2017’s Super Mario Odyssey was a delightful experience, one that stretched the limits of what a Super Mario game actually is. It was downright strange, with a tone and gameplay that constantly shifted, so you never knew quite what to expect. That’s great and all, but it doesn’t always scratch that very particular Mario platforming itch. Thankfully, Nintendo hasn’t completely abandoned classic 2D Super Mario games. In fact, today one of the best games in the series is making its way to the Switch.
New Super Mario Bros. U is the latest in a growing list of Wii U games getting a second life on the Switch, following the likes of Captain Toad and Mario Kart 8. The Wii U may have been a commercial disaster, but it was full of great games that not enough people played. New Super Mario Bros. U is one of them, even if it’s not as fondly remembered as some of its contemporaries. It has a terrible name, for one thing, and it’s part of a sub-series that hasn’t been especially exciting over the years. The New Super Mario Bros. games were designed to evoke the series’ 2D classics, but with flat level design and a sterile, pseudo-3D art style, they rarely reached the creative heights of the franchise’s 8- and 16-bit heyday.
From a design perspective, New Super Mario Bros. U is far better than any of its predecessors. Much like Odyssey, it’s constantly surprising you, only it does so within the familiar and comfortable framework of a side-scrolling platforming game. It happens right from the very beginning, when you get a new power-up that turns Mario into an adorable flying squirrel, and things only get more interesting from there. New Super Mario Bros. U feels closely aligned with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Some of that is thematic — there are airships, haunted houses, and lots of Yoshi — but it’s also conceptual.
The game is strange and chaotic, with no two levels that feel the same. Platforms dance around playfully while you try to navigate them, and there are levels that play with light and natural elements, like ice, in clever ways. What’s great about the game is that this feeling of being bombarded with new ideas continues throughout. Some of the series’ best, most creative level design is on display in New Super Mario Bros. U; it’s not Super Mario World, but it isn’t that far off, either. It even turns the previously drab art style into something vibrant, including one fantastic world that shows what would happen if Shigeru Miyamoto reimagined A Starry Night.
On the Switch, the game has been dubbed New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe, a mouthful of a name that’s also pretty accurate. It includes the original game along with its Luigi-themed expansion, which means there are more than 160 levels to play through. There are also two new characters, Toadette and Nabbit, that make the game much easier for when you get stuck. (If there’s one major complaint with New Super Mario Bros. U, it’s that some of the levels are really hard.)
Like many Switch releases before it, New Super Mario Bros. U benefits tremendously from moving to the tablet. Most of its levels are bite-sized, lasting no more than a few minutes, so they’re perfect for a portable device. Meanwhile, the game’s multiplayer, which supports up to four players, is a lot of fun when you’re all gathered around the same television.
New Super Mario Bros. U wasn’t exactly a failure when it debuted; it was the third best-selling game on the Wii U, moving close to 6 million copies and topping Super Smash Bros. But compared to the much more forgettable original New Super Mario Bros., which sold a whopping 30 million copies on the DS, it’s clear that the game didn’t reach the audience it could have. Hopefully that changes with the Switch port. If the wacky Odyssey has left you in the mood for some classic Mario, this is the perfect thing.