Both the Gamecube and the original Wii Nintendo took some flak for not including a proper Mario game in the launch line-ups, so you could see why getting their moustached mascot into peopleís Wii Us on day one would be a bit of a priority for them. The iconic plumber enjoyed great success with the Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros. games on the original Wii, and Nintendo no doubt hopes that New Super Mario Bros. U will continue that trend and provide a solid backbone to the Wii Uís launch library.
As anyone familiar with Marioís history might expect, thereís nothing particularly ground-breaking to be found here plot-wise. Indeed I was impatient to get started rather than watch Bowser kidnap Peach yet again. The intro is at least quite brief, wasting no time on dialogue or exposition and simply opening with Bowserís airship fleet flying across the Mushroom Kingdom to Princess Peachís castle, tossing Mario and co. out on their asses and claiming both the castle and captive princess as his own. This spurs the Mario Bros. and their loyal Toads to journey across the unnaturally diverse locales of the Mushroom Kingdom in order to return to the castle and kick Bowser out. Itís a slight twist on the old routine at least.
We have a beautiful-looking game here, though to my untrained eye itís not a massive leap up from the Wii. Though I donít think anyone expects a 2D platformer to be the game that really tests the Wii Uís limits. Regardless, everything is very bold and colourful, and suitable lighting and other effects really help bring each area to life whether youíre trekking across grassy plains or delving into volcanic subterranean tunnels. All this is accompanied by the usual range of insufferably cheerful catchy tunes that the Mario games are known for. It does in fact look and sound very Mario.
In general the formula of Mario Bros. remains unchanged since the days of the SNES instalments. I never got around to giving the previous New Super Mario Bros. games on the Wii and DS a chance, but I immediately felt right at home here despite my last 2D Mario game being Super Mario World around fifteen years ago. Everything works how it always did and is immediately familiar, whether youíre running around on the map or through a level.
Thatís not to say everything was exactly as I remembered it. The Toad House minigames return, though with a new selection of quick challenges to test your coordination and luck. Success rewards you with items for your inventory that can be used to power yourself up before attempting tricky levels. This can even be used to outfit yourself with powers not normally found in that level, often providing you with new and easier ways of reaching some of the more elusive hidden areas.
Nabbit the rabbit is another new face that pops up every now and then, challenging the player to a quick dash through a level to catch him and claim his stolen treasure. This is a nice change of pace and adds a new dimension to the levels as you now have to avoid enemies and obstacles while also chasing the speedy villain.
Once youíve progressed in the game and unlocked more areas, backtracking could become a problem if you were in the mood to revisit some of the earlier levels. Fortunately there are handy cannons in each zone that let you quickly travel to any previously visited area. The map is also scattered with little boss fights that can usually be avoided through careful timing or puzzle-solving, but these again reward you with helpful items upon completion.
The actual action in each level is where the game really shines: itís the same reflex-testing platforming action that has been entertaining Mario fans for decades. While many series staples such as mushrooms, fire and ice flowers and, of course, Yoshi make their return, there are a few new additions to the series. The classic but always nonsensical flying raccoon outfit has been replaced with a slightly less nonsensical flying squirrel costume, though they function very similarly.
Brand new to the series are the Baby Yoshis that can be found throughout the game. Coming in a variety of colours with unique abilities, Baby Yoshis must be carried around by the player in order to make use of their powerful and useful abilities. Just like their full-sized green counterpart theyíre also capable of eating most enemies, but because you have to carry them everywhere their usefulness is offset slightly by them limiting your manoeuvrability. They make for a nice addition and force you to think ahead and prioritise, but are unfortunately quite rare especially in the earlier stages of the game.
Most of the buzz around the Wii U seems to have built up around the unique Gamepad and how itís second screen and touch controls will be incorporated into new gameplay experiences. Surprisingly, New Super Mario Bros. U
does very little with the new technology.
Playing solo using the Gamepad doesnít actually utilise the mini screen at all, though it does show you the same view of the game as on the TV screen, so if someone else wants to watch another channel youíre good to go. Even on the small screen everything still looks pretty and itís clear enough for you to still see everything.