Anyone who has played a New Super Mario Bros. game should know what to expect from this episode. That said, much like New Super Mario Bros. Wii added a crazy 4-player mode and the recent New Super Mario Bros. 2 on the 3DS had a big focus on collecting a ridiculous amount of coins, New Super Mario Bros. U also tries to distinguish itself from the others with a few changes. Most notably, it takes a lot of inspiration from Super Mario World on the SNES with a big world map full of handy shortcuts to be found. The game also adds a new power-up and three types of Baby Yoshis that essentially function as power-ups, themselves, to carry by the players. On top of that, it features full integration of the Wii U's unique Miiverse and additional modes, called Challenge Mode, Boost Mode and Boost Rush mode. Needless to say, this instalment adds more than all the others did combined.
Despite all the new additions, the story is still basically the same one we've come to expect from 2D Mario platformers. This time, though, Peach doesn't actually get kidnapped. Instead, Mario and his friends are simply thrown out of Peach's castle to the other end of the world and have to make their way back to the same castle, which is now occupied by Bowser and his minions.
The main adventure plays like previous 2D Mario games. Players run and jump through several levels and eventually arrive at a castle to face one of the Koopalings who each reveal the path to the next world after their defeat. While the level design isn't as crazy or innovative as levels from the Super Mario Galaxy games, it's still fantastic and has a lot of cool gameplay ideas, much more than New Super Mario Bros. Wii offered. Toad houses make a return with new mini-games to win power-ups in, but this time Mario and his friends are limited to carrying only up to 10 at a time. Compared to the previous entries in the New Super Mario Bros. series, the levels become significantly harder early in the game and consistently increase in difficulty all the way through. Even for Mario old-timers, this is still one very challenging game, especially if one decides to go after each and every hidden Star Coin. Three of them can be found in every level and getting them all increases the difficulty of the game even more. Fear not, though, as the Super Guide returns for players who aren't up to the challenge. After several deaths in the same level, a green block will appear and, upon usage, it automatically plays through the level with the player being able to take over at any given point. This is a great way to keep the game challenging without alienating part of the fanbase. It's completely optional, too, so veteran gamers have no reason to complain about its inclusion.
Fans of the classic NES-style Mario experience should rejoice, as the Wii Remote is still supported and works flawlessly for a game that only needs the D-pad, two buttons and a bit of motion control. The other control option that's offered is the GamePad, which also includes Off-TV Play. The need to shake the controller is still there for spin jumps and various other actions, and it feels much better with a Wii Remote. Thankfully, Nintendo provides an alternative for the GamePad and gives players the option to use any of the four shoulder buttons in place of shaking the controller.
No Mario game is complete without a set of power-ups and this adventure is no exception. Classics such as Super Mushrooms, Fire Flowers and Stars are all back again, with more recent ones like Ice Flowers and Mini Mushrooms also making an appearance. The new Super Acorn turns Mario and his friends into flying squirrels and takes the place of the Super Leaf and Propeller Mushroom. In this form, players can glide, as well as gain the ability to cling to walls and air jump once gliding. There also exists a special version of this power-up, called the P-Acorn that enables infinite air jumps instead of just one, making it easy to simply fly through various levels that allow it. This item can be obtained by chasing down Nabbit, a thief who steals items from Toad houses. The amount of obtainable P-Acorns is limited and considering their usefulness, it is wise to save them for emergencies. Catching Nabbit requires some skill as he keeps running away. Those used to doing speed runs will have a very easy time with him, while less skilled players might find it hard to keep up. The reward is very well worth the required effort, though, and it's a great addition to the game.
Yoshi, with his flutter jump and long tongue to gobble up enemies, makes a comeback, but he's not alone. Baby Yoshis in red, blue and yellow, first seen in Super Mario World, return, as well, and each comes with unique powers, though they all share the ability to eat enemies if they come into contact with them. Blue Baby Yoshis shoot bubbles to defeat enemies, red ones inflate like a balloon for vertical movement, and the yellow dinosaurs illuminate dark areas and stun foes. Since they're babies, they have to be carried through levels, and if the player gets hit they will try to run away - much like their adult counterpart. Yoshi and his small companions aren't available very frequently but they're a lot of fun to use when they are.
Much like New Super Mario Bros. Wii, up to three additional players can join up for a truly crazy and chaotic multiplayer experience. Players tend to hinder each other more than actually helping, so playing this game with friends is bound to cause plenty of screaming and raging. However, there are additional modes that are more suited to multiplayer madness than the main game. Boost mode lets a fifth player use the GamePad to place small platforms and interrupt enemies while up to four other people are playing with Wii Remotes. Again, this can be either helpful or completely counterproductive depending on the person in control. A well placed block can easily save someone's life but a misplaced one, intentional or not, can cause the complete opposite. Boost Rush mode takes place on an automatically scrolling level which increases in speed with every collected coin. With skill and teamwork, players can achieve some great speed runs in this mode. As a competitive experience, Coin Battle makes a return from New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but this time is the option to customise the stages by freely placing coins on the course. It's a far cry from a proper level editor but a decent addition nonetheless.
Veteran Mario fans should be pleased by the addition of a Challenge Mode. While fully completing the main game is already a very difficult task, this mode is intended for players who really want to test their limits. There are a variety of different challenges, such as performing speed runs, collecting or even avoiding coins, racking up 1-Ups by repeatedly jumping on enemies without touching the ground, or dodging fireballs for a set amount of time. Simply finishing the challenges unlocks harder tasks, while meeting certain goals earns Bronze, Silver or Gold medals. Perhaps the coolest feature about the Challenge Mode is that the game automatically saves replay data for each new record. Unfortunately, these replay videos can't be shared with others online unless they're recorded with a capture card and uploaded to a website like YouTube, but it's a great feature all the same. Ultimately, this mode has a lot of insanely hard challenges to complete and adds a lot of value to the game.
The Wii U's Miiverse is also a part of the overall experience, with players being prompted to leave letters to Bowser, which appear as posts on Miiverse after they've collected all three Star Coins in a level, took no damage, finished a level in a short amount of time or achieved various other conditions. These letters usually contain experiences with that particular level, funny drawings or even useful hints for other players to see in their game. Messages left by others will appear on the world map next to the levels and, while they're nothing major, they do give players the feeling that they're never playing alone. Of course, all of this is completely optional and can be easily turned off if a fully single-player experience is the preferred choice. Speaking of things outside of the Mario universe, the option to play as a Mii instead of Mario and his friends is also available.