Have you ever gotten a wooden puzzle box—with smooth edges and perfectly fitting notches and slots—and tried to, nudge-by-nudge and tug-by-pull, figure out how to best it? You work deliberately to determine how to move things just right so that the intricately crafted contraption will eventually reveal its secrets.
Well, in a way that’s how I see New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. Sure, it’s colorful. It’s a Mamma Mia-load of timed leaps and Koopa Troopas and man-eating flower bops. But to make it all the way to the end, you have to figure out each level’s puzzle-box workings and get your flying-finger muscle memory to fit the right rhythms and button punches.
This latest release is actually a port—to the Nintendo Switch—of the Super Mario Bros. game that originally hit the Wii U in 2012. (That said, this version also offers the DLC New Super Luigi U in its mix, a small collection of tough new challenges.)
But that doesn’t mean that the game feels old in the least. It’s beautiful and fun, brimming with imagination. I mean, let’s face it: All of these Nintendo platform hoppers tend to include many of the same elements and tropes from years’ past anyway—stretching all the way back to their classic NES days. And NSMBUD is no different.
The game’s story begins exactly where you’d expect: The dastardly dino-turtle Bowser and his minions have kidnapped the pretty-in-pink Princess Peach (again) and sent Mario and his pals off to a distant land. So Mario and Co. will have to work their way back to rescue her. And, of course, they’ll have to defeat Koopalings and topple castles along the way.
The game starts off in the easy Acorn Plains, which gives you the sense that victory will soon be yours. And then it sends you through level after level of more and more challenging locales. You’ll traverse a slippery ice world and brave quicksand-filled desert sands Then come the fiery dungeons, easy-to-fall-from elevations, dark-and-misty haunted palaces, and bubble- and bomb-riddled plains.
You know, all the usual stuff.
Along with being able to play as the usual lineup of Marios and Luigis, the big addition this go ’round is the ability to face the game’s challenges as a character named Toadette. This little mushroom gal’s special skills essentially offer the equivalent of an easy mode. She may look unassuming and tiny, but she doesn’t slip and slide in certain areas like the others. And bashed mystery blocks can give her multiple lives instead of just one.
On top of other swim-faster, jump-better pluses, Toadette can also grab a Super Crown—a special new power-up that lets her transform into none other than Princess Peach herself. As you’d expect from that elegantly gowned royal, she can float slowly down to the ground after a jump, offering much more maneuverability around normally dangerous hazards. And if she does happen to slip into the wrong chasm or flaming pit, she can fill her skirts with a saving gust of wind that boosts her to a more solid ledge.
Now, you may balk at employing Toadette’s easy-mode help (while playing alone or with up to four others), and that’s just dandy. But hey, even seasoned Mario Bros. players will feel this rebooted title’s challenge in some of the later levels. And that’s often the biggest negative for younger gamers just joining the Mario throng.
Toadette can be a welcome addition for those, young and old, who find the increasingly difficult “puzzle box” learning curve to be, well, a little tough to tug-and-pull at. So I say, welcome aboard T.
Now, “Let’s-a go!”
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.