Though Nintendo has come under fire for producing unimaginative and repetitive 2D Mario games over the last few years, the most recent instalment in the sub-series gave the classic platforming series a new lease of life. Still, not everyone was pleased with NSMBU or its Deluxe version follow-up.
Clues to the criticism of the Nintendo Switch’s 2019 New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe can be found in its name. First of all, the game wasn’t ‘New’; the Deluxe edition was a port of a game that had been released on the Wii U several years prior in 2012. Even back then this tag was a misnomer: NSMBU was the fourth game released in the ‘New’ Super Mario Bros franchise, with the first instalment in the sub-series dating back to 2006.
So, that gets ‘New’ and ‘U’ out of the way, but what about that ‘Deluxe’? Well, the graphics have been updated from 720p to 1080p, meaning that its gorgeous backgrounds are clearer than ever. More significantly, Nabbit and Toadette – each with very unique control styles – are introduced as playable characters, bringing brand new platforming possibilities into the mix.
If none of these tweaks were enough to get people who had played the original Wii U version to check out the Deluxe edition, 2019’s re-release came bundled with 2013’s New Super Luigi U, originally an expansion pack to NSMBU. This play mode included remixed versions of the main game’s courses, imposing a strict time limit and changing the game’s dynamics from pure platforming to a series of compelling time challenges. By bundling this full-length expansion into the Deluxe package, Nintendo ensured that anyone who had not played the Wii U games would be treated to a wealth of new content.
While the Wii U’s NSMBU was generally positively received by critics, the game’s naysayers found faults with its similarities to the rest of the New Super Mario Bros franchise. But the game – the latest in the series – perfected the formula found in those previous titles, introducing unique challenges and memorable levels that had been largely absent from its predecessors. From featuring stages with Van Gogh-inspired backdrops, exciting gimmicks (outswimming sea creatures and taking rafts across lakes of lava) and unique concepts (a haunted flooded shipwreck), every level in the game is unique – keeping gameplay fresh while never straying from its core mechanics.
But even with the most imaginative 2D Mario levels since the SNES era, the biggest appeal of NSMBU and its Deluxe edition to hardcore Mario fans was increased difficulty level.
Though the game issues 1-Ups so generously that experienced players would be hard-pressed to encounter a Game Over screen, even the most seasoned platformer will find a solid challenge in the later stages of the main game – a welcome change from the overly simple previous entries in the series. Just reaching the flagpole in some of the levels is tough enough, but add to that the challenge of finding three well-hidden Star Coins in every stage (and a hidden exit per world) to unlock the extremely hard Star Road bonus levels, NSMBU boasts a difficulty curve the makers of Donkey Kong Country Returns would be proud of.
For those who still find the main game and New Super Luigi U a breeze, the additional Challenge Mode tasks players to perform pixel-perfect platforming in order to reach a goal in a short amount of time, complete a level without touching the floor, or avoid collecting any coins. It is in these stages where the game truly shines, as the developers take the quintessential Mario platforming mechanics to craft challenges that would make fans of Celeste scratch their heads.
Despite the ramped-up difficulty, a sheer joy of discovery permeates New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe. There are few more satisfying feelings than finding that elusive third Star Coin after familiarising yourself with every pixel on a map, or locating a secret exit and unlocking a brand-new level to experience.
Breathing new life into a once-stale franchise, NSMBU was already jam-absolutely packed with things to do, but the Switch’s Deluxe version proves the definitive edition. While those who have already played through the first three New Super Mario Bros games might not find much here to excite them, this is doubtlessly the best of the bunch. By finding new ways to keep the player coming back many times after the credits roll, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is reminiscent of its big brother 3D adventure Super Mario Odyssey in an important way: half the fun begins after your final fight with Bowser.
Proving the enduring relevance of the 35-year-old platforming icon, New Super Mario Bros U Deluxe is not only one of the best games on the Switch but shines amongst the brightest stars in Mario’s impressive games catalogue. Given the popularity of the fully-customizable Super Mario Maker series, which gives complete control of level design over to the player, it seems unlikely we will get another *new* New Super Mario Bros game in the near future. But if NSMB does prove to be the swan song of that sub-series, it’s safe to say it went out with a bang, securing the legacy of 2D Mario.