New Super Mario Bros. U fits its billing to a tee: it looks good, plays well, and dazzles with the expected level of charm that only games belonging to this side-scrolling franchise can possess. That said, New Super Mario Bros. U does not fit the billing that all fresh, new Mario games have had since the beginning of time: its formula is stale, its mechanics are rote, and its innovations are anything but. For a title with the word “New” stitched onto its front cover, it feels shockingly old.
Before doing our best impression of the Italian plumber by jumping all over New Super Mario Bros. U, let’s get this one fact straight: it’s a fun game. Even after the many years of similar entries into the industry’s founding series, it’s still a delight to blaze through pastel-themed stages while collecting power-ups and stomping the competition. Though none of the levels demoed for me by Nintendo showed any glimpses of creativity, they all flowed in a way that reminds one of exactly how this franchise came to establish itself as the top dog in its genre.
With the stages following a fairly familiar path, the unique appeal of New Super Mario Bros. U is entirely dependent on one’s infatuation with the game’s new power-ups. While its sibling on the Nintendo 3DS, New Super Mario Bros. 2, is looking to the past with its resurrection of the Tanooki Suit, the franchise’s Wii U incarnation is facing forward with two abilities never before seen in the Mushroom Kingdom: a Flying Squirrel Suit and tiny, Baby Yoshis each with their own unique skills. The former of these two abilities is nearly identical to the cape donned by Mario and his brother in Super Mario World as it simply allows the player to glide across the stage and, with a shake of the GamePad or Wii Remote, gain a brief burst of altitude to stay afloat. Meanwhile, the latter provides for a new breed of Yoshi that, much unlike the Flying Squirrel Suit, offers some truly interesting possibilities to a title that, with a lack of innovation elsewhere in its design, sorely needs them.
Upon shaking the controller with a purple Baby Yoshi, players will be hoisted into the air by the suddenly balloon-shaped dinosaur that they are carrying. Since its levitation powers last for such a short time, the utility of this new ability is limited mostly to covering larger-than-usual gaps and staying afloat to collect coins and other such items after falling; though it may not be ground breaking, the inclusion does help to pace the game so as not to make its basic foundation seem mundane. Unfortunately, this build of New Super Mario Bros. U demonstrated only the purple Yoshi and its distinct power-up, but Nintendo has already revealed further species that blow bubbles and glow, two new mechanics that should also help to spice up the now-established routine present in this line of the franchise.
Watch the E3 2012 trailer for New Super Mario Bros. U and be amazed by Baby Yoshi, too!
Marketing for New Super Mario Bros. U has, at this point, relied on two factors outside of the instantly-idolized Flying Squirrel Suit: high-definition visuals and asymmetric gameplay. It would be easy to cough up a lung in laughter at Nintendo’s appeals to one’s aesthetic sensibility given the graphical direction that this particular Super Mario Bros. series has taken, but it would also be wrong to; New Super Mario Bros. U looks very good when examined under the microscope that is a high-definition display. While not as complicated as many current-generation excursions, the simplicity of the side-scrolling title allows for it to pop as no product boasting the Italian plumber has before. If this is what we can expect from future first-party experiences, then allow me to be the first in line for the Wii U and its supposedly weak infrastructure.
On the other side of matters is asymmetric gameplay, a tough sell if there ever was one. In the case of New Super Mario Bros. U, the term is made in reference to the ability of one player to take control of the Wii U’s GamePad controller and use it not to play the game as it is typically done but to simply place blocks throughout the level to help out others bouncing through it. In what was both a sad an unexpected turn, this was the only title shown to me at Nintendo’s presentation that did not allow for me to sneak a peek at the asymmetric portion of its design; however, I can say that, based on my experiences elsewhere in the demonstration, the idea behind this inclusion is a sound one that could prove to be a hit in households playing host to a more casual audience. It’s easy to imagine a family member of significant other who, while not versed in the platforming genre, would be willing to pick up the tablet-inspired device and merely tap around the screen to help out the game’s main user. For the purposes of a more hardcore crowd, though, I have a hard time seeing this as anything more than a sad punishment for the fifth person to arrive at a party.
The other, prominent usage of the GamePad occurs at all times while playing New Super Mario Bros. U; when playing the game with the new controller, the action will take place both on the television screen and on the device’s touch screen. When friends or family come into the room and, as they so often do, change the channel, the experience continues to take place on the Wii U’s main controller. Novel as it may be, this is another concept tossed around by Nintendo that seems to be built for those outside of the core market; namely, the inclusion of portable play is meant for children that have to put up with the constraints placed on them by sharing a living room with their parents. It’s a neat feature, but it isn’t for everyone and will likely be glanced over by most after the wonder of the idea wears off.
New Super Mario Bros. U fits its billing to a tee; as a launch game carrying the branding of Nintendo’s main mascot, it fulfills the basic requirements of being a delightful romp through colorful stages. Sadly, it does not fit the billing of such titles as Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy that gave their respective platforms a creative jolt with innovative mechanics the likes of which were not seen elsewhere. The Baby Yoshi and asymmetric gameplay, though certainly nice additions that put a slight spin on the product, do little to fight off the sense that this is just another New Super Mario Bros. game enhanced only by its presence on next-generation hardware.
It may be worth your time, but New Super Mario Bros. U will leave you with a craving for innovation.