through the Wii U GamePad’s touchscreen. The Switch’s touchscreen is used only for menu navigation, although gyro-controlled elements remain in certain levels.
Toadette is another fresh face, replacing the original’s Blue Toad. A halfway house between Nabbit and the regulars, she’s labelled ‘Easy’ and shares his improved grip on ice, extra seconds and easier swimming controls (simply push in the desired direction, as if wearing the penguin suit), but is otherwise as vulnerable as the others. She has another trick up her sleeve, though: New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe's most infamous addition, Peachette.
Yes, the character that spawned the ‘Bowsette’ meme-fest of Fall ’18, Peachette is an odd one inasmuch as she’s not really a character at all. The Super Crown power-up is exclusive to Toadette, and essentially turns her into ‘Peach’, with the princess’ characteristic floaty jump physics. We’ve thought about this long and hard (in truth, too long and hard) and remain perplexed at how Nintendo arrived at this inelegant solution to getting a playable Princess in the game despite Bowser having her under lock-and-key. It’s fine – we’re not going to get hung up on the lore implications of the Super Crown – it’s just a little strange when you’ve already got a couple of Peach clones waiting in the wings; why not use Daisy or Rosalina instead?
You needn’t worry about losing access to Peachette – the game is very generous with power-ups, especially in multiplayer, which is as joyously chaotic as ever. It’s perfect for Switch and the loss of Boost Mode really isn’t felt unless you played the Wii U version to death. You can still use your Mii in the Challenges (non-Story trials that reward you with Gold, Silver or Bronze medals) and struggling players can still use the Super Guide to watch the CPU negotiate tricky stages, taking control whenever they wish.
Beyond menu tweaks, a Hints section and the removal of Boost Mode-specific Challenges, that’s pretty much your lot; arguably, the most ‘deluxe’ thing on offer is sweet, sweet portability. Switch takes that thrill you felt when you first carried the Wii U GamePad into another room and carried on playing to its logical conclusion and we still get a buzz from the console’s main gimmick. However, a nagging issue became apparent in this version that we don’t recall from 2012. We’re not ashamed to admit that we went through a lot of 1-Ups while hunting coins and searching for secret exits, and with each death the game spits you out to the World Map. Assuming you wish to dive straight back in (as we did 99 percent of the time), you’re forced to view the transition screen as the level reloads. Now, loads are only a few seconds, but at the rate we were going through lives, the constant pauses became interminable. We don’t remember this as a significant problem before, but on Switch it stuck out like a sore thumb.
New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is an impressive package if you skipped the original, offering the best of modern-era 2D Mario, madcap multiplayer and glimpses of the outrageous invention that was to come in Super Mario Odyssey. Only the most fervent fans will find enough new content here to justify double-dipping, though, especially if you already played the Luigi expansion. The chance to replay a top-drawer Mario game on a handheld may be enough for some – goodness knows we’ve rebought Super Mario Bros. 3 enough times! – but this is the oldest of the Wii U games to have found new life on Switch and, gameplay aside, ageing visuals and the colossal irritation of being kicked back to the world map after every death stand out as things in need of attention. The bottom line is that Switch now has a very fine 2D Mario to its name; we just can’t help feeling disappointed that Nintendo didn’t push the boat out with a more thorough ‘Deluxe’ refurbishment. Having said that, this is still an excellent package that deserves a new lease of life on Switch, especially as there will be many owners of that console who didn't get to experience the Wii U original and its expansion.
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