Platform: Wii U (eShop & retail)
Developer: Nintendo EAD
We love an underdog here at Dealspwn.com, so a Wii U game starring Luigi ought to be a double whammy worth patting on the head while making reassuring noises. Available both as an eShop download and a brand new retail edition, New Super Luigi U is billed as a DLC pack for New Super Mario Bros. U, but it's more a total conversion that changes each and every one of the 80-plus levels into shorter, meatier and utterly ruthless new forms. Luigi can jump higher than his chubbier brother, but he's an absolute sucker for punishment.
I must admit to harbouring very low expectations for New Super Luigi U, seeing as it's relatively unambitious at face value, and the first level seemed to confirm all of my darkest fears. Following a cutscene that's identical to the original game save Mario mysteriously not showing up to Princess Peach's tea party, Luigi is thrown into the same storyline and world map as before, only with a Mario-shaped hole. The first stage is simply a shorter version of its predecessor, the same challenges and enemies squashed down into a cool ninety-nine seconds, but now you control a protagonist who handles like a new-born foal on an ice rink. First impressions are important - and appalling.
Stick with it, however, and you'll discover a seriously impressive and taxing new proposition for New Super Mario Bros. U fans... but one that doesn't quite step out far enough from Mario's shadow to be brilliant in its own right.
As Super Mario veterans will doubtlessly know, the lanky Luigi is more finicky and nuanced to control than his portly brother. He's a twitchy thoroughbred rather than a broken-in old nag, capable of leaping much higher than Mario thanks to his adorable float jump, but unable to turn on a dime. Slippery and nervous, Luigi's a slave to momentum, requiring a whole new mindset to use properly. Indeed, you'll have to start holding the stick a split-second before he actually starts moving in the direction you want, lending the uncanny feeling of pushing a greased-up walrus downhill when navigating more difficult sections. Had Luigi just been transplanted into the original game as a bonus character, it would have spelled absolute disaster.
Luckily each of New Super Luigi U's levels has been designed around the other brother's skillset - and I do mean "designed" rather than "redesigned" or "remixed." Though the art assets have been recycled in their entirety, almost all of the stages have been totally rebuilt to offer a brand new experience focusing on nightmarish speedruns. You'll start with 99 seconds on the clock, thrown into short and muscular gauntlets that take advantage of Luigi's lofty jump and increased speed. Star coins are spaced to grant split-second decisions between safety and danger, adding a pleasing sense of risk vs reward, while the new challenges push your reflexes to the absolute limit. Plenty of surprises are there for the taking, not limited to a handful of brand new powerups and hidden Luigi sprite art easter eggs in each level. It's not necessarily better or worse than New Super Mario Bros. U, only different and twitchier.
And harder. Much, much harder.
New Super Luigi U is primarily designed to be a hardcore challenge mode for game-complete players, and goes about its business without remorse or pity. Many levels resemble clockwork death mechanisms designed to stretch your willpower and to zen-like levels, often subverting the traditional experience in interesting new ways. As an example, many stages start with hazards directly above you to trick franchise fans who automatically jump as soon as a level begins. Interestingly, the strict time limit isn't really the biggest concern - levels are designed to be completed in around 40 seconds and you'll almost never run out of time - but the increased urgency constantly tricks you into leaping before you look. Though a few levels feel unfair and even cheap considering Luigi's finicky handling, the vast majority of the tough new content feels satisfying rather than infuriating, and playful rather than punishing. No wonder Luigi ends each completed stage with an exasperated cry of "phew, made it!" You will too.
It's annoying that the world map and boss sections remain totally unchanged, the latter of which simply don't work well with the new speed-running focus and Luigi's floatier skillset. On the other hand, though, it's easy to forget that New Super Luigi U is an expansion - not a brand new game - when you buy the retail edition, so these oversights effectively come with the territory.
Despite frequent aggravation and unavoidable repetition (some new art assets would have been lovely), New Super Luigi U almost works brilliantly as a hardcore challenge mode. Almost. Sadly, the New Super Mario Bros structure is completely inappropriate for a tough-as-nails trial and error platformer.
The likes of Stealth Bastard/Inc, Super Meat Boy and even Rayman Origins are all incredibly difficult, but they make up for it with infinite continues, instant restarts and almost no iteration time between death and your next attempt. You die, then you're straight back in and ready for another go. However, New Super Luigi U forces you to twiddle your thumbs as the death animation plays out, the action fades to black, you're booted out of the current castle and then have to traipse back in again, leading to long periods of aggravating downtime. Worse, though, it has limited lives.
I feel that lives and continues have become totally irrelevant for even the core Mario games. Skilled players end up with stockpiles in the high hundreds, but less experienced GamePad jockeys can just rely on farming earlier stages or using the game's ability to effectively play itself to pass more difficult levels, making them totally redundant. In New Super Luigi U, however, the harder levels absolutely hinge on trial and error, forcing you to constantly farm or lose copious amounts of progress. Don't get me started on the lack of autosaves after each level, which requires you to manually quicksave when you need to brave the dangerous outside world. It's shocking, even insulting, that Nintendo didn't attempt to deviate from their ancient and increasingly irrelevant formula.
Traditional four-player multiplayer also doesn't work in this new context. The hardcore speed-running requires total concentration and precision, a near impossibility when three other players are vying for the same platform. The bizarre inclusion of the invulnerable Nabbit as a playable character also makes the lives system even more redundant, though at least means that one of you will probably reach the end of the stage.
But there I go again: forgetting that New Super Luigi U is an expansion, not a full game in its own right. Especially when you buy the limited edition retail box (available only until year's end), which will free up your infuriatingly limited hard drive space at an inflated RRP. There's plenty to love here if you've completed New Super Mario Bros. U and crave a sterner challenge, but there's no escaping the fact that more accomplished platformers are available to buy for a fraction of the price.
- 81 levels totally rebuilt for a tougher challenge with tight time limits
- Satisfyingly brutal difficulty curve
- Very tempting for game-complete New Super Mario Bros. U fans, impressive value
- Limited lives and long downtime/iteration time between attempts are totally inappropriate
- Often cheap and frustrating (since Luigi handles like a newborn deer on rollerskates)
- Recycled art assets, story, bosses, cutscenes and world map
The Short Version: New Super Luigi U fulfils its remit of presenting experienced fans with a massive slab of tough new content to sink their teeth into, and manages to be well worth the eShop asking price if you're a New Super Mario Bros. U player with patience and skill to spare. However, any number of superior indie platformers are available for less, especially compared to the pricier retail edition.