I know a lot of people let out a collective groan whenever someone talks about New Super Mario Bros., and I can understand why. They’ve traditionally been very conservative in terms of trying new things, which has resulted in not only a sense of too much conformity to previous Mario Bros. series titles among some longtime fans, but the feeling that the DS and Wii versions of the game are way too alike to really bring on the wow factor. Thankfully, New Super Mario Bros. U starts to do what everybody wanted the New series to do a long time ago - crack open the lid and let out some ambition.
New Super Mario Bros. U is the freshest look we’ve seen at the Mushroom Kingdom since Super Mario Bros. 3. Sure, you have the same basic level themes, like the grassy fields and hills, the lush forests, and the snowy mountain peaks, but there’s so much more love in every environment that I can’t help but smile. Super Mario Bros. is back, baby. It’s finally back.
The two levels I played through as Mario were pretty basic, about on par with the early levels of New Super Mario Bros. Wii in terms of quality and in the way they meted out things like powerups and Star Coins (and that’s a good thing). The first was a grass level, the one you saw in initial footage of the game, and introduced me to the new Flying Squirrel powerup. It’s similar to both the Propeller Suit and the Cape from previous games, and feels very much like a blend between the two. New to Mario’s repertoire of moves is the ability to climb up walls while in Squirrel form. I didn’t get to test out this feature during my demo, but I suspect it’s useful for reaching certain platforms, navigating walled-in vertical spaces, and taking out flying enemies.
Level number two took place in the skies, atop a bunch of really tall mushroom caps. Sure, this kind of theme is a lot less ambitious than the surface of Mushroom World, but this level still had something new to offer: Baby Yoshis. Okay, yeah, we’ve technically seen them before in Super Mario World, but this time they have something new to bring to the table: special powers. But wait, no, the grown-up Yoshis had those in World, too. The main difference between these Yoshis and the ones from previous games is how you use them.
You have to be holding the babies to make use of their powers. It’s an interesting twist on the way powerups have traditionally worked in Mario, one we saw hints towards in the last game, but that is now more fleshed out this time around. The red Yoshis I played with have one constant power: they inflate like balloons when you tap one of the trigger buttons or shake your controller. It’s a very similar effect to using the Propeller in the Wii version. Be careful not to drop them, though, as doing so - even in mid-float - will cause you to lose access to their abilities.
The third level was a snow mountain, with fallen stars serving as platforms. They spin when you step on them, do you have to jump carefully to keep your footing. In this level, we tried out the new Boost Mode. Up to four players use Wii Remotes to navigate the level in a traditional fashion, while another player uses the Wii U GamePad’s touch screen to interact with various things in the level. Again, it’s very similar to the Co-Star mode from Galaxy, except this time it doesn’t quite feel as cheap. You can stun enemies, freezing Goombas and knocking Koopas back into their shells, as well as tapping in mid-air to cause a platform to appear. As soon as a player steps on the platform, it starts to disappear! It’s useful for helping players reach tough secrets - and there are tons of those, most of them more satisfyingly hidden than in previous New Super Mario Bros. games.
It’s looking like it’ll probably be the best of the New Mario series by a good margin due to its noticeably HD graphics, totally new environmental artwork, and the fact that it seems to take the brand and its reputation a lot more seriously. I’m loving this take on the Mushroom Kingdom, with its silly Mario-esque trees and sweeping views in the background, actual animal life like flying squirrels and other critters among the traditional Koopaling enemes, and superb level design that feels like a natural evolution from previous games. It may not be the second coming of Super Mario Bros. 3, but it’s definitely the freshest side-scrolling Mario in recent memory.
You can still use your Miis as playable avatars in place of the default characters, but it’s not nearly as emphasized as in last year’s demo.The ability to play the entire game using the pad’s built-in screen is also a nice plus. It means I can plug in my headphones and play to my heart’s content without disturbing my wife in the morning while she sleeps. (It also means that I’ll get to use a screen that’s superior to my current TV, but that’s another story…) All in all I’d say it’s a great Mario game to kick off Wii U.
Alex already covered most of the gameplay and new features of the game that really impressed both of us. Mario looked amazing on that tablet screen, and the squirrel suit is so cute. It’s icon is an acorn!
I didn’t use the tablet controller during our turn with the demo, but during the Boost Mode I used the basic Wii Motion Plus controller to race Mario through the level. The controls are just like the Super Mario Bros Wii, so I don’t have any complaints there for its very natural and easy to use. At one point I couldn’t get up to a platform that I had missed, and asked Alex’s assistance in making platforms so that I could reach it. The use of the Wii U Controller was much larger than the compared Mario Galaxy, and I think even my mother will want to play it.
As Alex said, Yoshi is back and the roles these little dinosaurs play has grown. I think everybody can admit that finding Yoshi in any Mario game is a highlight of the series. Still, his formula hadn’t really changed. With this new Wii U title though, we are already seeing multiple colored Yoshi’s with different kinds of powers that aid Mario.
I have high hopes for this title on the Wii U, and can say I’m buying it when it comes out.