This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Nintendo's Wii U launch title New Super Mario Bros. U, which reviewers describe as "the first Mario game in 20 years that actively builds on its past." New Super Mario Bros. U currently earns a score of 82 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
Game Informer's Bryan Vore rates New Super Mario Bros. U at 9.25 out of 10, calling it "the best New Super Mario Bros. game yet."
"After playing through New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS a few months ago, I was concerned that the 'New' series had run its course," he admits. "The levels didn't feel as fresh and the coin collection gimmick didn't make much of an impact. I feared this dip in quality signaled stormy skies for New Super Mario Bros. U on Nintendo's next home console, but I couldn't have been more wrong."
The game features a variety of new and surprising elements. "New enemies and themes are constantly popping up, and each only appears once or twice," Vore says. "Boss battles are all familiar faces from the Koopaling crew, but their new powers allow for fresh and clever battles. A special clash at the halfway point stands out from the rest, and the thrilling final boss is one of the best in the entire Mario series."
"The new twist this time around adds in a fifth player for boost mode," Vore continues. "This person watches everything play out on the GamePad screen and can tap to add platforms, stun enemies, and destroy projectiles. It strikes a great balance of luring in players who aren't confident in their platforming skills while still giving them a satisfying job to do. After some practice, a skilled boost player can rescue the bros from certain doom and help them get hidden star coins."
Polygon's Philip Kollar scores New Super Mario Bros. U at 8.5 out of 10. "For as much flak as Nintendo catches for relying too heavily on nostalgia, New Super Mario Bros. U is the first Mario game in 20 years that actively builds on its past," he writes.
Kollar notes that the game's level design is top-notch. "By the third or fourth world, I stumbled across my first hidden exit, and New Super Mario Bros U's depth was revealed," he recalls. "Levels that appear to be straightforward, left-to-right scrolling stages -- even those early ones -- have branches that lead to rooms full of coins, bonus power-ups or even whole extra levels. And they're hidden in devious ways, including fake walls that turn transparent when Mario runs behind them."
"Almost every level has its own unique gimmick, the majority of which never repeat once through the game's dozens of stages," Kollar continues. "Nintendo tosses out these imaginative ideas often, with a speed more in line with the brilliance of Super Mario Galaxy than the stodgy, traditional level design of previous New Super Mario Bros. games."
Co-op play falls short, however. "New Super Mario Bros. U's couch co-op supports up to four players, but everyone has to use Wiimotes," Kollar explains. "An additional player can use the GamePad, but only to place blocks on the screen for other players to jump on (or to get in their way) -- GamePad players can't control a character directly. It's a strange limitation and -- on top of levels that are already hard enough without three friends taking up screen space -- one more reason that I preferred single-player."
"Until now, the New Super Mario Bros. games have been a fun but mostly mindless reminder of how great Mario was back on the NES or SNES," Kollar says. "New Super Mario Bros. U actually feels like it's from that era. It's where the series would have gone next if the transition to 3D had never happened, and it feels great to be back on that track."
Brad Shoemaker at Giant Bomb gives New Super Mario Bros. U3 out of 5 stars. "To put it bluntly, your interest in NSMBU will hinge on how much of the previous three games you played, and how recently you played them," he notes.
"There are eight worlds here, among them a green world, an ocean world, an ice world, and a desert world (and yes, the desert world is the second one)," Shoemaker continues. "The same weird save-game quirks are still in here that keep you from making a hard save until you beat a boss. If you've played any of the other New Super Mario games (or heck, any 2D Mario ever, really), you'll be intimately familiar with the basics of this game before you even dig into it."
The timing of the release hurts it in the long run, Shoemaker argues. "Aside from playing it too safe, Nintendo's gravest miscalculation with this game is releasing it a mere three months after New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS," he explains. "That will only matter if you're the sort of person who keeps up with all of Nintendo's first-party games when they're new, but if you are that sort of person (as I am), NSMBU is just going to feel like too much, too soon."
The Wii U tablet presents a great alternative to TV play, however. "It's worth noting that buying NSMBU will currently also net you a pretty darn good handheld game, since you get the exact same thing on the gamepad's controller screen that you see on your TV," Shoemaker writes. "The seamlessness with which you can transition between big and small screens, without fiddling with syncing another device or downloading some companion app or whatever -- just hit pause and go in the other room and you're done -- is still mighty impressive."
"Everything about New Super Mario Bros. U is pretty exciting, except the game itself," Shoemaker concludes. "The game is perfectly well made for what it is, and I had plenty of fun playing it in short bursts here and there, but at this point the series' by-the-numbers design philosophy is starting to lend the name "New Super Mario Bros." a degree of unintentional irony."