ou know, if there’s one thing I hear or read more often than not when Nintendo is involved, it’s that Mario is for babies, but that couldn't be more untrue with New Super Luigi U. This expansion of downloadable content hitting New Super Mario Bros. U stars Mario's sibling in a retread through the HD Mushroom Kingdom like you’ve never played it before; this return isn’t for the faint of heart, so be prepared to die—and not always with a "well, I deserved that" smile.
The content in New Super Luigi U manages to deliver something familiar to the eyes and yet wildly foreign all at once. From the intro to the world map, the Koopa Kids and the secret exit levels, the structure is identical to that of NSMBU until you jump into a level: they’ve all been redesigned to test players and some may even break a majority of them. First and foremost, Luigi’s tiny quirks make a muchlarger impact in execution than they would suggest on paper. You know that floaty jump and slippery traction between landing and quick turns that we all grew to love since Super Mario Bros. 2? It’s back, and it’s nowhere near as charming as it was in past games—Luigi’s jump elevates him like a water balloon in low gravity and his traction on the ground is worse than a refrigerator on roller-skates. These elements, though frustrating at points when you’re acclimating from the smooth and precise control of Mario, grow on you thanks in large part to the deliberate design of the levels themselves.
Each stage has a careful yet sadistic architecture of hazardous caveats that will demand every ounce of attention from the player in order to stay alive long enough to reach the goal post. The timer has been reduced to 100 seconds, enforcing constant and frenetic movement from the player, and while the size of the stages have been cut down to compensate the shorter clock, checkpoints have been nixed all together, so each course is an exercise of pressure and exhilaration. The challenge has a direct relationship with the stage that generally correlates with a specific enemy or obstacle and the result plays out like a strange arrange mode; this style ultimately ekes out more of the character and personality than the traditional stages. Another factor is the return of NSMBWii power-ups like the Propeller Suit and the Penguin Suit—though not as prevalent as the Super Acorn, they do add an element of nuance to overcoming certain stages when they’re equipped (more specifically the Propeller Suit.) With returning powers and a stage full of Broosers atop a snow summit slowing your advance up a vertical stage, to a combination of Huck-its and Waddlewings ambushing on the beach, there’s a Hodge-podge of enemies and obstacles weirdly juxtaposed together outside of the conventional design and aesthetic choices that will throw you off with their haphazard appearances. It’s all a deceptive ploy to make use of an unlikely combination of difficulties that will require some quick skill to overcome, and it can be fun, though it also feels downright unfair at times when you're quickly running out of lives and patience.
As you advance through the game certain levels will stoop pretty low in forcing your defeat, not through innovative design choices but rather cheap and often unpredictable hazards that can’t be avoided unless you’re some inhuman mutant-freak hybrid like that kid from The Wizard. It just boils down to trial and error in these circumstances, and this sort of frustration-mechanic should be left in the age where it was needed to scrape out the most play time you could out of whatever little allowance you had. Video games don't need to be like that anymore.
Aside from the aforementioned hiccups in New Super Luigi U’s more difficult framework, it’s still enjoyable, especially for veterans—though when you involve cooperative play it can become quite a train wreck. The multiplayer formula in NSMB is already hectic to start off with, and in the environment of NSLU it can be intimidating and exasperating for everyone regardless of their skill level. A lot of the pitfalls and enemies will operate in a pattern in which successfully traversing past them will require a limited window, meaning you have to be fast (the timer, level design, and Luigi’s abilities are all elements that make this approach so suggestive for success) and while that’s a play style that you adapt to gradually, it isn’t accessible to everyone.
Nintendo does attempt to address this with Mario’s replacement and one of the new additions to the game, Nabbit aka Very Easy Mode: The Character. The masked miscreant has the same physics as Luigi only scaled back, and is completely impervious to any dangerous obstacles or enemies on screen; the only way to take the hooded bunny down is to drop him into a bottomless pit or crush him. This leads to him being quite the over-powered character for any rookie player to handle. Nabbit does have a downside for those who play as him though: he’s unable to use any power-up, so no suits or flowers will work on him. However, when he collects power-ups they get converted into 1UP mushrooms once you hit the goalpost, so again, he’s an excellent choice for new players—he just quickly becomes a boring one for anyone else, especially when you see all the wacky stuff your fellow players are throwing or doing from their ability to use iconic upgrades.
New Super Luigi U is that unassumingly friendly-looking uncle that you’ve grown up with knowing your whole life and see at family gatherings and whatnot, suddenly inviting you out to lunch and, in the process, ends up getting you drunk off a dozen tequila shooters before he forces you into skydiving with him; you lose track of when exactly you’re having fun between the times that you’re afraid and crying. It’s definitely the answer for those who wanted more terror and hardship out of their modern 2D Mario platformers, but there isn’t much else going on other than a one-dimensional funnel of gradual difficulty—if you really need more Mario, go ahead, but prepare for a rough go with it. Don’t bother inviting your friends this time around either, unless you want to lose them.