A couple of months ago I wrote an article called “What has happened to 2D Mario games? (And how to “fix” them!)”, calling on Nintendo to return the sidescrolling plumber to his magical roots with one simple change; not by copying that which made older titles great, but simply by increasing the difficulty, thereby forcing you to spend more time with the game and form stronger memories of individual levels. Sounds pretty simple, right?
Well, despite my high hopes for the game, it appeared as though New Super Mario Bros. U was still the same old New Super Mario Bros. (the irony of which is not lost). Which isn’t to say it’s bad– after all, Nintendo always nails the technicalities of platforming to perfection– but simply that it’s still not as memorable as entries like World and 3. Going into the game, this is what I was expecting, and I was more than fine to play through another good-not-great Mario title with solid platforming and a few standout moments. Instead of just going through it willy-nilly though, I decided to take the approach that I would complete the game as I went, which is to say that I would gather all three “Star” coins in every level of a world before moving onto the next.
The consequence of this is that the game is no longer good– it’s great! If you read not past this point and you’re a seasoned Mario player, please consider following in my footsteps and playing to completion. You will likely enjoy it a whole lot more. If you want to hear more of why this works, read on!
I did a similar “experiment” to this one with the Wii’s entry into the New Super Mario Bros. series, but instead of playing to completion like I am here, I decided to play it NES-style, with no saving, front-to-back in one sitting. It definitely increased my overall enjoyment of the game (compared to folks I talked to who just went through it normally), but I didn’t go from thinking it was good to thinking it was incredible. This Star-Coin-gathering business has really done just that.
The reasons for this are plentiful, but the bottom line is that it does exactly what I had hoped for in my article of a few months ago: It makes you spend a lot more time in each level. Perhaps the largest problem with the last three 2D Mario titles prior to this one was that they made it very easy to just go on “platforming-autopilot”. After all, many of us are skilled players of the genre, so once we remember the weight of Mario and the usefulness of the spin move, you can just hop along avoiding enemies until you get to the end of a level, slide down the flag pole, and move on. There are some exceptions, but by and large this is what happens.
It’s like driving or taking the bus or train or rocket ship. On a long road/space trip, you often just stop thinking about where you are altogether– you’re just sort of moving along without thinking– so the wonderful places you may pass through don’t really get stored in your memory. Imagine if– on this same roadtrip, let’s say to the mystical land of Canada– you were tasked with finding every grizzly bear hidden along the road by the GBMA (grizzly bear magicians association). What would you do? You’d slow down, pay attention to where you where, and look off the beaten path. As a result, you’d spend more time in places, pay more attention to places, and remember places better. It’s science! Sort of!
And the same applies to New Super Mario Bros. U: If you pay attention more, you’ll remember more, and you’ll like it more.
This perhaps refutes my initial point that simply spending more time in a level would make you enjoy it more, and it would explain why I’m enjoying my NSMBU experiment more than my NSMBWii experiment. For the Wii one, I simply played the levels more because I was starting the game over every time I wanted to play. What I wasn’t doing was turning off the auto pilot and actually paying attention to the levels.
The coolest thing about paying attention to New Super Mario Bros. U was that I learned that this game is absolutely filled to the brim with secret areas. Going through levels– especially those beyond world 1– brings so much more joy and excitement when you’re constantly finding things that you would have absentmindedly passed over had you not been slowing down and looking for Star coins. In one of the castles (I think it’s the first castle in world 2) there were more than three secret areas, notwithstanding simple pipes you can go down. In another level, the secrets were so well hidden that it took me four or five plays to actually uncover all of them. This amounts to about twenty minutes spent with just one level, so not only are you making the game more memorable, not only are you having more fun, but you’re also extending the amount of time you get to spend with the game! Talk about a win win win situation!
My favorite instance of finding a secret was in one of the levels in World 2, the “Layer Cake Desert”. I won’t go into too much detail to avoid spoilers, but I was searching for a really tough Star coin and accidentally stumbled upon a new area. “Great!”, I thought, “I can finally get passed this level and see the next one!” Of course, my assumption was that the new area held the final Star coin I was looking for.
Not the case. Instead of a Star coin, the new area actually gave me a secret exit leading to a bonus level with three MORE Star coins to find. So not only did I have to keep looking for the third Star coin in the level prior, I had more work to do in the Layer Cake Desert! It was yet another win-win situation! So I wrapped up the level with the secret exit, beat the castle (and got the three Star coins, of course) moved onto the newly unlocked secret level, and proceeded to (after several deaths of course) gather the three coins there. After I did, I heard a wonderful chime and a little dialogue box popped up, congratulating me on collecting all of the Star coins in the Layer Cake Desert.
“Hooray!” I thought, “That’s awesome!”
But wait a second. I hadn’t gotten that chime in the Acorn Plains. I swear I had all of the Star coins there…
So I pulled up the chart of Star coins and saw that, indeed, I had collected every one of them in all of the levels I played, yet still didn’t have the badge saying I completed the world. What does that mean?
To my extreme excitement, it means there must be a hidden level in the Acorn Plains as well! Back to the first world I went.
The only complaint– and it’s a minor one– I have about playing the game this way is that I have an absolutely grotesque amount of lives. Sure, you die a lot more when looking for all of the Star coins, but all of that exploring means you also find a lot more hidden 1-ups and gather a lot more coins. I knew I wasn’t going to get a game over anyway, but the fact that I have 62 lives at the end of the second world (assuming I don’t lose all of them searching for that hidden level in the Acorn Plains) is something of an absurdity.
Still, this is definitely the premier way to play NSMBU if you’re a seasoned Mario player, since it will bring you great happiness and possibly make you rich and famous. At least after the apocalypse happens and we have to switch over to Star coins as the official world currency.