Can Luigi fill his brother’s shoes in his absence?
Mario regularly gets slandered for sticking very closely to his roots, an odd predicament, considering how regularly we are let down when a franchise deviates too far from the course. But in an unusual twist Nintendo decided to let Luigi take the lead this year following their ‘Year of Luigi’ plan announced in an earlier Nintendo Direct. So how does New Super Luigi U match up to his brother’s original release?
First off, there’s little to no difference to the story, which shouldn’t really come as a surprise since the 2D side-scrolling Mario games have rarely depended on the story. The only difference between New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U as far as the story goes is that Mario’s hat can be seen at his seat around the table at the beginning and Luigi will take his place. There’s a number of differences with the gameplay though.
One of the most obvious differences right out of the gate was the timer now starts at 100 seconds, meaning you will instantly get the ‘time running low’ sound at the beginning of every level and there are no checkpoints to save you either. This puts the pressure on and inclines you to keep a high pace throughout each stage which in turn increases the margin for error on your end. It’s a welcome change since I generally enjoy sprinting through each level as fast as possible in Mario games, however due to it being a part of the expansions design this leaves us with some rather short stages throughout, with a considerable portion of the levels being easily completed in around 30 seconds. This of course means that the lifespan of Luigi’s outing is noticeably shorter than his brothers, weighing in at around half the amount of play time for 100% completion for me. Though considering the expansion is being sold at just under half the price of the main game it’s hard to argue that it’s not worth its price.
Initially I was greeted by a slightly harder opening level in World 1-1 than I was in New Super Mario Bros. U which was good to see. Despite having thoroughly enjoyed the latest Mario Bros. title I did feel that the earlier levels were a tad too easy, and could be blasted through in very little time even collecting all Star Coins on the first run. Although New Super Luigi U may start with a slightly higher difficulty level it never actually rises quite as much either, leaving me hoping for some extremely awkward sections toward the later stages which never really came. The difficulty does of course increase over time but never to the extent that some fans may have hoped for.
This means the expansion does lend itself well to the casual gamers who haven’t had as much time with the plumbers in the past though. Not only does the slightly evened out difficulty spikes make it easier on the players who are prone to lose all five lives easily, but the addition of the Nabbit as a playable character really invites just about everyone to at least give it a try. Nabbit is invulnerable to almost anything short of being squished, eaten or falling in a death pit. This is an ideal starting ground for any players who feel put off by the frequent deaths that are sometimes heavily tied to the games as they can avoid feeling like a hindrance to the experienced players whilst providing a lot more assistance, particularly with the collection of Star Coins. There is a drawback to this however. The Nabbit is inviting to even the skilled players as it’s a stress free option in comparison to other characters and in the hands of a skilled player the Nabbit completely destroys all challenge in the expansion.
Another vital difference is the change in physics. Whereas Mario always felt agile enough Luigi now has his own set of physics with it’s own benefits and disadvantages. Not only can Luigi jump higher (I’m chalking that up to his height) but he also has a very buoyant feel when in the air as he kicks his legs frantically to keep his altitude, perhaps comparable to the physics the mini mushrooms bring with them but dialed down to 25 percent. The other main difference is not as immediately noticeable until you start randomly sliding off of ledges accidentally. Luigi doesn’t stop as fast as his brother does so snap reactions now require more skill and occasionally a little hop to cut his speed more rapidly. These new physics may not appear too different at first, but eventually after unlocking the ability to play through the same levels with Mario’s physics the contrast becomes rather apparent. Switching back to Mario’s physics left me feeling like someone had tied bricks to my shoes while I wasn’t looking, I would even argue that Luigi’s physics are an upgrade after spending some time with both games.
The promise of over 80 new levels doesn’t go unfulfilled, but bear in mind you will essentially still be visiting the same locations throughout the expansion but with an entirely different stage to play through each time. The backdrops will stay the same and the only new objects you will see are some 8-bit Luigi’s scattered around the levels. The locations which stuck out most to me from the main game were often the hidden levels which had more of a specific theme than most levels and in New Super Luigi U the levels actually follow a very similar theme. This could be seen as good or bad depending on which way you look at it but personally I enjoyed seeing levels return with a new twist. For instance the dreaded secret level which involves floating around the sky on red shells will be coming back to haunt you again, but it might not be so much trouble this time. Whilst the levels do feel inherently similar as is to be expected to an extent, they feel equally fresh to play and you will find yourself remembering the same castle for the different ways it killed you in its new design.
One thing that Luigi doesn’t deliver however is the additional game modes such as the Challenge Mode which I personally managed to sink a decent amount of time into. His brother does deliver a large enough amount of content in additional game modes to keep you busy, but it’s very easy to notice when switching over to New Super Luigi U that the three additional game modes at the bottom of the screen disappear. It may only be an expansion upon the main game, but the omission of the extra game modes does make it feel like a half measure compared to New Super Mario Bros. U, which usually I wouldn’t consider a factor as an expansion. However since the expansion will also be sitting on store shelves alongside the main title next month as a standalone it leaves Luigi in the awkward position of being the lesser package of the two regardless of the lower price.
In short, if someone were to ask me which game should they pick up when choosing between New Super Mario Bros. U and New Super Luigi U I would have to point them to the former, then suggest the latter as a good future purchase if you wanted a bit more to tie you over. Of course, you must have played New Super Mario Bros. U on the system you wish to download and play New Super Luigi U on.
Low Score: 6.5 / 10
- The quantity of levels with an extremely short play time means the main portion of the game can be completed in only a few hours, the lack of any additional modes leaves you little to do after getting 100% completion and the Nabbit is the easiest mechanic to abuse in the game. It may not be for everyone, but if you're a big fan of Mario then the expansion is worth checking out.
High Score: 8.5 / 10
- The new physics bring a genuinely fresh feel to the controls and provide level design opportunities that Mario couldn't have traversed as easily, completion-ists will find at least double the playtime and the Nabbit gives casuals a great option to participate without half the worry of dying. It's a good expansion that will give Mario fans an extra something to do while they await this holiday's releases.