There's something quite special about the taller of the Mario brothers. He's quirky, effortlessly charming and wears green, it could only be Luigi.
As part of the 2013 Year of Luigi celebrations, the House of Mario put together a DLC expansion pack to New Super Mario Bros. U, an 80 level challenge for seasoned Mario professionals who crave more platforming bliss. It's also to be available as a standalone limited edition disc at retail.
Can Luigi rise up to the challenge; is this DLC pack worth splashing the cash for?
Known as New Super Luigi U, the collection shares the same overworld as the original but introduces new level designs and a strict 100 second time limit. It's a lot faster and demands expert precision and patience from the outset, but can these additional levels bring something new to the already comprehensive New Super Mario Bros. experience?
The short answer is yes. Because Luigi has been granted his unique abilities, higher/longer jump plus slippery feet, levels have been restructured with this in mind. From the very first steps in Acorn Plains, the pace and level designs are immediately more demanding. Platforms are better positioned for his longer/flutter jump, with the odd bottomless pit to catch players out when Luigi skids. You're still venturing from left to right, leaping over piranha plants, collecting coins and pouncing onto waddling Goomba, but everything has been compressed into smaller and far more frantic environments. New Super Luigi U is the speedrunner's heaven.
The interesting aspect to the design is that it doesn't quite feel like a simple set of additional levels, or even a straightforward remix, but a true collection with Luigi in mind. It's difficult to master the tweaks in the way this Luigi moves, but the DLC offers a remarkable difference in a series that has been on the brink of growing stale. Because the 2D Mario physics haven't changed in years, it's made even jumping on a cheeky Koopa Troopa something that needs adjusting; lightly pulling back after a long-jump or a shallower button press compared to typical Mario control.
The later stages border on "rage" games, inducing those moments of pure frustration with what, from a quick glance, looks fairly straightforward, but through clever design maximises the challenge. Players will slide even further in the icy Frosted Glacier, have to leap with confidence over the increased number of ghosts in the Haunted Forest and have to be quick on their toes when facing off Bowser's lava stained castles.
Without mid-level checkpoints, boss levels also up the ante, making power-up blocks even that bit more valuable. The bosses themselves are practically the same though, formulaic avoid and pounce as they were in the original, a shame given the opportunity to give these end-of-world sequences a gameplay facelift.
The secret Star Coins have also been shuffled about to reflect the harder gameplay, less discreet but placed in often awkward locations, above hordes of flesh hungry minions, scorching lava or an endless pit. It's likely that most will be picked up on the second time round, extending the replay value somewhat because of the need for spot on timing, a little luck or an assist/GamePad player to spawn helper blocks. There are also hidden Luigi sprites throughout the levels to uncover, just for pure satisfaction in completing and unravelling all the game's secrets.
Though there are new mechanics and level designs, there perhaps has been a lack of improvements to the game's presentation overall. The overworld map in particular could have been altered slightly, perhaps shuffling the order of worlds and redrawing paths. The same could be said about the loose storyline. We're not expecting hours of laborious cut-scenes, because that's not what Mario's about, but a tweak in setting and some of the games many sprites could have taken the DLC that one step further. Likewise the music is essentially the same bright and bubbly Mushroom Kingdom fare and still sticking closely to the decades old themes.
There's no Boost Rush mode in this release, but New Super Luigi U supports up to five players with the absence of poor Mario. The plumber in red is replaced by the kleptomaniac Nabbit, a thieving rabbit who caused chaos in New Super Mario Bros. U and this expansion. Nabbit is invulnerable to enemies, can't use power-ups, but is still susceptible to being crushed or cooked in lava. Rabbit stew? Delicious. The move to an almost invincible playable Nabbit is useful for newer players, allowing for a relatively easier path through the game, but doesn't give an alternative option for those who wish to play as a standard character. An extra Toad or Princess Peach could have been a useful addition to the playable roster, with Nabbit as an optional extra.
Nabbit can, by way of a secret Easter-egg, be unlocked in the single player mode as well - by simply holding down the "B" button when entering a level, just to ease up on the difficulty by a notch.
Multiplayer is even more frantic and exciting than the original, especially with four players trying to survive obstacles clearly designed to be run with the solo platform jumper in mind. Toads are left behind; Nabbit uses his abilities to scuttle through danger and Luigi roams far in front.
A refreshing take on the New Super Mario Bros. setup, this expansion uses the same core mechanics and series staples, but tweaks player movement and level designs for a far faster paced and challenging experience. New Super Luigi U is difficult perhaps for the newcomer, but a worthy set of new levels for the series enthusiast.
Visually, New Super Luigi U stays true to the New franchise. It uses most of the sprites from the original New Super Mario Bros. U release, shuffling elements about and refining the design in the DLC expansion. However with the same overall style, visual look and presentation, there were some missed opportunities.
Essentially unchanged, the same cheerful melodies and typical Super Mario Bros. compositions. Upbeat backing tracks fit the theme well, but perhaps could have done with a bit more re-arranging and some newer songs for this DLC release.
Despite just being a set of brand new levels, the difficulty and secrets will certainly provide a new, equally lengthy experience. Multiplayer is still as exciting and amusing as ever, and the challenge is certainly there even for the Mario veteran.
New Super Luigi U is just Nintendo all over - a quality package that has had some thought, care and offers solid value for the asking price. It may sound like just additional levels at a glance, but the new mechanics coupled with tough, yet rewarding, designs create a must-download package for fans.