Developer: Nintendo EAD Group 4 / Publisher: Nintendo / Played on: Wii U / Price: $19.99 (DLC), $29.99 (Retail) / ESRB: Everyone [Comic Mischief]
When it comes to New Super Luigi U, you’re probably expecting “more of the same.” Well, it is a Mario-style platformer for sure, but Luigi’s mechanics and level design are different enough to give the game its own flavor, making it more profound than a simple level pack for New Super Mario Bros. U.
It’s also hard. Like, really goddamn super hard… but more on that later.
First, the story, which as we all know is paramount in a Mario game. Luigi U opens identically to New Super Mario Bros. U only with Mario inexplicably absent. Now princess-rescuing duty falls to the taller, greener, slimmer brother. I would’ve liked Mario to be kidnapped instead for a slight twist on the formula, but I won’t dig too hard on the story as it’s a frivolous part of the Mario experience.
Luigi inherits his mechanics from Super Mario Bros. 2 on the NES, so his jumps tend to float and are higher, and he takes much, much longer to accelerate and decelerate on the ground. When those mechanical tweaks are combined with expert level design, you get a different and unruly platforming experience.
Here’s an example: In an early castle, there are a series of platforms at varying lengths with lava in between. If you were Mario, you could do a series of planned jumps on every platform. As Luigi, that’s not an option. If you try to stop on a platform, you’ll just skid right off the edge, and even if you manage to stop, you don’t have enough room to accelerate back up to make the next jump. You have to do all the jumps in a flowing sequence, which not only raises the minimum skill cap of the levels, but also forces you to embrace a more momentum-based playstyle.
While most of the game does feel tuned to Luigi’s traits, there are a few sections that feel like direct copies of Bros. U, particularly several of the run-ups to level-end flagpoles. Occasionally I overshot jumps that felt like it was intended for Mario’s jump distance. You could say that’s just part of the difficulty, and to an extent it is – letting go of jump to cut Luigi’s altitude and control his landing is an important skill. There’s a subtle distinction between elegant difficulty and clumsy implementation though, and Luigi U occasionally strays on the awkward side of it.
Those awkward moments are rare though; most of the levels in New Super Luigi U are some of the trickiest and devilish I’ve played in a Mario game. Not only are some of them tough to clear in general, but nabbing all three big coins in any given level requires mastery of Luigi’s unique jump arcs. His extended path in the air allows you to do wall kicks that cross the entire screen and/or thread through waves of enemies.
One level involves a bunch of spiked pistons that rise up and retract quickly, giving you just over a second to move to a safe spot. Just navigating the stage itself is challenging enough, but large coins hover in spots that add fractions of a second to your travel and are just the temptation that lead to multiple deaths. Of course, every time you die you’re convinced that you got it this time. Minutes turn into hours, all trying to clear one level with all the big coins because it’s a fair and fun challenge; a mark most games miss.
Perhaps to rub it in a little more, there’s another roster addition (replacing Mario when other players join in) that appears to be an “easy mode” character for less experienced players… but he totally isn’t. Nabbit, the item thief from the original Bros. U is now playable and immune to any kind of enemy. He can stand inside piranha plants and pass through fireballs unscathed –only pits and lava will knock him down a life. However, he slides even more than Luigi, meaning that while danger from enemies is negated, platforming is actually more difficult. Rather than give newbies a pass, Nabbit allows players to shift the challenge. Do you want to focus on dodging enemies or navigate an unwieldy rabbit with a nasty habit of skidding right off of platforms?
Through it all, Luigi U retains the multiplayer secret sauce of New Super Mario Bros. However, annihilating your friends with a poorly-timed shell isn’t the biggest threat anymore. Now every level has a 100-second time limit, which alone isn’t that big of a deal, but corralling multiple players on said timer gets exponentially more difficult as more players join.
So is Luigi U “more of the same”? Well, it is and it isn’t. Yes, you play a cartoony plumber in overalls and conclude every level by sliding down a flagpole, but the level design mixes with Luigi’s unique platforming mechanics to create a new experience. Luigi U is absolutely worth playing if you enjoyed the original Mario U… or any Mario for that matter.
(Luigi U is currently available as downloadable content on the Wii U eShop, but will be releasing as a retail version in August.)
+ Subtle but meaningful shift in mechanics
+ Enjoyable difficulty
+ Nabbit doesn’t trivialize levels
8.5 / 10