New Super Luigi U

I find the logo design for New Super Luigi U to be funny, but also a little lazy and indicative of what the game actually is. Using the same font and design as the original New Super Mario Bros. U title, it adds in the "Luigi" and crosses out the "Bros." with a painted on "X."

It puts a new coat of paint over what already existed and suggests that this game could only be made by building it atop Mario's name. It's also indicative of some of the weird ways Nintendo has sort of shoved Mario out and pasted Luigi in his place. Despite the fact that this is one of the larger releases in the so-called Year of Luigi, it starts to feel like the title needs to capitalize on what made Mario big before. Adding in the younger brother is like saying "See? We're Luigi guys, too!"

So it then feels like Nintendo wedged Luigi into places just to remind you that this game is supposed to focus on him, despite, you know, the title and everything. Like the developers didn't think we'd feel their love for Luigi unless they sprinkled designs of him around the environment. Sometimes it's clever and funny--finding a secret part of the level you can move or destroy results in a small visual of 8-bit Luigi doing something, and they're fun little Easter eggs. But in other areas it's pretty off-putting, such as a spot where they just recolored what's clearly clip art of him and just crudely added it onto the level geometry.

While the visual design might be the same (backgrounds, major elements, etc.) as New Super Mario Bros. U, the actual layout of the levels have been completely redone, and they're all rather difficult. It's a little reminiscent of The Lost Levels at times, almost like Nintendo just had a giant binder labelled "seriously, guys, do not use these because these levels are STRAIGHT EFFED!" but decided to ignore their own warnings and put them in this release.

Apparently deciding that wasn't difficult enough as it was, all of the levels now have a 100-second time limit, so on top of more dangers, more difficult platforming, no checkpoints and less power-ups, you have to run through each level as quickly as possible. Since Luigi (and newly-playable character Nabbit) handle differently from Mario, sliding much further when they try to stop, even having different jump physics. If you misappropriate a jump or get surprised by an edge you didn't expect, you're probably going to die.

Stats time: by the end of world 1, I had only 7 lives and had already had a game over. In comparison, at the end of world 1 in New Super Mario Bros. U, I had 25 lives and no game overs.

It's a little annoying to die that much, though, because this game isn't like Super Meat Boy. When you die, you don't immediately restart. You get kicked back to the map, see an animation of lives lowering, and then have to jump back in and through the screen of how many lives you have left. It can take a little too long in some of the harder levels, and you'll find yourself just hammering the button until the short-but-still-totally-too-long interlude is over.

The level design is mostly pretty good, even if you don't have much time to stop and look at it. The designers did a good job of pushing you right against that time limit in spots, adding in small little moments where you have to wait for something in the level just long enough that you start to panic about how much time you're wasting. They very smartly include secrets and dangers in just the right spots that you wouldn't expect, a blessing seeing as the level design of the series has gotten a little predictable. It was pretty easy to find all the star coins and exits in previous entries, but this game actually took me by surprise in many places.

In fact, a lot of New Super Luigi feels like an antidote to franchise fatigue. If you've ever complained that the series is much too easy, you'll have your skills put to the test. If finding the star coins was too simple, they're hidden in much more dangerous and crazy locations. Even if you're tired of the way Mario jumps, you've got a brand new handling module to deal with. It's a breath of fresh air, and I start to wonder exactly how much the developers hold back in the main games if they're able to produce something so difficult and with such differences from the main franchise.

At the same time, this kind of visually lazy appropriation of what already existed makes this DLC seem like a quick cash-in. The concept of a Luigi-focused platformer is actually a little crazy because this is the first time that that's actually happened, and maybe it would have been cool to see it blown out a little more, and not see it bolted on like this to the game that already exists.

The first Luigi platformer also lines up well with the fact that this is also Nintendo's first major DLC release. They've dabbled in smaller level or character packs, but they've tried to make a strong commitment to making sure that their larger releases are much more substantial. 80 new levels for $20 isn't too bad, and it sort of feels like they realize exactly who'd be interested in extra DLC for the game: namely, super-fans who are way into the game and want more. That's why it's more challenging. It's meant for the people who've played a ton of the base game enough to get really good at it, providing them an extra challenge and twists on the rules that make the game more appealing.

Maybe it's something that the rest of the industry can consider. With the rise of season passes and smaller, more piecemeal and incomplete feeling DLC experiences coming out, we're starting to see people less happy with those experiences they offer (just look at the backlash from otherwise popular games like Mass Effect 3 or Saint's Row: the Third). Maybe it's time to bring back the concept of the expansion pack with more significant additions, something New Super Luigi U provides.

But you know what? For a third of the price of the main game, you essentially double the length. You get a whole new slew of 80 levels that takes about as long as the main game to get through, and has even more to do because it's just so amazingly difficult. While some of the visual elements feel a little pasted-in, New Super Luigi U adds enough fresh things to an already excellent base game to be more than worth your time.