The formula has always been very simple for the past 20 years. You play as Mario. You jump your way through a rather easy course and it’s all over at a high flying flag you must vault over at the end of each level. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with this formula as many great platformers in the Super Mario series have used this. New Super Mario Bros. Wii used this, and it is still one of my favorite entries of the series. However, further inspection has led me to not view it the same way since 2012. It technically is just another entry in a very repetitive series of 2D platformers and the only difference was that developers used more complex level design allowed by the new technology of the Nintendo Wii. For a decade, the formula was never changed. The same easy level design for children was just reused across more than 4 different gaming consoles.
It was until 2013 during the 30th Year of Luigi that Nintendo decided to change something as a celebration. New Super Luigi U was released on June 19, 2013 for the Wii U and got very mixed reviews at first by many fans. In context, it wasn’t seen by many as a real stand alone game in the Super Mario series. All it technically was was a redesign of the former game that came out on the Wii U as well, New Super Mario Bros U. It took the same graphics, same soundtrack, and nearly everything else from Mario U and imported it to Luigi U other than level design and game controls. Surprisingly, a game that reused 90 percent of its predecessor wasn’t at all bad as it may seem.
The biggest part of all these 2D platformers is the novelty of the levels. Before, all levels were very open and lots of time was given to explore the nooks and crannies to find all hidden design features. It’s a process that would get boring very fast and wasn’t riveting for many fans in terms of skill. In Super Luigi U, all of the playable levels from Super Mario Bros U were redesigned to play like a surreal and absurd course that has probably created some of the best levels in the entire series. You could be jumping on platforms that rise and depress into acid making you weary of standing on them for too long. You could be walking and jumping on ginormous flying beetles that are flying left, meanwhile your objective is to make your way rightward. Every level is also designed in a way where the player could treat each one like a speedrun. With the help of an added jump height to Luigi, it can be very satisfying to run through the entire course without a serious pause and still see all the details like hidden designs or star coins. The secret details like collectibles throughout the game are not as hidden as before and can be collected all in one linear fast pass of the level. In numerous parts of the game, you will be greeted with some sort of visual nod to the Luigi character in the form of discrete details in the level that look like Luigi’s face, pictures of the pixelated Luigi sprite on walls, and entire secret rooms with a physical building that could look like any type of Luigi.
For many, it felt kind of lazy on Nintendo’s part. However, for a game that was advertised as a spinoff, it exceeded my expectations completely. After years of just using the same formula and not much creativity, it was the genius of Nintendo just to push the limit for one time. It’s the black sheep type entry in the series that will always just be appreciated for being different. Today, Nintendo still carries it over to the Nintendo Switch as a bundle with Mario Bros U and is worth a try.