New Super Mario Bros U does very little that is new, but it's certainly the prettiest Mario game yet.
Due to the gigantic Wii U launch library, there are not enough hours in a day to get everything thoroughly played and reviewed in a timely manner. As such, I am publishing a series of "mini-reviews", based on incomplete play-throughs, typically between three and six hours, and recording my first impressions. Full reviews of some titles will follow in the weeks to come.
This is going to be a short review, actually living up to the "mini-review" title, unlike the previous ones this week that went on a little long.
As we all know, new Nintendo hardware means new Mario, new Zelda, and so on, and this time around it's Mario who gets the launch day honours.
New Super Mario Bros U is a marginally refreshed version of the series of New Super Mario Bros games on the Nintendo DS, Wii, and 3DS. The New series returned Mario to his side-view 2D roots, reviving the style of the very first Mario games, while updating them and adding features like multiplayer.
The new Wii U edition is essentially a prettier version of the original Wii version with a few new features added in, primarily in the form of unique GamePad controls. The enjoyably chaotic multiplayer is back, with up to four players who are ostensibly working together once again bumping each other to their deaths time and again. It's still messy as hell, and still fun.
The GamePad allows a fifth player to assist the others by tapping the touch screen and adding blocks to the world. This can be used in several ways, primarily saving your friends' lives when they would otherwise fall and lose a life, but also placing blocks strategically to allow access to secret areas, and of course to hit the top of the flagpole at the end of each level - a Mario staple.
Apart from that, the only other major new addition is a brand new power up, the flying squirrel suit. Similar to the raccoon and tanooki suits in previous games, it allows players to glide, but grants much longer flying distance than those previous power-ups. Players can also get extra height by shaking their controller. Good players will be able to get the suit early and fly through the entirety of some levels. Baby Yoshis of various colours can also be picked up, granting different powers.
It's really difficult to either praise or criticise this new entry to the series. It's 2D Mario, and that's always a good thing - Nintendo never really makes a bad Mario game. However, it is nearly identical to the previous games in the series, with the Wii U-specific features doing little to distinguish it.
About the most historically notable thing about it, in my opinion, is that it is the first true high definition Mario game. The Wii could never output in HD resolutions, and even the shiny new 3DS tops out at 240 lines. New Super Mario Bros U is genuinely high-def Mario for the first time in the character's history, and it's a damned good-looking game. The tubby little plumber never looked so pretty.
Even so, that is not a reason to buy the game, and definitely not a reason to buy the console. How strange it is that a minigame collection, Nintendo Land, is a more compelling reason to invest in a new Nintendo console than its launch-day Mario game. Personally, I am looking forward to more original first party titles from Nintendo. Pikmin 3 is not far off and is looking pretty special, and no doubt there is also a 3D Mario title in the works (Mario Galaxy U, perhaps?) as well as Zelda, and maybe even Metroid.
New Super Mario Bros U is a solid purchase for those who have already bought a Wii U, are Mario Bros fans, and haven't already played essentially the same game on Wii. If you fit those three criteria, then it is certainly worth your money for the joyously chaotic multiplayer alone. Otherwise, you might want to pick up something else. New Super Mario Bros U is great, but it's nothing that existing fans have not already played.
Screen Play readers, are there any neglected Nintendo franchises that would entice you onto the Wii U? I think the Gamepad is ideal for a new Metroid Prime title, giving the player a minimap, inventory, and environment scanner all in one, and I have friends who would love to see Mario Sunshine revived. How about you?
- James "DexX" Dominguez
DexX is on Twitter: @jamesjdominguez