New Super Mario Bros. U Hands-On

by David Sanchez September 23, 2012 @ 11:15 am

Nintendo recently held a Wii U Experience event in Los Angeles where it was showcasing a number of titles. Games such as Rayman Legends, Nintendo Land, ZombiU, and others were all on display and had their very own playable demos. I checked out a few of these titles including New Super Mario Bros. U, and I left the demo session with some pretty strong impressions as to everything I saw and played. New Super Mario Bros. U, in particular, is very interesting because it doesn’t change a whole lot of the basic Mario side-scrolling formula we’ve become very familiar with, but it’s still likely to be a hit because it’s Mario, but also because it’s pretty fun.

My gameplay session with New Super Mario Bros. U was stacked as there were four of us playing with Wii Remotes and a fifth player acting as a helper using the Wii U GamePad. The stage we played on featured a ton of high-risk platforming across giant mushrooms. Inspired by the classic mushroom-hopping lands of past games in the series, the level was rife with pitfalls, hard-to-reach coins, and cleverly-placed enemies. New Super Mario Bros. U also marks the return of Yoshi. Specifically, Baby Yoshi added a nice touch to the experience. By shaking the Wii Remote, the dino inflated like a balloon and allowed my partners and I to reach coins and power-ups positioned a bit too high for normal jumps to reach.

There was another factor in play the entire time: the chaos created when four people play Mario simultaneously. Four-player co-op in Mario side-scrollers has always been met with a mixed reaction. This is due to the restrictions weighing the experience down. Because the screen scrolls according to the player trailing behind, anyone who made it all the way to the right first during the demo had to wait for the others. Additionally, the experience was far too hectic to be completely enjoyable. Bumping into other players as you make death-defying jumps; having other characters bounce off the top of your head, thus impeding a potential jump; and losing a life only to return in a bubble and having to wait for someone to get you out create major pacing issues.

Despite my gripes with the four-player co-op, there was an interesting element added to the game courtesy of the player using the GamePad. This individual didn’t directly join in on all the running, jumping, and coin collecting. Instead, he altered the game’s world using the GamePad’s touchscreen. Colorful platforms appeared out of nowhere, making it easier to reach collectible Star Coins and Fire Flowers. This individual also helped the rest of us out by stunning enemies and popping bubbles with returning players. The GamePad user played a crucial part in our success, and I imagine it was quite hectic trying to aid four players at once. It’s going to be interesting seeing how the GamePad functions if there’s only one individual playing New Super Mario Bros. U.

As far as the level I played is concerned, and taking into account the other two levels in the demo (which I watched others tackle as I waited in line for my session), New Super Mario Bros. U looks like it will deliver the usual 2D Mario experience. Aside from some new power-ups like the squirrel costume, Yoshi’s comeback, and the new GamePad functionality, this is pretty much the Mario action we’ve come to know and love. No, it doesn’t look entirely new from a gameplay standpoint, but Nintendo has always been able to masterfully craft 2D Mario experiences, which means the chances of New Super Mario Bros. U being both successful and enjoyable are pretty darn high.

While the gameplay may feel familiar, it should be pointed out that this Mario adventure is visually refreshing. A lot of folks have long wondered what HD Mario would look like, and I can say from witnessing the game firsthand that it looks absolutely gorgeous. The inherent charm we’ve seen throughout the series shines even more in New Super Mario Bros. U. While foregrounds are nice to look at, it’s the backgrounds that really stand out. Everything pops more, with visually pleasing details at every corner. Even when it isn’t in HD, the Mario franchise has always looked quite lovely. Now, that great art style is being amped up thanks to the Wii U hardware, resulting in what will surely be the best-looking 2D Mario game to date.

After all is said and done, New Super Mario Bros. U doesn’t mess with the formula all that much. Nintendo has long been a practitioner of the mantra “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” and this upcoming title is proof of that. If you’re a fan of the series, and if you plan on picking up the Wii U, I’d highly suggest watching out for this one. The co-op may be a bit too chaotic to be considered more than a multiplayer distraction, but the platforming in New Super Mario Bros. U looks to be as solid as ever.

New Super Mario Bros. U is set to launch in North America on November 18 alongside the Wii U.

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