If you had told me a year ago that Nintendo would soon be doing something incredibly modern (well, by Nintendo standards) like producing full-game DLC for one of their flagship Mario titles, I’d have laughed you out of the room. Yet here we are with the recent release of New Super Luigi U, which is essentially a comprehensive level pack for New Super Mario Bros. U that sees every single one of the game’s 82 stages replaced with shorter, denser courses designed specifically for Mario’s taller, skinnier, green-clad brother.
Luigi, of course, plays and controls quite differently from Mario, a trend that started way back in 1988 with the Western version of Super Mario Bros. 2. His jumps are quite a bit higher and floatier than his big bro’s, meaning he gets a lot more hang time in the air and, thus, more room for error when making particularly precarious jumps. These advantages, however, are offset by a generally slower movement speed and a penchant for slipping and sliding a lot when trying to come to a full stop or turn around. Overall, these characteristics make him a trickier plumber to control than Mario, as you’re forced to see and plan for hazards further ahead of time since stopping and/or changing course on a dime isn’t possible as Luigi.
That said, I’ve been playing and mastering 2D Mario titles for years, and it feels like Nintendo has emphasized Luigi’s unique movement characteristics more than ever before in New Super Luigi U. Here, Luigi’s enhanced jumps allow him to leap almost the entire height of the screen, and starting or stopping movement takes so agonizingly long - and Luigi slides so far when braking - that you’re really encouraged to decide on a course of action and commit to it, running a course as smoothly and quickly and with as little stopping as possible. Add to this the new 100-second time limit placed on each course (not counting boss fights, which grant you an extra 100 seconds when you reach them), and it’s clear that Nintendo designed New Super Luigi U to be a faster, more frenetic, almost speed run-oriented take on the more methodical, exploration-based New Super Mario Bros. U. In other words, where NSMBU was more about the journey, NSLU decidedly emphasizes the destination.
The 82 new courses in NSLU are generally fun, smartly designed, and incredibly replayable pretty much without exception, and none of them stood out to me as being offensive or a chore to play. By the same token, though, I didn’t find any of them to be particularly memorable either, and I think that’s due to just how much NSLU emphasizes fast, focused play in shorter, denser courses. Considering that all of the game’s courses are designed to be finished within 100 seconds or less and with three Star Coins in tow to boot (more on them in a bit), we're talking about some seriously brief stages here, and that means much of the NSLU gameplay experience can often feel like it’s over before it even begins. For example, when playing the game for the purposes of this review, I barreled through the eight main worlds in around four to five hours, collecting the vast majority of the Star Coins and finding more than half of the game’s hidden exits. Because NSLU is priced at $20 (digital) and $30 (retail) - half to less than half of NSMBU’s $60 retail price - I’d say this is fair, but it is worth mentioning. You can definitely expect to have fun for as long as NSLU lasts, but it’s not likely you’ll remember a lot of specific courses or moments from the game.
New Super Luigi U’s difficulty curve is incredibly strange in that, well, it doesn’t really seem to have been designed with one. Because of Luigi’s trickier mechanics and the game’s emphasis on quicker, more impulsive play under a rather strict time limit, you’d be forgiven for thinking of NSLU as an “expert mode” to NSMBU’s “normal mode” – and NSLU’s surprisingly difficult first two worlds certainly seem to point to that being the case. But once you hit the third world and beyond, the difficulty drops off almost immediately and becomes more sporadic, with tough courses seemingly placed at random among a greater number of average and astonishingly easy courses. Even the late-game courses jump sporadically between being easy, difficult or somewhere in-between, meaning that there really is no difficulty curve to speak of in NSLU. Overall, I’d say that while NSLU maintains a slightly higher average degree of difficulty than NSMBU throughout the game, NSMBU’s hardest courses will test your platforming skills quite a bit more than anything seen in NSLU. In the end, it’s best to think of NSLU as an alternative level pack for NSMBU, rather than a harder or easier one.
Just like NSMBU (and previous New Super Mario Bros. games before it), there are three Star Coins placed within each of NSLU’s courses. Sometimes these are floating right in plain sight and are easy to nab, but more often they’re secreted away in hidden areas or behind walls that look solid but aren't, or they’re out in the open but require deviously difficult platforming acrobatics to actually grab. You’ll want to collect as many of these as you can, though, as they’re the key to unlocking all the stages in the game’s final, hidden world upon completion of the main game.
The simultaneous 4-player co-op/competitive play introduced in New Super Mario Bros. Wii and refined in New Super Mario Bros. U is included here as well, and it more or less serves the same purpose as it always has: it can be a fun in a party setting when you and a few friends just want to screw around and have some laughs, but those who are serious about completing the game will want to ignore it entirely. While many of NSLU’s courses are fairly easy, some of them are quite the opposite, and trying to navigate them with Luigi, two Toads, and Nabbit running into and bouncing off of one another is nigh impossible.
Yes, Nabbit! It seems Nintendo is quite serious about this being Luigi’s show: Mario doesn't make a single appearance in the game, with the player 2 character role going to Nabbit, the thieving, purple rabbit-like enemy introduced in NSMBU. In a fun twist, he actually serves as this game’s "easy mode": though he cannot use power-ups, he is impervious to all enemies and enemy attacks (though he is of course still susceptible to pits, lava, poison swamps, and getting crushed, but that is to be expected). For those players needing a leg up in the main single player game, he is playable there as well by holding down the ZL button on the Wii U GamePad when entering a level.
(It's worth noting that New Super Mario Bros. U's Challenge Mode is not included in this game. New Super Luigi U only includes the basic Story Mode, which can be played either solo or with up to three other players.)
If the best thing about New Super Luigi U is that it provides 82 fresh courses for those who crave more of what New Super Mario Bros. U offered, the worst thing about it is how much of the experience isn’t actually new at all. To be clear, NSLU is strictly a comprehensive alternative level pack for NSMBU, and that’s pretty much where it ends. The new courses themselves, excellent as they are, are content to mostly reuse and recycle gimmicks, concepts, and enemies already seen in NSMBU in fresh, creative ways, and everything else in the game - the music, visuals, story (such as it is), cutscenes, world map, boss fights, etc. - is almost entirely unchanged from NSMBU. The world map remaining the same also means that hidden exits are found in the same courses they were before (albeit in different locations within the courses, since the courses themselves are different). Okay, so there’s a different logo on the otherwise-unchanged title screen, and Peach calls out Luigi’s name instead of Mario’s in cutscenes, but that’s pretty much it. The only real exception here is that, being a game in the all-important "Year of Luigi" lineup, you’ll occasionally see cute visual tributes to Luigi within some of the courses, such as ice sculptures, hedge clippings, and cloud formations of Mario’s little bro, and these are original visual assets unique to NSLU. Otherwise, though, this is strictly “New Super Mario Bros. U with new levels,” and I would have really liked to see Nintendo put a little more effort into the game’s presentation and differentiate it from NSMBU just a bit more. But considering the game’s cheaper price point, it’s not exactly surprising that they decided to go the minimal-effort route in this regard.
New Super Luigi U is a fun second romp through the world of New Super Mario Bros. U and a worthy purchase for those looking for more quality 2D Mario platforming action. Its emphasis on shorter courses and faster, more frenetic play means the experience is a lot briefer and less memorable than NSMBU’s, but the game’s reduced price point justifies this. The new levels are fun, smartly designed and quite replayable despite their brevity, and make full use of Luigi’s unique abilities and play style. The total lack of a logical difficulty curve is a bizarre design choice but not necessarily a negative one, and even though the fact that everything besides the courses remains unchanged from NSMBU screams of missed opportunities, it’s not a deal-breaker. I’d love to see Nintendo use this game as a springboard for other full-game DLC expansions down the road, as New Super Luigi U turns out to be a good first effort.
New Super Luigi U is available now for the Wii U console as both a standalone retail title in a swanky green box ($30) and a digital download from the Nintendo eShop ($20). The digital download version requires a copy of New Super Mario Bros. U (either retail or digital) in order to play.
• 82 completely new, fresh courses that are generally fun, well-designed, and incredibly replayable
• The courses are designed around Luigi's unique abilities and play style, and the new 100-second time limit for each course emphasizes a faster, more deliberate/speed-running style of play, lending the game a different feel than the more methodical, exploration-based New Super Mario Bros. U
• Responsive, nuanced controls with Wii U Pro Controller support included
• Courses range from incredibly easy to demandingly difficult, with Nabbit's invulnerability ensuring that players of all skill levels can enjoy the entire game
• Bright, colorful, clean graphics and catchy music
• Every course is very short in order to accommodate the 100-second time limit, making the experience feel significantly more rushed and less memorable than New Super Mario Bros. U
• Almost everything besides the stages themselves is completely unchanged from New Super Mario Bros. U, including the graphics, soundtrack, "story," cutscenes, world map, and boss fights
• New visual assets and gameplay elements are kept to a bare minimum; the new stages are content to recycle concepts, enemies, and gimmicks already seen in New Super Mario Bros. U, with very little in the way of completely original assets
• Veteran players looking for a true challenge may be disappointed to find that New Super Luigi U never becomes as demanding as New Super Mario Bros. U's toughest courses
Game On, powered by Examiner, is a select group of reliable and credible writers, giving you the latest gaming news, reviews, interviews and previews. Follow the team on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.