New Super Luigi U stresses me out.
I don't mind that the game is hard; honestly, anyone who thinks Nintendo only makes baby-easy games needs to spend a little more time with Fire Emblem or in the latter portions of any Mario game. Punishing design is a grand Mario tradition, and that's what Luigi U is all about -- its raison d'être. No, what leaves me frazzled is the fact that this New Super Mario Bros. U expansion combines its absolutely crushing difficulty level with several other non-negotiable factors.
Every level in Luigi U takes its design from a corresponding stage in NSMBU. Both games share a common world map and even the same interstitial animations as Bowser's latest plot unfolds. But the layout of each stage has changed radically from its original form. For one thing, solid ground has become a rare treat rather than a given baseline of level design. Most of Luigi U's stages transpire across yawning chasms over which little pockets of terra not-so-firma dangle, bob, and rotate to give you a mere moment's purchase before tackling the next deadly expanse.
I appreciate that the remix doesn't waste any time getting down to it. From the very first level, the mood changes instantly from "gentle stroll through the grasslands" to "harrowing journey across jagged floating rocks above the abyss" -- and all without a change to the basic visual style or enemy composition of NSMBU. Simply take away all hints of solid ground and replace it with wobbly floating platforms and you have the makings of a game that'll raise your heart rate. The further you get into the game, the more dynamic the stage elements become, and the more frequently the hazards built into your tiny footholds appear to destroy you if your attention slips for a second. It reminds me a lot of what I like about 1001 Spikes and Spelunky, which I tested on Vita at E3 (and enjoyed every delicious act of subversive murder).
However, that's hardly where Luigi U's cruelty ends. Not only has Nintendo taken away most of your sure footing, it's also taken away the luxury of time. Each stage begins with the standard Mario 100-second warning, forcing you to tear your way through these newly ass-kicking stages at breakneck speed. In a way, I suppose it doesn't really matter that you find stable ground so rarely; it's not as though you'd have time to appreciate it anyway.
What really cements this candy-coated hellscape is Luigi himself. In the tradition of classic Mario games, Luigi doesn't control exactly like his brother; he jumps higher, but his jumps are floatier and harder to control. Worse, he's a tragic victim of Newton's First Law, slower to shake off the inertia of standing still and requiring much more ground to come to a stop from a run or a jump.
Of course, you can easily see how this adds up. Luigi needs to move faster than his brother in order to complete stages within the time limit; he also needs more time to get moving, requires more space to slow down, and is trickier to guide through the air. But you have less time, less space, and far more dangerous environments to travel through. New Super Luigi U makes no effort to be friendly, and it makes no apologies for its nature, either.
Which is the point, of course, and I'm not going to hold that against it. But it stresses me enough that I have a hard time enjoying it, not because it's tough but because it's basically the antithesis of everything I like about Mario. I've always been drawn to Mario games over, say, Sonic because they allow me to take a more leisurely pace and reward me for exploring the world. And I've always been drawn to Mario games over floaty B-tier rivals like Rayman because Mario's controls are so much more precise and comfortable. And of course, I've always loved the Mario games' excellent level design.
The level design is as wonderful as ever -- there are some clever, cruel people working at Nintendo -- but everything else about Luigi U feels like an attempt to warp an excellent Mario game into my own personal nemesis. As I said, I find the game stressful, and that's because it forces me to play Super Mario in a way that totally flies in the face of my 25-plus years of experience with the franchise. This doesn't make the game bad by any means, but I play Mario for the way it mixes focused challenge with a playground mentality. Take away the latter and the result puts my nerves on edge, and I can only play it in small doses.
I also think New Super Mario Bros. 2 handled the "crazy hardcore Mario level remix" concept much better with its downloadable challenge packs. As self-contained time attacks, those add-ons were designed to be played in tiny bursts. When the frenzied pace became too much, you could simply close the 3DS's clamshell and take a breather for a moment (or for a few days, if necessary). The a la carte style also allowed players to pick and choose the expansions that sounded most appealing (and gave Nintendo the opportunity to offer free samples to entice everyone to splurge for the other packs).
As a single monolithic slab, New Super Luigi U not only demands a greater up-front commitment, it also adheres to the structure of the game it's based on rather than letting players jump around and experiment. It's presented more along the lines of Super Mario 3D Land's Luigi mode... which probably isn't a comparison Nintendo wants to encourage, seeing as that bonus was included for free. Of course, Luigi U is a much more dramatic reworking of the game than Mario 3D Land's extra stages were; the levels here are completely rebuilt from stem to stern. Still, the question of value proposition does hover over the game, and it's one I can't answer for you, because I don't know what your gaming budget looks like. But I will say that New Super Luigi U is less a bonus mode than an effectively new game, far more like The Lost Levels than like, say, hunting for purple coins in Super Mario Galaxy.
I recognize that my own misgivings about New Super Luigi U stem from my expectations and preconceptions about what a Mario game should be. It's not really to my tastes, but I can see its appeal for speed-runners, time-attackers, and anyone else who relishes a high challenge level in their video games. And, really, this is exactly what DLC should be used for: An inexpensive way to offer people a new take on a video game. A total makeover of an excellent game for $20 isn't a bad deal at all, and at that price there's not much downside to giving it a shot to see whether or not you like Mario games better with strict time limits, brutal level design, and clumsy physics. You never know 'til you try.
I definitely agree that New Super Luigi U is a difficult experience, but only when compared to New Super Mario Bros. U. My experience with the game was that it was a nice change from the now-familiar NSMBU levels, and the challenge with this Luigi version was that I was expecting one thing and was consistently given something else.
Once you get past any preconceptions of the level design and just go with the flow, New Super Luigi U isn't as tough as it first seems. While it's always stressful to hear that uptempo level music as you near the time limit, I thought I would have died a lot more often than I did.
It sounds daunting to clear a whole level in 99 seconds, but there are no halfway points in these new levels because each level is extremely short. If you're familiar with mid-level markers in NSMBU, you'll be surprised that, by and large, the middle of each Luigi level would actually have the final goal post. Again, these levels are short, and the only time you'll find yourself going back is to collect all three Yoshi coins.
The larger challenge for me was getting used to Luigi's physics. Like Jeremy mentions, it takes a lot more effort to fight the inertia that carries Luigi forward, and this becomes problematic in later levels when timing your jumps becomes critical. You will most definitely die, but it feels like your deaths will be caused by expecting a Mario-like experience than anything else. Don't worry, you'll get used to it, but it'll take a few tries.
Thankfully, once you're done with the game, you'll have the chance to play with Mario physics by hitting a big red block emblazoned with an "M." Things like that, the challenging Yoshi coins, and Luigi's own set of special Star world levels, makes this an easy pick-up, and it makes me excited to see what else Nintendo has planned with DLC.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Exactly the same as you'd expect if you played New Super Mario Bros. U. The classic Mario universe still seems a little "off" to me in polygonal form, but it does the trick.
- Music: Yes, the enemies still dance to the little musical stings, but the 99-second limitation of every stage doesn't do the overly chipper soundtrack any favors. Now it's overly chipper and really fast.
- Interface: You will learn to hate Luigi's floaty physics and sluggish controls. Especially when everything in the world wants to kill you and demands absolute precision. But that's part of the challenge, I guess, so...
- Lasting Appeal: It's a speed-runner's delight. For those who prefer to take their time and find all of Mario's secrets, these levels may be too short and too fast-paced to fulfill that need.
Ultimately, New Super Luigi U offers a different enough take on the familiar world of NSMBU to justify its price. Whether or not you'll like it depends on what you expect from a Mario game, but anyone who enjoyed The Lost Levels or the Luigi challenges in Super Mario Galaxy will be in heaven here.