The Nintendo brand is synonymous with Mario and no Nintendo console launch feels right without a game featuring his name in the title. For the Wii U, that game is New Super Mario Bros. U and in the same vein as its 'New' Wii, DS, and 3DS predecessors, it's a classic-styled 2D side-scroller featuring single-player and multiplayer modes.
Does New Super Mario Bros. U earn its 'New' title and is it a must-own Nintendo Wii U launch title? Read on for our review.
Bowser and the Koopalings are back again to cause more problems for the Princess and the heroes who've been been rescuing her for decades. Instead of kidnapping Princess Peach this time around, Bowser and co. have invaded her castle, dispatching Mario, Luigi and the two Toads to the far ends of the Mushroom Kingdom where they must journey back to save the day. The cartoonish cut scenes are back and the concept is the same: conquer each of the worlds until getting to the end.
The themes of each world are mostly familiar, with ice, desert, plains, water and haunted lands, offering the usual lineup of aesthetics for the beautiful and improved background art of each stage, with a few new areas to explore as well. Stages look and play nearly identical to the Wii version and any of the side-scroller Mario games. They're short, they work, they're well-balanced in terms of challenge, and there are a few twists and turns mixed in with plenty of welcome throwbacks (especially in terms of enemies) to Super Mario World from the SNES.
Each world contains castles, featuring bosses of old, and although the castle levels can be trickier than most - especially with multiple players - the end boss battles are uninventive and don't prove challenging to anyone who's played a Mario game before. Veteran Mario players will enjoy the nostalgia and should take delight from some of the new level designs - notably the Van Gogh "The Starry Night" inspired stage - but there's so little of that originality that it feels almost out of place.
There are also bonus stages scattered the world that see the return of mini-games from New Super Mario Bros. Wii where players can stockpile a few more lives or earn powerups to save up and activate when required. The powerups also return in the same fashion, with the mushrooms, Starman (mostly useless) fire and ice flowers taking center stage, bolstered by the new P-Acorn (think the classic P-Wing) which lets Mario transform into squirrel mode where he can glide and temporarily attach to walls. The latter can be obtained by nabbing the rascally Nabbit who shows up in certain stages, offering a neat chase sequence.
Yoshi plays an important role in the Wii U's first Mario game. Players can ride the full-grown default green Yoshis and come across baby variants of the others which they can carry around stages once obtained. It's not as fun as riding them, but they retain the tradition of having different abilities. Yellow baby Yoshis can glow in dark places for instance, while pink baby Yoshis can bubble up so players holding them can float. In multiplayer, players tend to lose them pretty quickly.
Multiplayer lets up to four (+1) players play together on the same TV screen, stepping again into the shoes of Mario, Luigi, Yellow Toad and Blue Toad, but the more players on the screen the more challenging it becomes. Player will accidentally knock each other down, take each other's power-ups (even if they already have it), and that's the fun of it. Multiplayer is very social and will absolutely result in laughter. Remember to press 'A' to bubble out of danger!
Where New Super Mario Bros. U stands out is in Boost mode, where one player wields the GamePad, not needing to look at the television and can help (or hinder) their co-op partners. While 1-4 players use a Wiimote as normal to play, the additional player uses the GamePad to place up to four temporary blocks anywhere on the screen. These can be used to save a fallen ally, block an enemy's movement or even help build stairs to help players reach secret coins or hit the top of the flag at the end of each regular stage. They can also knock down enemies, help stop projectiles (including fireballs) and can help illuminate dark areas.
It's a smart use the the tech that dramatically changes how players tackle each stage, but outside of the Coin Battle (collect the most coins) and Challenge modes the game doesn't offer much in terms of newness. In Coin Battle, the GamePad user can place boost blocks to help players out and can even customize the layout of coins along the stage. The Challenges let players complete stages under specific conditions, whether it be conquering a level in the shortest amount of time for a speed run or gather the most 1-Ups before hitting the ground. They're recorded can can be viewed later for bragging rights.
There's shockingly no online multiplayer support and the level designs, the world, the characters are all too similar. New Super Mario Bros. U is a solid, fun, and mechanically perfect platformer that Wii U owners should have on their must-own list, but it's one we've played before, a lazy effort taking advantage of the release window and branding. It is not to the Wii U what Super Mario 64 was to Nintendo 64 or what Super Mario World was to the SNES.
New Super Mario Bros. U is available exclusively for the Wii U.
Follow Rob on Twitter @rob_keyes.