Mario in high-definition is something that we’ve been waiting for since the dawn of this HD era. Having missed that boat with the Wii, Nintendo have been keen to point out that the brand new console is not only bang up to speed supporting high-definition graphics, but also that they can change how we play games once more. Despite last year’s disappointingly bland New Super Mario Bros 2, Nintendo have brought yet more 2D Mario action to their newest console with New Super Mario Bros U. It’s a familiar formula, but can this old franchise learn new tricks?
Unsurprisingly, Bowser once again has Princess Peach as his hostage; but after his ship throws out the two plumbers and toads from Peach’s castle, it looks like he’s decided to go for more a sit-in this time around. As you progress through the eight worlds that share common traits with Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, it soon becomes clear that this is an evolution on the traditional formula, despite first impressions indicating otherwise. Worlds have more in the way of obstacles and branching paths, meaning that even in between levels you can be ambushed from designated points. The Mushroom houses are back, featuring new mini-games to obtain power-ups and extra lives that are quite hard compared to previous Mario titles. So far though, we’ve seen all of this before.
Mario reuses a lot of his wardrobe in this version, but a new flying rodent variant has appeared in the form of a Flying Squirrel suit. While using this ability Mario can glide around, boost himself vertically once at a pinch, and cling onto walls for a short time. It isn’t as versatile as either the Raccoon/Tanooki suit or the cape, but it gets the job done. Fire and Ice Mario make a return, along with the Mini-mushroom for getting through small gaps. Where things take a turn for the interesting is that not only is Yoshi back on occasional levels for old-fashioned Super Mario World fun, we meet Baby Yoshis for the first time that inflate into balloons, spit bubbles, or shine like torches. They add a small level of freshness that is most certainly welcome in a series that is slowly stagnating, rehashing the same tired formula we’ve seen time and time again.
Level design in New Super Mario Bros 2 for the 3DS was lacking in ingenuity, but New Super Mario Bros U is inspired in many areas with its subtle differences. Being caught out by a rogue level design choice is an oddly uplifting experience, as it shows that despite being set in its ways, the game has the tenacity to trip you up. New foes such as the hilariously named ‘Waddlewings’ and the menacing Walking Piranha Plants also change things up in levels, with even out-of-level hazards creeping around to get you. Sadly, power-ups and extra lives are plentiful, so the challenge rarely causes any real peril.
Playing the game either with the Wii Remote or the new GamePad on your own is easy enough, but adding extra players is where the game shines. Like New Super Mario Bros Wii, you can have up to four players with Wii Remotes doing platforming sections, bringing unparalleled chaos to the mix. Having a fifth player enable Boost Mode however is a bit of a double-edged sword, depending on the player. They can either make things easy by putting platforms to aid the other players, or hinder progress by dropping blockades. Both are easy to do as you only need to touch the screen, but this seems like primitive interaction for that player which may make them feel like an inferior part of the gameplay process.
When you are not trying to save the Princess, you have a variety of different modes to explore. Challenge mode presents you with a vast array of trials to overcome; some endurance related, others time trial-centric, all a blast to try to perfect. Coin Battles return from New Super Mario Bros Wii, only with the added bonus of GamePad players customising the action by using the touch screen. Boost Rush challenges players by scrolling the screen sideways, getting faster the more coins they obtain. All of these modes add to the package, which at full retail might have otherwise been a steep proposition.
While the main attraction is seeing Mario and friends in high-definition for the first time with colourful looking locations and fitting music in-tact, a special mention must be made to the two big additions courtesy of the new console. MiiVerse is fully integrated with the option to comment on anything that is happening when prompted. This happens frequently so without an option to temporarily disable the function, it can get in the way, but for most it is an excuse to either brag or complain. The more useful option is the seamless Off-the-TV play option that turns the GamePad into a handheld that, while not capable of the highest resolution, does manage to look great regardless. Fundamentally though, it is the same style as previous New Super Mario Bros. titles. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing as its playful enough to be suitable for younger audiences.
Nintendo needed its flagship franchise to perform for the Wii U. While it isn’t a revolutionary concept, New Super Mario Bros. U does exactly what the company needed it to do – provide a high quality traditional Mario experience on a HD console for the fans to enjoy. To its own credit, it didn’t need to be packed full of extra features that are both content rich and technically engaging, but it certainly does make splashing out for full retail price on a 2D Mario platformer a little easier to accept. The problem is that the “New” moniker just isn’t true any longer, as mechanically speaking you’re still playing almost the exact same game you were playing in 1988 – almost. The Wii U might not have its must-buy system seller, but it at least has a competent if somewhat familiar Mario platformer.